We may be more technologically advanced, but in terms of nutrition, our ancestors could teach us a thing or two. And when I say ancestors, I’m talking about the hunter-gatherers of 80,000 years ago, who only had access to sugar for a few months of the year when fruit was in season. Today, though, our sugar hits come all year round simply by opening a soft drink, a candy bar or a tin of baked beans. We seem to have forgotten the maxim, ‘everything in moderation’.
As a result, sugar has become public health enemy number one, with many experts advising that we eradicate it from our diets. Sugar has even been blamed for possibly increasing the risk of contracting infections because it allegedly suppresses the immune system. This is an extremely critical consideration in the age of Covid-19.
A Health Time-Bomb
Sugars are a type of simple carbohydrate that occurs naturally in some foods and drinks. The problem is that it is also added, often in great quantities, to other foods and drinks leading to a variety of health problems, such as increasing the risk of weight gain, diabetes and tooth cavities. Certain food products, such as dairy products, vegetables and fruit, naturally contain sugars, and people need to to include these foods in their diet, as they come with a range of other nutrients.
However, manufacturers tend to add sugar to other foods, and it is these added sugars that cause health problems. Unlike foods and drinks that naturally contain sugar, those with added sugar provide no nutritional value. They are also a poor energy source, as the body digests added sugar very quickly. Consuming too much can be a health time-bomb.
No Nutritional Value
Sugar is an empty calorie, and consuming empty calories undermines the health benefits of consuming other foods and drinks that do have nutritional value. It can also cause imbalances, where nutrient deficits can lead to further health complications.
In the majority of cases, sugary foods and drinks are high in calories. Consuming too many of these products will lead to weight gain, even with regular exercise. Furthermore, there is also some evidence to suggest that sugar can affect the biological pathways that regulate hunger. It is essential to realise, though, that sugar does not cause weight gain by itself. Sugar is one of several causes. Being overweight or obese is the result of a complex interaction between diet, physical activity, genetics, and social and environmental factors. Nonetheless, limiting the amount of sugar in a diet is one of the simplest ways to prevent weight gain.
There is a link between consuming sugar and developing type 2 diabetes. Sugary drinks are particularly problematic. A meta-analysis of date from 310,819 people found that those with a high consumption of sugary drinks had a 26% greater risk of type 2 diabetes than those with a low consumption. The study defined ‘high consumption’ as between one and two sugary drinks per day.
It is well known that sugar can cause tooth decay, which can lead to the development of cavities. After eating sugar, bacteria in the mouth a thin layer of plaque over the teeth, and this bacteria reacts with the sugars present in foods and drinks and triggers the release of an acid that damages teeth.
A 15-year study suggested that people with a lot of added sugar in their diet are significantly more likely to die from heart disease than people with minimal amounts of added sugar in their diet. Again, research suggests that sugary drinks may be particularly problematic for increasing the risk of heart disease. This association may be because sugary drinks are high in calories, do not affect hunger, and provide an insufficient amount of energy.
Read the Labels
Added sugars can appear in many surprising products, so it’s good to check the contents of food before buying it. However, some food labels make it difficult to tell whether they contain added sugar, as there are many different names for it. Watch out for dextrose, sucrose, agave nectar, maltose, molasses, high-fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, crystalline fructose and evaporated cane juice.
To maintain a healthy diet, men should consume no more than 36 grams of added sugar per day, while women should consume no more than 25 grams per day. Many people consume much, much more. And this mirrors the increase in obesity across the nation. So stay informed and stay healthy.