If you read nutrition labels, sucrose, glucose, fructose, and maltose, all refer to sugar. Somehow, sugar is an ingredient everything on the shelves seems to have, but is it good for you? Let’s find out.
What is Sugar?
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate, which can be naturally occurring or an added sugar. Sugar found in fruits, nuts, and vegetables is naturally occurring. On the other hand, sugar sprinkled on donuts is added sugar and is made from various plant or dairy ingredients.
Based on the molecular structure, natural sugars can be classified as monosaccharides, disaccharides, or polysaccharides. Monosaccharides are the simplest form of sugar as they are made up of only one sugar molecule. Examples include glucose, fructose-common in fruits, and galactose- found in milk.
Disaccharides contain two molecules, for example, sucrose, while polysaccharides contain more than two molecules, e.g., glycogen. When consumed, the body breaks down the sugar into glucose, which provides energy for your body.
Does Your Body Need Sugar?
There are a lot of negativities around sugar. So, does your body need sugar?
Yes, it does. Sugar is a carbohydrate that, when broken down to glucose, serves as the primary energy source for the body. Therefore, sugar is important to fuel the body. However, the body does not need added sugars; natural sugars are enough.
Natural sugars found in fruits, vegetables, and other whole foods come with other nutrients to help your body remain healthy. For example, consuming a fruit, say an orange, will provide the glucose your body needs, fiber, and other vitamins. In contrast, added sugars like sugar from soda don’t have any nutrients for the body. So, you will be consuming empty calories.
4 Ways Sugar Bad For Your Health
You have repeatedly heard that sugar is bad for your health, but how does it affect your health?
1. It Promotes Weight Gain
Added sugar has been linked to obesity. Instead of filling your stomach, added sugar does not contain any fiber or nutrients. So, it does not curb your hunger. Instead, it increases your hunger, which makes you eat more, leading to weight gain. Added sugars also increase visceral fat, deep belly fat that causes heart disease and diabetes. Sugar can also make losing weight difficult as it interferes with appetite and hunger-signaling hormones.
2. Poor Brain Functioning
When you consume sugar, your brain gets a surge of dopamine, a feel-good chemical. When dopamine subsides, your body will crave more sugar to experience the hormone again. Usually, whole foods don’t release the same dopamine, and your brain might constantly rely on excessive sugars to experience the dopamine effect. Excessive consumption of added sugars also leads to cognitive decline and is linked to dementia.
3. Puts You at Risk of Suffering from Type 2 Diabetes
While diabetes is a common disease, it greatly reduces life expectancy and is a major cause of mortality. You get type 2 diabetes when your body no longer responds to insulin, a hormone that removes sugar from your bloodstream into the body cells. Excessive consumption of sugar leads to your body becoming insulin resistant. So, you will suffer from elevated blood sugar levels, which can lead to more complications like nerve damage over time.
4. Reduced Heart Performance
Too much sugar will affect your heart arteries. Sugar increases insulin in your bloodstream, thickening the arteries more, leading to stress on your heart. This stress can cause heart disease, stroke, heart failure, or heart attack,
How Sugar Affects Your Workout
Sticking to a workout routine requires planning, sacrifice, commitment, and dedication to achieve your fitness goals. Does it feel like you are putting in too much effort and getting poor results? Sugar could be undermining your goals by:
Reducing Your Energy Levels
You need the energy to exercise. Unfortunately, sugar consumption causes energy crashes which will lead to low energy. Therefore, your body might lack the energy to sustain workouts and lower motivation.
Lowering Your Endurance
Your body needs enough fuel for endurance exercises like swimming, running, or cycling. So, you need to have eaten foods rich in nutrients to supplement the reserves in your body. Simple sugars will lower your endurance since they are quickly digested and offer additional nutrients. Thus, they are a poor energy source.
Dehydrating Your Body
Did you know hydration is important for effective exercise? When you are dehydrated, your mental and physical performance diminishes, and your heart rate increases. When you consume sugar, the brain sends signals to your kidney to improve functioning and increase urination. So, the more added or simple sugars you consume, the more urination could lead to dehydration.
Causing Gut Problems
Most simple sugars also contain fats, which can be a deadly combination to your gut. They are likely to cause bloating, gas, cramps, and other gut problems, hindering your workout and ruining your mood.
