Sugar is a common kitchen ingredient that provides energy to our body through glucose. It is an instant mood booster. Lactose in milk or fructose in fruits and berries are natural sources of sugar. Sugar in its natural form comes with minerals, vitamins, and nutrients and has many health benefits. In contrast, added sugar found in heavily processed food can cause various diseases like diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and obesity. One teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories. It has 4 grams of carbs. Let’s read more to know the facts and myths associated with sugar.
There is a lot of debate surrounding the place held by sugar in diets across all cultures. Even though sugar is such an integral component in the food we eat every day, it is commonly denounced as a terrible influence on our health especially in diet culture. But in actuality, is sugar really that bad for you? What are the health benefits and nutritional value of sugar? Should we be keeping a close watch on the calories in sugar we consume on a daily basis?
The benefits of sugar in its natural form include minerals, vitamins, and nutrients that are all good for your health. The sugar that we should be avoiding is added sugar, such as the high sugar content in soft drinks, desserts, bread and so on. So while sugar is good for you to a certain extent, there are certain downsides as well. Read on to know more facts about sugar and how to integrate it into your diet in a healthy way.
There are two main types of sugars: natural sugars and added sugars.
These are the naturally occurring sugars in unprocessed whole foods such as dairy and plant products or cereals. Examples would be the lactose in milk or fructose in berries. Natural sugars entail fewer calories and low sodium, and higher water, vitamin and mineral content. The high fibre content helps in slowing down digestion which helps avoid sugar spikes that generally occur after eating sugary food like cake or ice cream. Other components like protein also help you feel more satiated as compared to processed foods.
As the name suggests, these sugars are added during the process of making the final food product. It is typically found in heavily processed food- especially fast food, bakery products and soft drinks. Examples include corn syrup which has a very high fructose content and is added to bread and ketchup. Moreover, as the accompanying nutrients, fibre and protein are much lower as compared to unprocessed food, we digest these foods much faster which can cause blood sugar to shoot up quickly. Consistently high blood glucose or blood sugar over a period of time can lead to health complications like diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
Sugar comes in several different forms and goes by many names; here are a few you may recognise:
Fruit juice concentrate
If you are especially interested in sugar nutrition, here’s a little tip: you can identify added sugars by the suffix ‘-ose’ or terms like ‘malt’ and ‘syrup’.
As awareness about the detrimental effects of added sugar grew, sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners were introduced and they rapidly rose in popularity. Artificial sweeteners are especially favoured by those going on a diet, as they are believed to help in cutting down on calories and losing weight. There are two types of sugar substitutes:
Coconut sugar, maple syrup, honey, monk fruit extract and molasses are a few examples of substitutes for sugar that can be used as sweeteners. Stevia, a manufactured sweetener, is categorized as natural too. While they are still metabolized the way sugar is, they do carry slightly more nutrition than, say, white sugar or brown sugar making them more preferable.
Synthetic substitutes include approved sweeteners such as neotame, sucralose, saccharin or aspartame.
While these may seem like a convenient option for those looking to cut down on sugar, note that in some cases artificial sweeteners may increase cravings for sugar as well as appetite. So make sure to consult a nutritionist or your physician before switching to sugar substitutes. Cutting sugar out entirely may be best for those with serious health complications.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, here is the breakdown of the nutritional content of 1 teaspoon of sugar:
Calories in 1 tsp sugar
Fat in 1 tsp sugar
Carbs in 1 tsp sugar
Sugar in 1 tsp sugar
Protein in 1 tsp sugar
Remember that less is better when it comes to sugar and opting for natural sugars from fruits, veggies, dairy products that contain more nutrients like vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, water content and fibre is the healthier option.
While sugar has earned a bad rap, it is an essential part of our diets, sweet tooth or not. It also comes with certain health benefits that often get overlooked:
It gives you an instant burst of energy; glucose is the primary fuel for our bodily functions and is a product of sugar breakdown. When sugar is broken down, the glucose molecules are metabolized to become energy. This is why you are supposed to replenish your body’s glucose after any strenuous activity.
