Sweet Poison: Is Sugar Public Health Enemy No.1?

We’ve all heard or read somewhere that sugar causes health problems. Sugar causes type 2 diabetes. Sugar causes tooth decay. Sugar causes Alzheimer’s. Sugar causes cancer. Sugar causes heart disease. Sugar improves performance. Sugar is good for athletes. Sugar is…Oh, Madonna! So much confusion. There’re so much conflicting messages about sugar and its effect on the body. Today, sugar has become public health enemy numero uno: It’s being taxed by the government, schools and hospitals are getting rid of it from vending machines and experts are urging us to eliminate it completely from our diet. Does sugar deserve all the bad rep? 

You probably already know this, but sugar is a carbohydrate. Carbohydrates are important sources of energy. When carbohydrates are consumed, they’re broken down by our body into simple sugars that travel into our bloodstream. Insulin is then released to transport the sugar into our cells where it’s used as short term energy.

The right amount of insulin is required, for the body to properly use up the energy, otherwise, the sugar stays in the bloodstream and becomes, well…problematic.

Without boring you with all the science, glucose is a simple sugar that our body likes to use as the primary source of energy. Glucose isn’t a sweet sugar, (hmm…who would have thought) but plants can rearrange their atoms to form fructose which has a sweet taste. Glucose and fructose bond together to form sucrose, and the sweet taste of sucrose comes mainly from fructose in its natural structure, which can be found in fruits and vegetables. The processed form of sugar, which we add to our morning coffee comes from sugar cane and sugar beets. Once the sugar is processed, the fibre is lost, and this is when it becomes problematic. Sugar has been part of the human diet since biblical times: it was a luxury item in the 16th century and became readily available with colonial trade.


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So what’s the story? Is sugar really ruining our health?

Most nutritional research hasn’t provided enough evidence to answer this question. If you do a google search, you’ll most likely find evidence that highlights the horrific nature of sugar. Although, there’s evidence that blood sugar control is important in allowing the body to function effectively and in maintaining a healthy weight. And if eaten in excess, sugar can cause fluctuations in blood sugar levels, especially in people who have a sedentary lifestyle or don’t exercise regularly.  Studies (Mathew Pase) found that consuming two sugary drinks per day aged the brain by two years. But Pase also added that since he only measured fruit juice intake, he can’t conclude that sugar alone is what affects brain health.

Sweet Talk

When sugar is used to replace other carbohydrates in a calorie controlled diet, it has no negative health effect. But, if consumed in addition to a calorie-dense diet, then there’s increasing evidence that it can indeed be harmful to our health and even worse lead to weight gain or obesity. Another study found that sugar may also help improve memory and performance in older adults. They found that consuming sugar can make older people more motivated to perform difficult tasks at full capacity. Raised blood sugar levels also made them feel happier during the task. Athletes, for example, consume a high amount of sugar but are able to metabolise it during exercise. Sugar keeps you going during exercise. Some studies have shown that fatigue during endurance exercise coincides with a drop in blood sugar levels. When sugar is maintained, endurance performance increases. The easiest way to maintain blood sugar is by consuming a simple sugar-based drink during exercise.

Scientists haven’t found a direct link between sugar and all the health problems it’s been accused of, except tooth decay, of course.  Some scientists believe that sugar on its own doesn’t cause obesity unless it’s consumed in combination with a diet that’s high in calories.  

Sweet Poison or Just Misunderstood?

Let’s face it, there’s sugar in nearly every food we put in our body, and I’m not talking about just the white sugar. Yes, sugar improves performance in athletes. Besides using sugar during exercise, the evidence for its harmful effect is inconclusive.  If you consume a lot of food high in sugar, without eating less of other foods, then you’re eating too many calories. Excess calories from any energy nutrient, even protein gets stored as fat in the body. However, if you’re physically active, you need to get as much quality nutrition as possible. Simple refined sugar doesn’t have any added nutrients, and many sugary foods such as candy bars are also very high in solid fat. And we all acknowledge that too much of everything… enough said! 


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Fruits, in their natural form, contains fibre, which means the body gets all of its benefits.


What you need to know

Dietary guideline to limit sugar intake doesn’t apply to all sugars.  Sugars that occur naturally in milk and fruits shouldn’t be confused with concentrated refined sugars, such as table sugar, honey, high fructose corn syrup, and even sugar alternative. The sugars in fruits are diluted with large volumes of water and are packed with fibre, vitamins and minerals that the body needs. So if you need a sugar hit, grab a fruit. Also, reducing your sugar intake can have a positive effect on your weight, blood-sugar levels and your health in general.

Pay attention to what you’re eating, and of course everything in moderation.

What steps do you take to cut down sugar in your diet? 


Thanks a bunch for reading!

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