All human beings enjoy (and need) the occasional touch of sweetness in their lives- and the same holds true when it comes to our diets. But the average person is consuming too much- and with dire consequences. With the carbohydrate and sugar phobia that has ensued over the past decade, natural sweeteners like sugar and honey have received a lot of bad publicity- and within reason. The truth is out: excess consumption of sugary foods is bad for you health. However, in moderation, sugar will do no harm. Let’s look at some of the facts on our much-loved indulgence- then it’s up to you to decide how much sweetness you allow in.
Sugar- is it really the devil?
Common table sugar (or sucrose) has about 70 kilojoule per teaspoon. Contrary to popular belief, its glycemic index is pretty moderate. The glycemic index, or GI, is a measure of how quickly or slowly a certain carbohydrate containing food raises your blood sugar. Low GI or slow releasing foods are considered better for your health than the High GI or fast releasing ones. Some popular foods, like honey, cornflakes or potato’s have an even more detrimental effect on your blood sugar than regular sucrose!
Gorging on sugar, however, is not without its consequences. Excess sugar consumption has been linked to a range of health problems, including:
Weight gain (Sugar that is not burned off in the body will be stored as fat)
Disorders of sugar metabolism, such as hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) and insulin resistance (a pre-diabetic condition)
Complications in already diagnosed diabetics. Raised levels of LDL (or “bad” cholesterol) as well as triglyceride levels (another bad blood fat), which in turn increases heart disease risk. Lowered immunity, which increases our risk for infection. Hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, concentration difficulties, and behavioural problems in children.
Altered mineral balance in the body, leading to mineral deficiencies of copper, magnesium and other important minerals
Lowered fertility levels
If you’ve ever had a love affair with sugar, you’ll know that more sugar you eat, the more sugar you want. It’s this additive nature of sugar that makes it the world’s most popular drug.
It’s important to note that sugar’s ill effects are generally only significant when sugar is consumed in excess. So what is moderation when it comes to our favourite treat? Follow these sugar consumption rules for a sweet but healthy life:
Sugar should be considered an occasional treat, not a food group.
Remember that sugar is found in a range of food products, so limit your intake of sweets, chocolates, biscuits, cakes, pastries, chewing gum and cold drinks in general. A 330ml can of coca-cola can contain up to 12 teaspoons of sugar!
Gradually get used to adding less and less sugar and sugary foods. Your taste buds will eventually adapt to the changeModerate sugar consumption is set at about 3 teaspoons of sucrose or honey per day, or one small chocolate or about 8 sucking sweets or gums.
Fruit contains a much healthier, slow releasing form of natural sugar called fructose. Excess fruit consumption (more than 4 servings per day) is still not generally recommended though. Fruit juices and dried fruits are particularly high in fructose.If you play sport or exercise daily, a little extra sugar after a workout is OK, because your muscles will absorb it and burn it up for energy quickly.
Don’t consume sugar when you are feeling unwell.
Avoid excess sugar if you are diabetic, have high triglycerides or high cholesterol levels.
Consider substituting sugar for some healthier sweet alternatives. You can try crystallised fructose or xylitol (available at pharmacies and health stores), which have a lower GI than regular sucrose. Steve is a safe, natural, kilojoule-free sweetener which can be purchased at selected health stores.
Excess consumption of artificial sweeteners, like aspartame or saccharin is not recommended but a couple of sachets or pills a day should do no harm, provided you are not sensitive to them.