It stores energy for later: Some of the glucose is stored in the body by the process of glycogenesis so that it can be metabolized later in the absence of a primary energy source. So, sugar keeps you going for longer periods of time even without eating.
It acts as a mood-booster: Sugar stimulates the pleasure centre in our brain, giving us a dopamine rush and boosting our mood. However, moderation is key as you may easily get hooked on this feeling and begin to overindulge.
Natural sources of sugar may have other benefits: Foods like chocolate (dark chocolate in particular) come with cocoa flavanols which enhance cognitive functioning, and antioxidants which are vital for our body.
Fruits and vegetables also carry nutrients necessary for optimal functioning.
An excess of anything is never healthy, and we know all too well how risky excessive sugar intake can be. Type 2 diabetes in particular is one of the health conditions commonly associated with high sugar intake, along with weight gain and obesity. The issue that lies at the core of these conditions is the body insulin response getting destabilized due to consistent overconsumption of sugar. Additional risks include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, inflammation, heart disease and mood instability due to constant spikes and drops in your blood sugar. It may even contribute to diseases like dementia later in life.
All sugar is bad for you: Unprocessed sugars are fine in moderation.
Natural sugars are much better than added sugars: The difference between processed and unprocessed sugar, while existent, is fairly minimal.
Sugar should be eliminated from your diet entirely: You do not need to go cold turkey; you can cut down on sugar according to your health needs and preferences.
Sugar cannot be avoided: You can cut down on sugar by switching to whole food alternatives and reducing portion sizes, along with recommended synthetic sweeteners.
Eating any sugar at all puts your health at risk: The keyword to remember is “excess”; when consumed in moderation even added sugars are not likely to cause serious diseases.
You can get addicted to sugar: Having a sweet tooth is very common, and there is an undeniable link to dopamine, however, sugar is not addictive in the way drugs can be.
Cutting out sugar is a surefire way to lose weight: While reducing sugar intake can help your overall health as well as with weight loss, you need to look at your calorie intake on the whole, rather than just sugar calories.
As per the recommendation of most experts, added sugars should make up at the most 10% of our daily calorie intake; for a 2000 calorie diet, that is approximately a maximum of 12.5 teaspoons of sugar a day.
Keep your sugar intake in moderation and opt for whole, unprocessed foods rather than heavily processed, fast food or ready to eat foods with a lot of added sugar.
Avoid foods with ‘sugar’ as the first or second name on the ingredient list.
Natural freshly squeezed fruit juices are better than soft drinks or sugary packaged fruit juice.
You can cut the sugar down or out of your teas and coffees, and as toppings on desserts or cereal in the form of honey or sugar.
Fruits, dark chocolate, smoothies without added sugar can all make great breakfast or dessert options. You can go for oatmeal/granola bowls, fruit salads, homemade ice cream with fruits like bananas and berries, grilled or poached plums and peaches, or lightly sauteed apples.
Consider your own lifestyle, how active you are, overall health and preferences while planning your diet. Consult a professional or a physician and take into account allergies and health conditions as well.
The health risks associated with the overconsumption of sugar are well-documented and quite serious. Regardless of how healthy you may seem to be, medical emergencies may strike at any time. In order to safeguard yourself in such an event, you can opt for health insurance.
One teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories.
One teaspoon of sugar carries 0g fat, 4g of carbs, 4g of sugar and 0g of protein.
If you have a 2,000 calorie diet, you can consume approximately 12.5 teaspoons of sugar a day, maximum. The recommended intake is less than that.
It provides energy to your body, short as well as long-term, in the form of glucose. It also boosts your mood and can come with accompanying benefits in foods like dark chocolate.
A consistently high sugar intake over time can lead to insulin level de-stability, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, weight gain and obesity, mood instability and high cholesterol.
Honey, monk fruit extract, Stevia, or sucralose are a few alternatives to sugar.
Fruits, vegetables, dairy products, honey are all good sources of natural sugars and accompanying nutrients like fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals.