Sugar has got a very bad reputation for causing all sorts of health related problems, such as diabetes, and playing a major role in the rising obesity epidemic in Ireland and worldwide.
However, the truth is that no one food is to blame for our global health crisis. It’s a very harsh and extreme statement to make and shifts the focus away from the real cause of the problem.
The hard bottom line is that the overconsumption of highly palatable foods, which are calorie dense and generally tend to be rich in both sugar and fat, is one of the main driving forces behind the obesity epidemic.
Sugar is not solely to blame; it is the excess intake of calories, often in the absence of hunger, be it in whatever form, which makes us fat.
The Sugar Coated Truth
Sugar is a bit of a blanket term and does not just mean the white table sugar we sprinkle in our tea. It encompasses most simple forms of carbohydrates that also taste sweet, including natural sources from fruits and vegetables.
All sugars, regardless of whether it came from a can of coke or an apple, are broken down into simple sugars before they are absorbed by the body and used for energy.
What distinguishes one type of sugary food from the other is the rate at which it is broken down and absorbed in the body, as well as the nutrient content of the food.
The Glycaemic Index (GI) is a term used to describe the rate at which the carbohydrate food is broken down and absorbed. A high GI food will have a high absorption rate and a low GI food will have a low GI rate. Low GI foods, when eaten on their own, will have a lower effect on our blood sugar levels.
The GI of a food is often and incorrectly used to describe the “healthiness” of a food and often used as a means to manage weight. However, the glycaemic load of a food can completely change depending on what you eat with it.
The GI is only a useful term if that single one food is eaten on its own in the absence of other foods. You can combine a high GI food with fats and proteins to decrease the overall effect of the GI to have a smaller impact on your blood sugar levels.
Sugar is Sugar is Sugar
It is no surprise or coincidence that the intake of added refined sugars, such as table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup has increased drastically in the last hundred years or so along with the rise in obesity.
Yes, an excess intake of sugar is bad for you and will eventually lead to health problems if you continue to consume it in large quantities. Some of the dangers of a chronic high-sugar diet include gaining excess body fat, poor carbohydrate tolerance, as well as premature aging, cancer, vascular disease, kidney disease, joint pain and arthritis.
Eating a diet high in any type of sugar should be avoided. But the occasional treat from time to time in conjunction with a healthy balanced diet will do no harm.
There is a lot scare tactics and fear mongering surrounding sugar these days, often hearing such things as “sugar is the devil” and “sugar is the root of all evil”.
Statements like these are far from true, but have scared people into looking for alternatives to sugar such as agave syrup, honey, or fruit sweetened syrups.
At the end of the day, sugar is sugar is sugar. Regardless of whether it is table sugar, honey, agave syrup, or nectar from the Gods, the problem does not lie with the type of sugar, but rather with the quantity that we consume.
A drizzle of honey over your oats, a swirl of agave syrup through your yogurt, or a sprinkle of table sugar in your tea is not going to be a problem when consumed as part of a healthy balanced diet.
However, it will quickly escalate into a serious health problem when excessively drizzling, swirling, and sprinkling by the tablespoon daily.
Instead of trying to source “healthy” sugar alternatives, just moderate your use of it. The type of sweetener that you choose to use should be determined by your personal taste and preference and not just because you perceive it as being “healthy”.
The take home message is – when deciding what sweetener to use; quantity is by far the most important factor that will influence our health and our body composition.
The poison is in the dose.
Thanks for reading,
Karen, your local Nut Coach
[As published in The Herald on 3rd November 2014 as part of my weekly nutrition column - Look Good Feel Good]