Sugar has become the new villain these days. It is being called the one ingredient in your food that is responsible for a number of wide-ranging diseases starting from tooth decay to cancer, and including obesity, diabetes, heart disease. You name a disease and it is linked to sugar intake in some way or the other.
The fact is there’s nothing wrong with sugar as such. In fact, our brains and nervous system rely heavily on sugar for energy.
But the problem is these days sugar is added to everything from fruit juice to pasta sauce. And too much anything is never good. Isn’t it?
Research over the years debunks a number of myths surrounding the consumption of sugar and sweets.
Myth 1: Sugar is fattening and should be avoided altogether.
Sugar alone doesn’t cause fat. Consumption of high calories coupled with little physical activity does. Sugar and other carbohydrates provide 4 calories/gram. Sugar happens to be the only source of energy for brain and nervous system. So you can imagine what will happen if you consume no sugar.
Studies have shown that there exists an inverse relationship between sugar intake and weight. The is because very little of the carbohydrate or sugar we eat is actually converted to body fat. So if we eat more of sugar (not too much) instead of fat, it will actually decrease overall calorie consumption. Ideally, one should eat a healthy, well balanced diet including moderate quantities of sugar.
Myth 2 : Sugar is responsible for diabetes and heart disease.
Eating too much sugar does NOT cause diabetes. Diabetes has more to do with insulin (harmone secreted by pancreas) regulation than with anything else.
Studies have shown that there is no consistent and clear association between increased intakes of added sugars and Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is a useful indicator of obesity and a high BMI is seen as a major risk factor for developing diseases like diabetes.
Similarly, sugar consumption has nothing to do with Heart disease. Excess weight, high levels of blood cholesterol and high blood pressure are the factors that cause it.
Myth 3: Sugar causes tooth decay.
Tooth decay is caused by wrong oral habits like not mouth-washing and brushing. Those who regularly brush their teeth after meals using fluoride toothpastes, will not have tooth decay in spite of consuming sugary foods like chocolates and toffees.
Myth 4: Sugar has no nutritional value
Sugar is a source of dietary energy, and is perhaps the most fundamental element of nutrition. Sugar is a source of carbohydrate and energy. It provides 4 calories per gram or 16 calories in a level teaspoon (4 g).
Myth 5: ‘Added sugar’ is uniquely bad
No matter where it comes from, sugar is sugar. The ‘added sugar’ myth is a gimmick. Once digested, all sugars are put to the same good uses. Almost all fruits and vegetables contain sugar (sucrose) along with other sugars, like fructose and glucose, in addition to fibre and a variety of vitamins and minerals. Regardless of its source, each gram of sugar supplies the body with the same amount of energy (4 Calories per gram).
Myth 6: Sugar is addictive
Eating sweets is nice. There are many who cannot do without it. But to use the word addiction for it is going too far. People love sugar doesn’t mean that they are ‘hooked’ to it.
Myth 7: Sugar causes hyperactivity
Sugar has been studied extensively in relation to hyperactivity, and this myth has been solidly disproven. The thing is, people often consume sugar at celebrations or events where they’re stimulated by a lot of other things going on, so they’re actually just excited, not high on sugar.
Myth 8: Brown sugar is healthier than white sugar
This is another common myth. Brown sugar is actually just white sugar with molasses added back into it. It does contain very tiny amounts of some minerals due to the molasses content, but unless you eat a massive amount of brown sugar every day (and this is NOT good), the nutritional difference between brown sugar and white sugar isn’t much.
Myth 9: Sugar-free is healthier
If an item is actually made without sugar, it is good. But if some artificial sweetener has been put it is NOT.
Studies show that artificial sweeteners disrupt gut bacteria, cause weight gain, even diabetes. The better idea is to consume the real thing less often rather than reaching for an artificial or low-calorie sweetener.
Myth 10: Avoid eating fruits with high sugar content
Fruit contains carbohydrates, mainly in the form of the naturally occurring sugar, fructose. Yes, there is sugar in fruit, but it’s a sack of empty calories. That naturally occurring fructose is coupled with fiber, vitamins, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds that help guard against disease. The soluble fiber in fruit helps lower cholesterol; the insoluble fiber helps moderate the absorption of sugar into the blood stream, stabilize blood sugar and keep you satiated.
Myth 11: Sugar is unnecessary
Sugar has many roles in foods. Some of these include:
It acts like a natural preservative for jams and jellies by absorbing extra moisture to prevent bacterial growth. When exposed to heat, the browning reaction of sugar adds flavour and colour to bread crust and cookies. Sugar is used to keep baked goods moist and can delay staleness. Sugar feeds yeast in the fermentation that is part of bread-making. Sugar contributes to the light and fluffy texture of an angel food cake. And sugar is also responsible for the smoothness of frozen dairy products such as ice cream.
The bottom line is:
Sugar is not a demon that you should stay away from. It is an important ingredient of food and like all other ingredients should be consumed, but in moderation.
But you must stay away from unnecessary added sugars and keep consumption of the refined stuff to a minimum. Also, you must limit your sugar consumption to sugar you actually know about like homemade cookies, slice of birthday cake; and eat it mindfully.