Sugar – good or bad for you?

Sugar is a common food ingredient that has been used for centuries. You can find sugar in many different foods and drinks, and it’s usually not hard to spot. The sugar we use today comes from the sugar cane plant or the beetroot plant, but there are other natural sources, such as maple trees. Sugar does have some health benefits but also some risks too. It all depends on how you use it! We’ll explore these positives and negatives with you over this blog post! Stay tuned to learn more about sugar!

What do you think? Are you ready to learn more about what sugar is and where it comes from? Let’s get started now!

October 18, 2021

What is sugar?

The food and luxury foodstuff sugar are obtained from plants, tastes sweet, and is crystalline. Every plant produces a sweet substance as part of photosynthesis. But only a few plants store it in sufficient quantities. Sugar cane and sugar beet are two of the few plants it can be obtained from.

Simply put, it’s a carbohydrate. From a chemical point of view, it consists of two so-called monosaccharides or simple sugars. These are fructose or fruit sugar and glucose, i.e., grape sugar. It is an essential source of energy for the human body, but it also has disadvantages.

What types of sugar are there?

In general, the types of sugar are differentiated according to their source. Probably the longest known type is cane sugar, which is made from sugar cane juice. It has a golden brown color. The other variant is obtained from the sugar beet. The typical household sugar is created through processing and refining. In recent years maple sugar or maple syrup has become more and more popular in our latitudes. This Canadian specialty comes from the juice of the sugar maple. Coconut blossom sugar, which is made from the nectar of the coconut palm, is relatively new on the market. A distinction is also made according to shape and grain size. There are, for example, lump sugar, powdered sugar, rock candy, or hail sugar.

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What is the daily sugar requirement?

One thing is clear: the body does not need free sugar to survive – i.e., table sugar or sugar added to industrially manufactured foods and contained in juices. Nevertheless, we consume too much of it: an average of over 30 kilograms per person per year. Since 1950 this value has increased by about 10 kilograms.

WHO recommendation: 25 grams a day

That is why institutions such as the World Health Organization (WHO) only issue recommendations for maximum sugar intake. According to the WHO, free sugars should make up less than five percent of the total energy intake per day, about 25 grams (six teaspoons). WHO has set this upper limit too strictly – it would not correspond to the current scientific status. The WHO recommends covering a maximum of ten percent of the total energy intake with free sugars.

A restriction on sugar, which is naturally found in fruit, vegetables, and milk, is not necessary. Instead, the ten nutritional rules of the WHO apply here: five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, supplemented by smaller servings of dairy products.

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What is refined sugar?

Refined sugar is the king of white sugars and is of the highest quality. Chemically, it is sucrose, which is obtained from sugar beet and sugar cane.

The well-known crystalline sugar is created from these raw materials through crushing, boiling, cleaning, and crystallization in the manufacturing process. The process is repeated several times depending on the desired degree of purity.

The various quality levels and their requirements are legally stipulated in the Sugar Type Ordinance. But regardless of whether it is white sugar, semi-white sugar, or refined sugar – in the end, it is all about sucrose.

What is refined sugar

How does sugar affect our bodies?

Sugar is one of the carbohydrates. In addition to proteins and fats, they play an essential role in nutrition. This carbohydrate is quickly broken down in the intestine and transported into the blood. If the body needs energy very quickly, it is ideal. This effect is significant when maximum physical or mental performance is required, meaning that the energy arrives in the blood just a few minutes after consumption.

The pancreas then produces significant amounts of insulin to remove it from the blood. At this moment, the person feels strong, powerful, and can concentrate again. But hunger quickly sets in again. The reason for this is that apart from pure carbohydrates, no other nutrients are supplied. You eat empty calories.

If something sweet follows, even more insulin is produced. Over time, a cycle that is difficult to penetrate develops. The effect on the human body makes you addicted to sweets because the blood sugar level keeps falling. The body always wants more. The result is a chronically increased insulin level, which subsequently promotes numerous chronic diseases. If the body does not immediately need the carbohydrates for energy production, they are stored as fat. Obesity arises.

Which sugar is unhealthy?

