Over the past few year, sugar has been a main focus of media outlets. There have been TV programmes dedicated to debating the positives and negatives of sugar. However, rather than shedding some light on the topic, they have added to the confusion.
So, how does sugar impact our overall health?
Unfortunately, the terms sugar and carbohydrates are often used interchangeably and thus create more confusion than needs be. To clarify, in food science, sugars can be either simple (examples such as glucose and fructose) or complex (such as lactose, starch & dietary fibre) carbohydrates.
Granulated sugar on the other hand, is made up of sucrose – a complex carbohydrate molecule consisting of glucose and fructose in a 1:1 ratio).
Carbohydrate digestion starts in the mouth through salivary action, however, the majority of digestion happens in the intestine through the action of a series of enzymes. This degradation is needed as it allows for carbohydrates to be absorbed easily through the intestinal lining.
The main digestive difference between simple and complex carbohydrates is that simple carbohydrates do not need further digestion and thus are absorbed in their entirety.
Complex carbohydrates, however, require digestion into their simple carbohydrate components in order to be absorbed through the intestinal lining. Hence, whether the carbohydrate consumed was simple or complex, the end result is that it is the simple sugars that get absorbed. It is these simple sugars which in turn affect blood glucose levels as well as hormone stability.
So which sugar is which?
The confusion arises when individuals start referring to dietary carbohydrates as sugar, as this term is most often used to refer to white granulated sugar. To make things worse, sugar that comes from natural sources, such as fruits and vegetables, is often portrayed as better, as if there is some mysterious reason that it will not be digested or picked up by the body the same way that granulated white sugar is.
This is completely misleading and shows a misunderstanding of human physiology. Sugar, whether it is from granulated white sugar or from other sources, will be dealt with in the same manner by the human metabolism.
Sugar & Disease
Studies continue to show the adverse health implications associated with consuming too much sugar – whether it be granulated or from other sources. Consuming too much sugar, in any shape or form, is toxic and this puts extra pressure on the liver to process it and minimise the damage it can cause.
Too much sugar in the blood stream will cause damage to organ tissues and effectively stop the liver’s ability to burn fat for energy. In turn, too much sugar in the diet will be stored as body fat which if a high sugar diet continues will cause this stored body fat never to be used. Our bodies have an unlimited storage capacity for body fat.
Hence, stored fat, which is brought about from consuming sugars will cause inflammation in the body. Inflammation is an unwanted state as studies continually show that inflammation is a factor contributing to a variety of conditions such as metabolic syndrome, heart disease, type 2 diabetes as well as certain autoimmune conditions.
Neurological conditions risk
Studies are also shedding light on the issue that certain neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s Disease may be caused by excessive sugars in the diet.
The bottom line is… Evidence is mounting about the detrimental health impact of consuming too much sugar. A low carbohydrate approach embraces those carbohydrates that are based on dietary fibre rather than simple and/or complex carbohydrates. By choosing vegetables and fruits low in sugar and starch, the essential micronutrient requirements are still met while ensuring no blood sugar spikes in the progress and therefore help bringing inflammation under control.
Ruth Buttigieg, BSC (Hons), MSc, ANutr is a qualified nutritionist who works at Natural Ketosis, where she helps people to better their health by changing their diet and lifestyle by following a low sugar low starch approach. Ruth read biochemistry for her undergraduate degree and she also has a Masters in Public Health Nutrition from Queen Margaret University.
Sugar pic thanks to Free Stock Photos.