He was demonized and called the cause of the obesity epidemic. But is sugar really unhealthy? Are all sugars the same? That's what science says.
If sugar is bad and “toxic,” then what should you think of fruit?
This is a hypothetical question that is rarely answered - or even taken into account - by those who think of a “sugar free” diet.
Before succumbing to the simple idea that sugar is the root of all evil, think about a similar scenario. Yesterday, fats were harmful and it was necessary to exclude them from the diet. Today, they are on the path to justification - some of them are not as harmful as was thought, while others are good for health.
But in the minds of many people there appeared an “obvious” enemy: carbohydrates, or more precisely - sugar.
Nevertheless, the question remains, “does sugar consumption harm you” regardless of dosage, or, as in the case of everything else, the question is how much you consume it and where did it come from? If you dig deeper into science, you will find that if you want to lose weight, live longer and feel great every day, you don’t have to completely give up sugar.
Not all sugars are the same
Sugar is much more than just the white substance that you put in your coffee. (This is sucrose.)
In biochemistry, sugar is either a monosaccharide or a disaccharide (“saccharides” - another name for “carbohydrates”).
- Monosaccharide - Simple Sugar
- Disaccharide - sugar consisting of two monosaccharides
- The oligosaccharide contains from 2 to 10 simple sugars
- A polysaccharide consists of two or more simple sugars (300 to 1000 glucose molecules in starch)
In short, all carbohydrates contain single sugars. If we go back to the example of sucrose, or table sugar, that is actually a disaccharide made from simple sugars, glucose and fructose.
Meanwhile, starch, dietary fiber, cellulose are polysaccharides. And if it’s already, then it goes: fiber - which most people know as a good component - is also a form of sugar.
Of the above three things, we can only digest starch, which consists of glucose. You have probably heard the name “complex carbohydrates” or “slow carbohydrates”, starch refers to these. They are called slow because the body needs time to break them down into individual sugars (in particular, glucose, our “blood sugar level”).
Therefore, the idea of a diet completely “sugar free” means giving up a lot of completely healthy foods. Of course, you can live without sugar or even carbohydrates ... but only because your body is able to synthesize the glucose it needs from fatty acids and amino acids.
This is because your body needs sugar. Glucose is needed as a fuel for such important functions as the activity of the nervous system or brain. (Yes, your brain functions not only due to glucose, but it needs it; it also helps cell interaction.)
And more importantly: there are many completely healthy foods that contain sugar (see below). Any sugar-free diet that requires all these foods to be discarded cannot be considered reliable, right? And this is the point: any going to extremes is often erroneous, including the generalized statement "do not eat any sugar."
List of sweets that are not harmful to eat
Don't let sugar slander intimidate you. All products from this list are healthy - unless of course you absorb them in buckets, or pour them in syrup. And yes, each of them contains sugar. Even in kale.
- The apples
- Bell pepper
- Brussels sprouts
- Curly cabbage
- Whole grain bread (made without added sugar)
- Sweet potato
- Pea pods
- Whole Grain Crackers
- Dried beef (search without added sugar)
- Protein bars (check that sugar is not the first in the composition)
- Rice cakes
- Diet Coke
- Vegetable drinks (from powder)
- Walnut oil (no added sugar)
- Yogurt without additives
The answer to the question: is sugar harmful?
As with most things in life, harm depends on the norm.
As already mentioned, your body really needs sugars, so much that it will produce some of them, even if you exclude all carbohydrates from your diet.
But overconsumption of sugar leads to type II diabetes and obesity (although you’ll get enough from overeating, even if you don’t consume a lot of carbohydrates). Excess sugar also leads to an increase in the number of end products of glycation, and as a result to skin damage and a higher risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.
It is for this reason that added sugar can be dangerous, and not because it “causes addiction like cocaine” (it can be addictive, but not as strong as cocaine or addiction to food). The real danger of sugar is not that it is getting better. In 1 gram of sugar, there are also only 4 calories. And from 4 calories you will not get fat. However, you can swallow a lot of sugar and not feel full. And you eat a little ... then a little more ... and then another ... and then you realize that the cookie box is empty, but the hunger has not disappeared.