In general, isolated sugars are unhealthy. These cause the blood sugar to rise rapidly but do not provide any other nutrients. This includes glucose or grape sugar. It can be found in confectionery, beverages, and sports nutrition and is made from starch. Like glucose, fructose is one of the simple sugars. Like glucose, fructose is obtained industrially and added to numerous foods. Both fructose and glucose are found in fruits and vegetables and, in their natural form, are healthy for the body. Sucrose, a double sugar, consists of grape sugar and fructose. This is the typically refined white sweetness that is obtained from sugar beet or sugar cane. When processed, one speaks of classic household sugar.

Why does sugar make you fat?

Sugar is pure carbohydrate and, as such, is transported directly from the intestine into the blood. From there, it reaches the brain and is immediately available as an energy supplier. If the body does not use this energy immediately, it stores it for a later point in time. The hormone insulin is necessary for this. The endocrine part of the pancreas produces this. It acts on the blood sugar level and ensures that the carbohydrate is absorbed by the cells. In the best-case scenario, it is used there immediately to generate energy. If the body does not need that much energy at the moment, it is converted into fat to be available later.

If the blood sugar level falls, this causes hunger pangs. Sweets are added again, and fat is stored again as a result. Obesity arises. But not only different types of sugar are responsible for this development. Starch made from white flour is also converted into sugar in the body and stored as fat when it is not used. This means that white bread, pizza, and cake are also questionable and promote obesity.

In contrast, carbohydrates from whole foods are slowly converted in the body. Significantly more minor quantities of the hormone insulin is released. You feel full for a long time, and the nutrients are better utilized.

Why is too much fructose unhealthy?

Fructose in its natural form, as found in fruits and vegetables, is not harmful. However, isolated, industrially produced fructose has significant disadvantages for the human body. It is significantly sweeter than glucose and is therefore used in many finished products and beverages. In contrast to glucose, fructose is broken down slowly in the body. No insulin is necessary either.

If large amounts of fructose enter the body, the small intestine cannot process it appropriately and transport it into the blood. The rest gets into the large intestine and nourishes the bacteria that have settled there. Gases and acids are produced. This creates abdominal pain, gas, and diarrhea. The intestinal flora changes and creates a toxic environment. The bacteria that are important for the intestine are destroyed. However, fungi and parasites find an optimal habitat. The result is chronic inflammation and fungal infections.

In the liver, energy is obtained from fructose. Fat is stored in the liver cells and removed again and again when necessary. If you consume too much fructose, this process is disturbed. Fatty liver develops. People who consume too much fructose usually develop insulin resistance. This lays the foundation for the so-called type 2 diabetes.

But why is the fructose in the fruit still healthy?

Natural fructose is found in fruits, vegetables, and honey. When consumed in bulk, fructose is significantly healthier than glucose. No insulin is necessary for the breakdown in the human body. The blood sugar level, therefore, remains unaffected after consuming fructose. In addition to fructose, fruits and vegetables also provide essential fiber. These regulate digestion and can thus counteract or mitigate the undesirable effects of fructose in the digestive tract. In addition, numerous vitamins and minerals can be found in fresh vegetables and fruits. They are essential components of a balanced diet. In addition, the amount of fructose in fruit is significantly lower than that in soft drinks or confectionery. Therefore, a person would have to consume vast amounts of fruit to get roughly the same amount of sugar. To save on the amount of fructose, you can use berries. They contain significantly less fructose than apples or pears, for example.

Where is the lousy fructose hiding?

Industrially produced fructose has very high sweetness and is inexpensive to manufacture. It is therefore ideal as an addition to many foods. Artificial fructose is found in chocolate bars, ice cream, cakes, and fruit gums. But it is also added to pickles, ketchup, or salad dressings.

Fructose can already be found in products for babies and toddlers. So-called soft drinks are hazardous. Cola, iced tea, and lemonades contain large amounts of fructose and are highly questionable long-term use. For a long time, fructose was also an ingredient in many foods for people with diabetes. However, due to the current state of knowledge, this has not been the case for some time.

Is fructose better than regular sugar?

For sugar naturally found in fruit or vegetables, the WHO does not recommend an upper limit for daily consumption – in contrast to free sugars in industrially manufactured foods and beverages. Against the background, the answer could be: Yes, fructose is better than “normal” sugar.

However, if we focus on the monosaccharide fructose, the situation is a bit more complicated. Some animal experiments have shown that using fructose as the sole source of sugar can have negative consequences. This is because the liver breaks it down. If more fructose reaches the body than needed, the excess accumulates in the liver – and is converted into fat.

How strongly is sugar anchored in our society?