Am I Eating Too Much Sugar? How to Tell
While there are a lot of negative effects of consuming sugar, moderate consumption of sugar can serve as a source of energy. So, how can you tell if you are eating too much sugar?
According to the American Heart Association, women should consume 100 calories of daily added sugars (approximately 6 tsp), and men should consume 150 calories (approximately 9 tsp). It is hard to know if your sugar consumption exceeds these limits. Fortunately, there are signs which can indicate you are eating too much sugar. They include:
Constantly Feeling Hungry and Fatigued
Unlike whole foods, sugar is easily absorbed by the body and digested. It is a quick energy source, and within 30 minutes after consumption, you will be hungry. Since sugar spikes insulin, overconsumption will lead to insulin and blood sugar swings, affecting energy levels. Therefore, you will feel more fatigued.
Sugar contains a lot of empty calories. It only satisfies your taste buds and is not filling. So, your body will crave more and more sugar without satisfying you, leading to weight gain. Besides the extra calories being behind your weight gain, sugar damages your gut ecosystem and interferes with how your gut should regulate insulin levels, leading to weight gain. Sugar further damages leptin, a fat hormone, which makes you crave more sugar, leading to weight gain.
You are More Irritable
While stress can affect your mood and make you more irritable, so can sugar. A 2020 study shows sugar can worsen your mood, promote inflammation, and cause symptoms of depression. When you consume a lot of sugar, it will greatly spike your blood sugar. As the body processes it, the blood sugar levels decline, leaving you feeling irritable.
What to Do If You Are Consuming Too Much Sugar
Have you been taking too much sugar and wish to cut back? Where do you start? First, start by reading your labels. When did you last read the boring ingredients labeled on something you were eating? You might be shocked to learn the ingredients behind sugar-free or self-proclaimed healthy foods.
When reading labels, pay attention to three things:
- Serving size- if the package reads family-size, it isn’t packed to be consumed by you in one sitting while binge eating. The serving size will guide you on how much you should eat in a sitting.
- Sugar – check the sugar content on the nutrition label. It is best to choose foods with 10g of sugar per 100g or less.
- Energy – it is a combination of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. The more energy you consume, the harder you should burn off. How much energy your body needs will depend on your sex, age, and muscle mass.
Second, make some dietary changes. Swap out added sugars you are consuming and replace them with natural sugars. For example, you can do away with white bread instead of whole-grain bread. Instead of eating a granola bar in the morning, consider eating fruits or nuts.
Third, practice restraint. You cannot swap out your diet in a day, but you can make small sacrifices in the right direction. Also, remember moderation is key, and life is about balance. You can have a cheat day on which you indulge moderately and burn extra calories.
3 Debunked Myths About Sugar
There are a lot of misconceptions about sugar. Here are the three common myths and the facts.
1. You Should Avoid All Sugars
When health experts advise against sugar consumption, they mean you should limit your added sugar consumption, not avoid all sugars, including fruits. They advise against added sugar because it contains no nutrients, minerals, or vitamins. Therefore, the myth that all sugar is bad is offset by the fact that natural sugar has nutrients to offer. For example, fruits have sugar and fiber, which helps with digestion and reduces the body’s rate of absorbing sugar. So, avoid added sugars like sugary drinks, and don’t worry about fruits or dairy.
2. Instead of Taking Sugar, Consider Sugar-free Alternatives
Most people do away with added sugar and replace it with sugar-free alternatives like diet soda. However, this isn’t a healthier choice. Sweeteners also negatively affect blood sugar, alter gut bacteria, and increase cravings. A study by the Canadian Medical Association shows that sweeteners also increase the risk of heart attacks, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, among other illnesses.
3. Certain Types of Sugar are Healthier
Most people believe that some sugar, e.g., brown sugar, is better than white sugar. False. The body cannot differentiate between types of sugar. So, all types will have a similar effect on the body as they are all broken down into glucose.
Sugar becomes a problem when you take in more sugar than your body needs. Now that you understand sugar can be naturally occurring or added, you understand why cutting back on all sugars in your diet is unrealistic. However, you can make better and healthier food choices by reading labels and eating whole or unprocessed foods,
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