Let’s Talk About Sugar: Is It Bad for You?
Sugar is doubtless, the big bad wolf of the health industry. According to a research done by Harvard Medical School, consumption of sugar is associated not only with obesity, but also with cardiovascular diseases, rapid aging, and cancer. With people becoming more health-conscious, there is a lot of information — and misinformation — about how much sugar is bad for us, and if it should be completely eliminated from our diet.
Before adopting a dietary change however, it is imperative to understand the science behind it.
Simply put, sugar is a crystalline carbohydrate that helps make food sweeter. Some of its different forms include glucose, lactose, maltose, fructose, and sucrose. Some of these are naturally present in fruits and vegetables, whereas most processed foods we consume contain them in an ‘added’ or hidden form. These added and hidden sugars lead to multiple chronic disorders including diabetes, fatty liver, weight gain, and high blood pressure.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends a daily sugar intake of no more than 5 to 10% of your daily calorie intake. The intake for someone with a normal BMI (18.5-24.9kg/m2) should not be more than 5 teaspoons (25g) a day. If your BMI is above the normal range and you follow a sedentary lifestyle, the consumption should not exceed 3 teaspoons (15g) a day.
Why is too much of it bad?
Consuming excessive sugar increases the risk of multiple metabolic disorders, and is one of the major causes of obesity. Some of the associated health problems include:
1. Processed foods and sweetened drinks, such as sodas and juices, are loaded with fructose, which induces excessive hunger by resisting leptin, the satiety hormone. This leads to weight gain and increased susceptibility to visceral fat (deep belly fat). This increases the risk of conditions like diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.
2. According to a study done by John Hopkins University, a sugar-rich diet leads to weight gain and is directly linked to the risk factors associated with heart disease. Think high triglyceride levels, inflammation, and high blood pressure.
3. Overconsumption of sugar and sweetened foods and drinks can lead to insulin resistance. This occurs when cells in your body don’t respond well to insulin, and can’t use glucose from your blood for energy, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes. A sudden spike in blood sugar levels also leads to the secretion of the hormone androgen, which causes acne. Cutting down on your sugar intake can indeed make a big difference if you have an acne problem.
4. If you have a sedentary lifestyle and are feeling too lethargic, it can be because of a sugar-rich diet. Such a diet can even trigger depression, while a healthy one helps elevate your mood.
5. Research suggests that processed foods and sugars can increase the production of AGEs (Advanced Glycation End Products), which accelerate the aging of the skin and formulation of wrinkles.
6. Too much added or hidden sugar can damage your kidney vessels, cause dental caries, and lead to overall cognitive decline.
How to cut down?
Go natural: Focus on consuming natural sources such as whole fruits instead of packaged juices or fruit smoothies.
Say no to table sugar: Stop keeping sugar on your dining table and discourage your friends and family from adding it to their tea/ coffee/ milk.
Say hello to water: Remember, the first sign of hunger is thirst. Whenever you are hungry, consume a glass of water instead of sodas, or sweetened tea and coffee. 1 can of soda (300ml) has 39g/ 10 teaspoons of sugar, which is way beyond the recommended daily intake.
Make your salad healthy: Avoid adding salad dressings to salads (which have an abundance of hidden sugars — about 16g per 100g serving). So, if you add 2 teaspoons of salad dressing to your salads to enhance flavor, you’d be adding 1.6g of sugar as well. Replace dressings with lime juice, herbs, or vinegar to make your salad tasty without the calories.
Read the labels: Gun for fresh foods. And if you have to buy stuff from the supermarket, read the labels of all packaged items. Cereals, granola bars, and other packaged foods such as pasta have hidden sugars that are often indicated by different names — look for terms like high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, maltose, dextrose, molasses, and agave nectar.
It’s true that cutting added sugar completely out of your diet is not easy. But be aware and make an informed choice towards options such as fruits and dried fruits instead of chocolates and sugar-coated cereals or bakery products. Naturally sweet foods would satisfy those cravings while being nutritious. After all, health, as they say, is wealth.
1. Gulati S, Misra A. Sugar intake, obesity, and diabetes in India. Nutrients 2014; 6: 5955–74.
2. The sweet danger of sugar. Harvard Health Publishing. 2017. https://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/the-sweet-danger-of-sugar (accessed Feb 17, 2021).
3. Chen A. Sugar consumption increases health risks. The John Hopkins Newsletter. 2017; published online Feb 17. https://www.jhunewsletter.com/article/2017/02/sugar-consumption-increases- health-risks (accessed Dec 22, 2020).
4. Tahmassebi JF, BaniHani A. Impact of soft drinks to health and economy: a critical review. Eur Arch Paediatr Dent 2020; 21: 109–17.