Truth about sugar
Our body needs energy to perform all its functions and sugar is one of the main sources of energy. Having said so, the sugar our body needs is not the white-refined sugar that we commonly presume! Any food item that we eat, irrespective of whether it tastes sweet or not, is turned into glucose in our body. Glucose is a form of sugar and it is this sugar that our body needs.
Natural vs. Refined Sugars: Sugars can be broadly categorized as natural and refined. Natural sugars: Natural sugars are sugars that are found, well naturally. This includes fruits, veggies, and honey. Natural sugars are found in fruit as fructose. Refined sugars: Refined / Processed sugars (usually added to food items) are natural sugars that are modified, combined and processed by us to make something with regular flavour and texture, such as white sugar. And even those of us without a sweet tooth may be eating more than we realise because so many everyday processed foods, from cereals and bread to pasta sauces and soups, contain sugar.
• ‘Low-fat’ and ‘diet’ foods often contain extra sugar to help improve their taste and palatability and to add bulk and texture in place of fat
• Even savoury foods, like ready-made soups and sauces, may contain added sugar
• A can of soft drink, on average, contains the equivalent of seven teaspoons of sugar
• The natural sugar in some fruit, including apples, has increased as new varieties (including Pink Lady, Fuji and Jazz) are bred to satisfy our desire for greater sweetness. Added sugars are often the culprit behind conditions like weight gain, cavities, fatigue and type 2 diabetes.
Health concerns related to Sugar:
EMPTY CALORIES - Although sugar is made using a plant source i.e. sugarcane, which is a whole and natural food, it gets depleted of its natural nutrients in the refining process. All the fibre of sugarcane is completely filtered out and heating the cane juice at high temperatures destroys the natural enzymes present in it. Therefore, what we get from sugar is only empty calories, without any vitamins or minerals!
DIFFICULT TO DIGEST - Unlike water-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables, refined sugar doesn’t have live enzymes. Hence, the body has to work harder to digest sugar and this depletes our energy levels.
ACID-FORMING - Refined sugar leaves an acidic residue in the body after being digested. To balance out the acidity, the body draws on its mineral stores of calcium, magnesium, potassium etc. to neutralise the acidic effect. There is ample evidence that correlates sugar to diseases such as osteoporosis, tooth decay, arthritis, even cancer.
How to add sweetness to our food?
NATURAL FRUITS AND DRY FRUITS - It is best to consume sugar as it exists naturally, like in fruits, dry fruits, nuts and seeds. Some starch foods like potato, sweet potato and Yam also has natural sugar.
ALTERNATIVES - Try to minimize our sugar intake and consider shifting to natural or less processed sweeteners such as jaggery, honey and dates. In these too, one should try to know more about the vendor & processing techniques used. This helps is assessing where the product stands in the whole vs processed value chain.
AVOID ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS - In recent years, due to increasing awareness about ill-effects of sugar zero- or low-calorie substitutes of sugar have gained popularity. Sugar-free and Stevia are common. Artificial sweeteners are found in many diabetic products because they have little or no effect on blood sugar levels. Some can be made from natural leaf extracts (like stevia), and some are manufactured (like aspartame). Most artificial sweeteners are also remarkably sweeter when compared to table sugar, meaning smaller amounts can be used to create the same sweetness level. So, when it comes to sugar, it is advisable to replace processed foods (including added sugars or artificial sweeteners) with whole food sources like fruits. And even when opting for sugar alternatives like jaggery, consume in moderation.