With added sugars, it is too easy to overdo it. This statement is true for each of them, no matter how healthy its name sounds. For example, “cane sugar” is more beneficial than other sources of sucrose, despite the fact that it is natural. In contrast, the unfortunate corn syrup with a high fructose content (usually 55% fructose and 45% glucose) is not much worse than sucrose (50% fructose, 50% glucose).
Especially insidious sugars in liquid form. You can drink and drink, and drink them in huge quantities, comparable in calories to a 5-course meal, and stay hungry. Perhaps this is not surprising that soft drinks have been linked to the current epidemic of obesity. To date, soda and cola account for 34.4% of the total amount of added sugar consumed by adults and children in the United States, and are its main source in the diet of the average American.
In this regard, fruit juices are not a healthier option. In fact, they can be even worse. Why? Because the sugar contained in fruit juice is fructose, which can exert pressure on the liver (only the liver is able to process fructose in arbitrarily large quantities). Current data also indicates that consuming fructose leads to more weight gain than glucose.
But this statement is not true for sugars found in vegetables and fruits. In fact, it is necessary to clarify that today:
THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT USE OF FRUITS, EVEN IN LARGE QUANTITIES, WILL HARM YOUR HEALTH.
Unlike fruit juices, whole fruits satisfy hunger. Apples, although hard, consist of 10% sugar ... and 85% water; this is why it is difficult to eat too many of them. In addition, recent studies suggest that fruits can help regulate blood sugar.
There is one “sugar” drink that does not pose a similar threat: milk. While milk contains sugar (lactose, glucose disaccharide and galactose), its content is much lower than that of fruit juice; in addition, milk also contains protein and fat. At a time when fats were considered enemies, skim milk was considered healthier than whole milk, but today it is not. Now that fats are (partially) justified, whole milk, backed by a wealth of evidence, is back in fashion.
So how much sugar can you eat per day?
We have something to celebrate: you don’t need to feel guilty every time you eat added sugar. But you should stay aware of your consumption and do everything possible so as not to exceed the following indicators:
- 100 calories per day for women (about 6 teaspoons, or 25 grams)
- 150 calories per day for men (about 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams)
What does it mean? Focus on 1 whole Snickers or about 7-8 pieces of Oreo cookies. But note that we are not saying at all that you should add Snickers or Oreo to your daily diet. These examples simply show the total amount for the day that you might want to limit. But remember: the added sugar is hidden in many unexpected places, such as soup and pizza.
While the average level of sugar consumption in the United States may be decreasing (in 1999–2000 it was about 400 kcal / day and dropped to 300 kcal / day in 2007–2009), it is still too high. And, of course, this is an average, and the average values lie. Some people consume much less sugar, while others ... much more.
But let's say you do not like the numbers that are common to all. And you don’t want to carry a whole set of dimensional ones with you all day or worry about how many grams of sugar you ate. If so, here is an even simpler way to keep its intake under control. It is based on the model of the old Food Guide Pyramid, which was introduced in 1992 and replaced in 2005 by MyPyramid, which was eventually replaced by the scheme that the US government uses to this day.
The basis of a healthy sugar pyramid is made up of fruits and vegetables: they not only saturate, but also provide the body with fiber, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals (biologically active compounds found in plants, some of which are good for our health), in addition to sugar. You can also include whole milk here. A small amount of the natural sugar found in bread is also not considered added, but the sugar that is often added in production in the USA is considered to be such.
As for fruit juices, honey, and maple syrup, they all refer to added sugar, as does high fructose corn syrup.
What happens if you don’t eat sugar
That's all. Just imagine this diagram. If the base of your personal “sugar” pyramid is wide, then a small pinch of added sugar from above will not cause it to collapse. Only when most of the sugar in your diet comes from soft drinks, sweets, biscuits, breakfast cereals, and the like, can your pyramid collapse along with your health.