Sugar = bad. It’s a school of thought that has long been drilled into us, and in turn has birthed a sugar-free trend that’s spilled into the world of supermarkets, cookbooks, restaurants and blogs.
Is sugar bad for you?
It’s important not to get swept up in the anti-sugar phenomenon before first understanding why sugar is dubbed ‘bad’ and what sugar-free really means.
Firstly, sugar is not necessarily bad for us. In fact, sugar is a great source of energy for your body and is generally used in the form of glucose alongside fats, carbs and proteins. Your body needs sugar every day to power cells for growth, repair, movement and reproduction.
If you restrict sugar too much, your body will become stressed and your metabolism, digestion, hormonal health, immunity, sleep and reproductive functions could suffer as a result.
The problem here lies in the fact that consuming too much sugar means the body ends up with excess “fuel” and the liver can’t store any more. When that happens, sugar is converted into fatty acids (yes, fat) and stored for future use. We’re all familiar with the body’s favourite storing areas: the butt, hips, thighs and stomach (especially for men).
So this being said, it seems logical that balancing your intake is the optimum approach. But how do you know what the perfect balance is?
What foods contain sugar?
Sugar is found in bread, fruits, nuts, dairy, vegetables and many other foods that are essential to our diets – and good for us!
Fructose, or ‘fruit sugar’, which some of these foods contain, is actually vital for the body’s various cell processes mentioned above.
Fructose only becomes an issue in processed foods such as soft drinks, sugary cereals and even chips, which all have large quantities of added sugars, including fructose.
Is sugar-free better?
Many sugar-free items use artificial sweeteners, which are intense synthetic supplements with extremely low calorie amounts. They are common in diet soft drinks, lollies, baked goods, jams and so on. But while many products boast that they’re sugar-free, they may be no better for you than their sugary cousins.
That’s because while they may reduce the incidence of conditions like obesity and type 2 diabetes thanks to lowering our intake of sugar, they may be harmful in other ways.
For instance, it still isn’t clear what link they may have to cancer, and some researchers believe they may actually cause obesity and diabetes!
The jury is still out on whether artificial sweeteners are healthy or harmful, but it’s true to say that too much consumption is not recommended (much like sugar itself!).
Equally, many labels disguise sugar under alternate names such as maltitol, molasses, corn syrup and maltose.
When buying a product, always be savvy in decoding the label.
How much sugar should you eat?
A handy tip to remember is that the World Health Organisation recommends you should keep added sugar intake to less than 10 per cent of your total intake throughout the day.
To put this in perspective, if you’re following a 1200-calorie-a-day diet, less than 120 calories or 30g of sugar should be coming from added sugars. A 375ml can of coke has 40g of these added sugars!
So, what to do with all this information? Well, one point seems clear: “everything in moderation” is still the best advice to follow.
There’s no need to cut out sugar altogether, but reducing your intake to a safe level will reap huge benefits for your health and weight.