“Sugar causes overweight.” “Sugar destroys your teeth.” – We all know these statements. So it’s not surprising that supposedly sugar-free or at least reduced-sugar foods are piling up on supermarket shelves, and the choice of alternatives increases every day. But what is sugar? What does it do to our bodies? Which foods contain sugar? And are the alternatives really so much healthier?
What is sugar?
Sugar is a carbohydrate and thus provides our body with energy for movement or brain activity.
Not all sugar is the same. The best-known type is probably saccharose – the classic sugar that we all like to use for baking or sweetening. But there are also fructose (fruit sugar), glucose (grape sugar), lactose (milk sugar) and starch. They all have one thing in common: they belong to the group of carbohydrates and thus provide our body with energy for movement or brain activity. To understand how sugar affects our body, we need to know that we need to differentiate between monosaccharides, disaccharides and polysaccharides. Glucose and fructose belong to the monosaccharides (simple sugars), these are the quickest for the body to process. The common household sugar is a disaccharide, consisting of two monosaccharides (glucose and fructose). Starch is counted among the polysaccharides due to the length of its molecular chains.
What happens in our bodies when we eat sugar?
When we eat a sugary food, the body breaks down the molecular chains into monosaccharides. They are passed into the blood, the blood sugar level rises and the body produces insulin that is transported into the cells. Monosaccharides therefore go directly into the blood relatively quickly and cause the blood sugar level to rise rapidly. The processing of disaccharides and polysaccharides, on the other hand, takes the body much longer, so that the blood sugar values fluctuate correspondingly less.
Is sugar really that bad for us?
Fact is, too much sugar promotes obesity, diabetes and other cardiovascular diseases. Why? The excess energy is collected in the liver and converted into fat. Sugared drinks are therefore particularly problematic. Although they give our bodies energy, they cause blood sugar levels to increase quickly and don’t even keep us full, since the body doesn’t really have to process liquids. So we consume a lot of energy without really noticing it. In addition, sugar has negative effects on our teeth.
Another prejudice is the supposed danger of addiction. But can we really get addicted to sugar? Sweets activate the brain’s reward system – the happiness hormone dopamine is released – which means that after eating one piece of chocolate, we just want the whole bar. According to scientific research, a habituation effect can set in after some time: less dopamine is produced for the same amount of sugar.
Nevertheless, we should not forget that the body needs energy to carry us through the day. So, as with most things, moderation is the key. For those who want to lose weight, less sugar is certainly an option. However, this is mainly due to its high energy content. Less sugar = fewer calories, and the body sources the needed energy elsewhere.
How do we know about the sugar content in our foods?
That chocolate pudding, cakes, cookies and ice cream are sugar bombs is probably not surprising to most people. But sugar can also be found in bread and yogurt. It is therefore advisable to take a look at the label when shopping. Be careful though, manufacturers often cheat when it comes to the serving size, and sugar is often hidden behind names such as glucose, fructose, dextrose or maltose. It is important to distinguish between natural sugar and industrial sugar.
What are sugar alternatives and are they really healthier?
Let’s first take a look at fructose. Apples, bananas & Co. are naturally sweet foods – they contain fructose. But fructose is also sugar and not necessarily healthier. However, fruits should always be your preferred choice, because they contain important vitamins and fiber.
The WHO distinguishes between cane sugar and naturally sweet foods. More than 25g of cane sugar per day is not recommended.
Frequently used alternatives to industrial sugar are honey, agave syrup, maple syrup or date syrup. In addition, there are coconut blossom sugar, birch sugar, erythritol or stevia – to name just a few examples. A good reference value that helps to compare these alternatives is the glycemic index. It describes how quickly the sugar enters the blood – the higher the index value, the faster this happens and therefore the worse the product is for our health. While agave syrup has a value of 15, coconut blossom sugar has 35 and honey even 55. When looking at sugar alternatives, you should not forget about the other properties and ingredients. At eatsmarter.de I found a super informative overview, which I highly recommend.
Honey, agave syrup, maple syrup and date syrup are natural products, but they have a similarly high energy content as cane sugar. Advantage for maple and date syrup: both contain potassium, iron and magnesium; date syrup is additionally rich in folic acid, vitamin A and vitamin D.
Birch sugar, also called xylitol, has about 40% fewer calories, but can have a laxative effect if high amounts are consumed. Coconut blossom sugar scores with a low glycemic index, but is incredibly expensive and also travels a long way to reach our supermarket shelves – coconut palms are grown in Southeast Asia. Erythritol is also an expensive alternative due to its complex production process. Many manufacturers and also hobby bakers at home use stevia – a sweetener that has no effect on blood sugar levels and is calorie-free. Only disadvantage: depending on the amount used, stevia can become bitter. Also, there have been recent studies on possible toxicity.
Sugar is not essentially bad for us, as long as we consume it in moderation. This also applies to fruit. If you have a choice, you should rather go for natural sugar sources because of the other beneficial ingredients. The more natural the food, the better.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional or nutritionist. All Information in this blogpost was collected from different resources mentioned below.
quarks.de • eatsmarter.de • PAM App • br.de