Over time, it was made exclusively from sugar cane. It had to be imported from overseas and was accordingly expensive. Today it has become a popular food, and life without it is hard to imagine. It usually starts with morning coffee, which only tastes good with a spoonful of sweet crystal. The annual consumption is well over 30 kilograms per person.

In most cases, however, the consumer does not even notice that he is consuming harmful sweetness. One can assume that almost all processed foods such as sauces, bread, yogurt, or lemonades contain industrially produced and, therefore, cheaper corn syrup. This has a large proportion of harmful fructose. Even babies and toddlers are fed sugary juices and sweets in this way. The body gets used to the sweet taste early on. Sweet becomes a matter of course. If you want to do without harmful types of sugar entirely, this is only possible with a great deal of effort and product knowledge.

What are the alternatives to sugar?

We are always looking for alternatives. A wide range of substitutes is already available on the market today. Those who rely on natural products will choose maple syrup and agave syrup. Rice syrup and honey also fall into this category. It must be mentioned, however, that these sweeteners are not free from fructose either. Therefore, they are suitable to a limited extent for people with diabetes. This is different for birch sugar. It is obtained from plants and consists of xylitol, sugar alcohol. It has significantly fewer calories than table sugar and does not affect blood sugar levels. The sweetener stevia, which comes from the stevia plant, does not affect insulin production either. In contrast, classic sweeteners such as cyclamate, aspartame, saccharin, and acesulfame are very controversial.

Is sugar harmful?

Sugar is not harmful per se. As in so many cases, the dose makes the poison: Compared to the recommendations of WHO, people consume too much sugar.

The development of overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases, and certain types of cancer correlates with excessive sugar consumption.

That means: If you nibble too much and hang around lazily, you may develop one of the diseases mentioned. However, counting these free sugar or carbohydrates alone is difficult. There are usually too many other factors that play a role, such as exercise or the overall composition of the diet.

A more apparent case: sugar-sweetened drinks

Because supposed soft drinks such as lemonades or fruit juices quench thirst but do not quench the hunger – even though they would provide enough calories for it. Proven consequence: an increased risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, especially in children and adolescents.

In addition: Sugar attacks the teeth – by providing the caries bacteria with the nourishment they need. But every child knows what to do about it: Don’t forget to brush your teeth after eating!

Is sugar addicting?

Whoever eats a piece of chocolate usually wants more. Sometimes a whole block goes on it – but is that addictive behavior? Scientists attest sugar has at least a possible addictive potential. Studies with rats found indications that the animals can develop a kind of addiction under certain circumstances. The extent to which this can be transferred to humans is questionable.

Getting used to sweet dishes

It is better proven that sweets, especially in combination with fatty foods, activate the reward system in the brain. As soon as we bite into a donut, for example, signals are sent to the brain. The organ then causes an increased release of dopamine – also known as the happiness hormone. For people who eat donuts too much and too often, less dopamine is produced with the same sweetness and fat content.

The result: it takes more donuts to feel as good as before. However, this does not correspond to the criteria of a full-blown addiction (especially the sole consumption of sugar).

Long-term consequences of sugar consumption?

An increased sugar intake makes the organism listless and tired. That depends on the constantly falling sugar level. In addition, there can be stomach and intestinal problems such as diarrhea, constipation, or flatulence. The skin can also react negatively to excessive consumption of sweets. Typical symptoms are fungal infections or hair loss. Nervousness, sleep disorders, and poor concentration are also attributed to sugar consumption. In addition, the immune system is weakened. Infectious diseases occur much more quickly. A common secondary disease of excessive sugar consumption is so-called diabetes. It should not be forgotten that too much of the white sweetness is one of the most important reasons for being overweight. If the body does not consume sugar, it is stored as fat. Then there are the dangerous fatty liver and kidney problems. Last but not least, the teeth are attacked by sweets, which promotes tooth decay.

Conclusion

Sugar is said to be a carbohydrate that provides energy to cells in the body. It’s also found in virtually every processed food, making it hard for people to avoid this nutrient entirely. Too much sugar can lead to obesity and diabetes, but there are ways of consuming it responsibly while still getting all the benefits. Fermented foods like yogurt or kefir provide probiotics with prebiotics, meaning you’re not only feeding your gut bacteria (which help regulate digestion), but you’re providing them with fuel as well. Try these fermented products on occasion if you want something sweet without added sugars!

In Bulgarian: Захар

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