What is sugar?
Some love it, some avoid it. But what does the word “sugar” mean scientifically?
Sugar we usually know is a disaccharide. Disaccharides are carbohydrates that are part of the three macronutrients in our diet. These main components of our diet are carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Chemically speaking, sugar is a combination of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen.
Carbohydrates come in complex and less complex forms. They are classified according to how many chemical compounds are contained. There are monosaccharides (single sugars), disaccharides (double sugars) and polysaccharides (multiple sugars).
Among the monosaccharides, i.e. the simple sugars, we find glucose, fructose (fruit sugar), and galactose (a component of lactose).
Disaccharides are two sugars that are linked together. These include sucrose (cane or table sugar), lactose (milk sugar), and maltose, which we find in germs, for example.
Polysaccharides are amylose, amylopectin, glycogen, and inulin. Dietary fiber, for example, is largely indigestible polysaccharides.
What is the problem with eating sugar?
First of all, we consume far too much of it. For example, the average American eats 17% of his daily calorie requirement from white sugar! 200 years ago, the average annual consumption of an American was just under 2 kilograms. Nowadays it is more than 72 kilograms a year!
In Germany, it doesn’t look quite as dramatic yet. According to Statista, the annual average consumption per person in 2015 was under 32 kilograms of pure sugar. Still way too much!
Because white sugar and extracted fructose as a sweetener have shown one thing in many studies: We get addicted. And this happens to the same extent as with any other drug. But that’s not the only problem. Countless studies show that sugar consumption can lead to precursors of diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, liver poisoning, kidney damage, cardiovascular diseases, and circulatory disorders.
Sugar is found in most processed foods
The problem is not just the sugar or syrup, but heavily processed food in general. Therefore, the more our food is processed, the more important nutrients, fiber, and secondary plant substances are lost. Since the less of these substances there are in our food, the faster the food is metabolized, our blood sugar/insulin level shoots up and we get hungry faster when it drops again. Our body does not normally experience this kind of skyrocketing blood sugar, since extracted sugar does not exist in nature. If we were to naturally eat something sweet, we would also be consuming natural regulators such as fiber. Dietary fiber ensures, among other things, that our blood sugar level only rises slowly and accordingly does not fall as quickly.
Fruit juices are a good example of processed foods that raise our blood sugar levels. Because our body hardly recognizes any difference to simple sweet water, as it lacks the fiber and other nutrients that are linked to the solid components of the fruit. The extracted fructose, which is often used for “healthy” sweetening, is the main cause of fatty liver that cannot be attributed to alcohol consumption.
In addition, white sugar and syrups have no nutritional value. They are loaded with so-called “empty calories”. Because it does not contain a single essential micronutrient (such as minerals or trace elements). Some juices contain negligible traces of nutrients such as vitamins. Often, however, traces of toxic mercury were found here as well.
What happens when we eat sugar?
Studies show that obese people are less sensitive to dopamine and generally have lower levels of dopamine – just like alcohol or cocaine addicts. A decreased response to dopamine has been linked to addictive behavior. It doesn’t matter what the addiction is based on. Dopamine is one of the neurotransmitters in our brain that is responsible for the reward center (feeling of happiness). The less strongly we react to dopamine or the less dopamine our body produces, the more addictive substances are needed to maintain the level. This also explains the behavior of alcoholics or drug addicts in general: You have to consume more and more in order to evoke the same feeling of happiness.
It is the same matter of fact with the white gold. This is the reason why sugar is hidden in so many foods, such as in tomato ketchup. We should feel happy while eating thanks to the added sugar and, at best, combine this emotion with the food in order to buy it again. It’s the same with chocolate, chips, flips, sweet pastries, etc.
If we drastically reduce our sugar consumption, we feel miserable for a few days because we have to suffer from typical withdrawal symptoms.
What can you do?
According to the World Health Organization, the daily sugar intake should be a maximum of 10%, better still 5% of the total daily calorie intake. In practice, this means: With an energy intake of, for example, 2000 kcal, a maximum of 200 kcal (at 10%) or 100 kcal (at 5%) should come from sugar. That works out to 50 g or 25 g. To make it a little more tangible: a small glass of Coca-Cola (200 ml) already has 21.2 g of sugar.
There are several ways to avoid sugar. But to be completely honest, there is no getting around not only questioning your own sugar consumption but also reducing it. There is also the option of replacing at least part of it with alternatives such as xylitol, stevia, and erythritol. However, many sweeteners are not much healthier, and often quite the opposite.
Eat less processed foods
The fact is: Only when you reduce your total consumption of sweetness – regardless of whether it comes from saccharose or any substitute, you will also have a lower desire for sweets in general. Plus, you should also eat fewer processed products and convenient foods, as these usually contain sugar. It also often helps to cook freshly by yourself. For example, you won’t find white sugar in any of my recipes and I always use healthier alternatives, if any at all. Maybe you will find something here. 😉
What about you? Would you manage to reduce your daily intake? Did you ever realize that it is almost everywhere – even in the food we’d never expect it? Tell me! 🙂
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World Health Organization WHO: