Is Sugar Any Good For You At All?
If you think this article might absolve you from eating chocolate, think again!
Here's why a study says some sugar is good, and what you can do to adjust your diet.
What exactly is sugar?
Sugar is a carbohydrate present in most foods. Its role is to provide us with energy. Sugar is usually added to foods that are calorific like sweets, chocolate, cakes, pastries, fizzy drinks and shop bought coffees because in general people prefer the sweet taste.
Sugar goes by many names including fructose, honey, molasses, hydrolysed starch, corn syrup, maltose, sucrose and glucose.
The NHS says we should eat not more that 5% of our calorie intake from sugar each day. That's about 30 grams for the over 11s.
If you're wondering about fruit juice, well, it's a good choice and counts as one of your five-a-day, but because it's in liquid form it can stick to your teeth more easily. Breaking down fruit into a juice releases its sugars, so drink it with food and not after you've brushed your teeth.
Is sugar good at all?
There's some new research from the Science Signalling journal that highlights a good relationship between a certain sugar and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Too much sugar can result in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NFLD). It's thought one in three people in the UK are in the early stages of NFLD and there is no drug treatment available for it.
When sugar enters the liver, it's stored as trigcerides fat which leads to the disease. However, a form of sugar called trehalose blocked fructose sugar, one that causes NFLD, from entering the liver of test mice.
After blocking the sugar it also aided in breaking down and flushing out fat inside liver cells by triggering 'autophagy' a process whereby the liver cell thinks it is starving and begins to eat the fat it's carrying.
Trehalose is a natural sugar found in plants (and insects), but before you rush out to buy it, remember this study was conducted on lab mice, not humans.
Why is sugar bad?
Obesity is a growing concern. The World Health Organisation (WHO) labels it a pandemic and says sugary, fatty and salty foods are in part to blame for the rise in obesity.
Eating too much sugar increases your weight and causes obesity. Obesity then causes health issues like heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the UK killing 73,000 people every year.
A high sugar diet causes obesity, high blood pressure and puts a strain on the heart. When arteries narrow and become clogged with cholesterol, it's difficult for blood to pass through. When a piece breaks free it can block arteries and cause a heart attack.
Stroke is the third biggest killer in the UK. A stroke happens when arteries that feed the brain get blocked. Starved of oxygen the brains begin to die. It's a life-threatening condition and causes long-term disability. 110,000 people have a stroke every year in England alone.
Diabetes occurs when blood sugar levels are too high and the body becomes resistant to energy releasing insulin - the body's fuel.
Teeth rot when plaque builds up and creates acid. Sugary foods are quickly turned into energy and release plaque acids at the same time. When plaque builds up the acids can dissolve tooth enamel and create holes in your teeth which are called cavities.
It's thought a diet high in sugar triggers thrush, a vaginal and oral yeast infection. Yeast feeds on sugar so by cutting it out you may suffer less.
How to cut down on sugar
It's not always easy to cut out sugar because there are so many foods available that contain high amounts.
It doesn't help that sugary foods appeal to our sweet tastebuds and with manufacturers adding more in a bid to get our attention, sweet tasting healthy foods like tomatoes and bananas fall by the wayside. Here's how to get back on track:
- Have a clear out of sugary treats. Start by cutting down to one day and then stop buying them.
- Read nutritional labels on processed foods to check the sugar levels. If a form of sugar appears near the beginning of the ingredients list it is high in sugar. Search out the 'Carbohydrates of which sugar' line.
- Stop buying fizzy or sports drinks and fill up with water instead. If you don't like the taste, buy carbonated or add a splash of fruit juice. Fizzy drinks can often contain caffeine too, something to be aware of in case you get withdrawal headaches.
- When you're out shopping don't choose a sugary hot drink; tea or flat white coffee is the healthier option. Some shop bought coffees can have over 300 calories of sugar.
- If you use tinned fruit choose fruit in juice rather syrup - remember syrup is sugar.
- Breakfast cereals can be a great source of iron, fibre and minerals. Make yours count by dropping those Frosties in favour of Bran Flakes with some soft fruit such as strawberries.
- Cut out sugar from your tea and coffee
- 22.5g per 100 grams is high in sugar
- 5g per 100 grams is low in sugar
Make an informed decision by choosing the option with the least amount of sugar. Add flavour with pepper and herbs such as sweet basil or coriander.
Given that we're used to high sugar diets cutting out the white stuff can be a struggle, but every gram you manage to avoid improves your health.
If you stick to preparing fresh foods, or even eating only half of that processed lasagne with a head of fresh broccoli instead, the health benefits are huge.
Sadly not all sugars are the helpful type identified in the study. For now, it's best to cut right back on sugar consumption and save it for a treat.