I am not a fan of fad theories. Neither do I believe in being alarmist. However, a raging current debate that I would like to participate in is the one about sugar.
A recent study published in the noted journal, JAMA Internal Medicine, states that higher sugar intake increased the risk of death from heart disease. (The study was conducted by Quanhe Yang and colleagues from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.)
The study notes that the percentage of daily calories from added sugar grew from 15.7% in 1988-1994 to 16.8 percent in 1999 to 2004 but then fell back to 14.9 percent in 2005-2010. The report finds a very strong relation between the amount of added sugar in a person’s diet and their cardiovascular mortality.
The bottomline: People who consumed between 10% and 25% of their calories from added sugar had a 30% increase in cardiovascular mortality. For people who consumed more than 25% of their calories from added sugar the risk nearly tripled
In an editorial that accompanies the study, Laura Schmidt – “Too much sugar does not just make us fat; it can also make us sick.”
Its publication has catalysed the always-noisy conversation about sugar, and the role it plays in our daily diet.
Let’s talk facts, and then I trust you to gauge the amount of sugar in your daily diet, before deciding what to do.
Starting with a simple example, as we head into summer – a can of an aerated drink contains 8 spoons of sugar. This is also the amount of sugar found in a serving of low-fat breakfast cereals. (Take a look at this page, for more information.)
As an aside, this is why I say that buying into the low-fat/low-sugar processed foods deal is not really wise. Sugars can be hidden, and the consequences are the same within your body.
Quickly, let us understand what are the kinds of sugar, and which ones are the most harmful.
Glucose – A simple sugar found in whole grains and vegetables. It stimulates the pancreas, which causes secretion of insulin, the hormone that regulates glucose levels. A very important source of energy, glucose produces hunger-suppressing leptin. If you are always on the move, and need to stay on top of things, glucose is key.
Fructose – This is the sugar in fruit, which is converted into energy by the liver, and is broken down into glucose and lactate. It is great to get your fructose from fruit because it is combined with fibre and nutrients in that natural state. Which is why eating a fruit before a workout is a great idea.
Sucrose – Glucose and fructose are chemically combined to form sucrose, or table sugar. It is an empty food because it gives you a shot of energy, but no nutrition. (Note that whether you use white sugar, castor sugar, or raw/brown sugar, you are essentially absorbing sucrose.)
High fructose corn sugar (HFCS) – With equal amounts of sucrose and fructose, and made from corn starch, HFCS is the most dangerous form of sugar. It is very addictive, and completely devoid of nutritional value. If you read the labels on processed foods, you will find they contain HFCS.
When people say things like, “My sweet tooth is addictive”, or “I really need a box of cupcakes when I am depressed”, they are expressing a very basic bodily need for a source of energy. My advice would be, when you crave that, reach for fruit, and not a jar of cookies.
It is difficult to eliminate all forms of sugar from your diet and, in my opinion, not necessary to do so unless you have pressing health concerns. Such diabetes, or obesity, or heart disease and even the risk of these. Talk to your doctor and nutritionist before you make a decision, and seek their support.
I think that if you control the consumption of sugar – hidden or not – in a conscious, daily manner, you can treat yourself to the occasional moderately-sized scoop of ice-cream, or piece of barfi, or bowl of halwa. Two to three bites are sufficient to satiate any sweet tooth.
Balance, and moderation are, as always, the keywords to good health.