You’ve probably heard more than once that sugar is the leading cause of obesity and related illnesses. It is also often said that it is white poison, and that it is addictive.
At the other end of the spectrum are people who say that the brain needs sugar to work, and that’s why it’s vital.
But what is true in all these statements? Human beings tend to polarize, and sometimes the truth is not white or in black.
We will explain, and refute the most heard myths about sugar to see that it is neither necessary for the body nor as bad as it is called.
Sugar is a processed food that is usually extracted mainly from beets and sugar cane. In this process, the dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and low protein and fat of the original foods are extracted. We are then left with a white, crystalline product made up of simple carbohydrates. The two main drawbacks are; that its absorption is very fast and produces sudden rises in blood glucose (simple sugar) levels, and that, having gone through a process of processing in which all the nutrients have been removed, they only provide empty calories, that is, without any other benefit beyond the energy of the food itself.
But as always, everything is related to nutrition. On the one hand, the rise in blood glucose levels depends on both the amount of sugar we eat and the foods we eat. Having a packet of sweets and a soft drink at the cinema doesn’t have the same impact on the body as adding a tablespoon of sugar to coffee after a meal rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates, protein, and quality fats. There may also be cases where we are interested in a sugar shot: athletes with very high caloric requirements (before, during or after exercise), or in case of hypoglycemia (sudden drop in blood glucose levels).
On the one hand, the rise in blood glucose levels depends on both the amount of sugar we eat and the foods we eat. Having a packet of sweets and a soft drink at the cinema doesn’t have the same impact on the body as adding a tablespoon of sugar to coffee after a meal rich in fiber, complex carbohydrates, protein, and quality fats.
Now, let’s go with some of the most heard myths in reference to sugar:
- Sugar is necessary for brain function. No, the brain works mostly from glucose, but it can be obtained from many other foods. In fact, it is best to provide this glucose from complex carbohydrates, as they are digested slowly and provide sustained and prolonged energy.
- Sugar is the main cause of obesity. In the current context in which we find ourselves, the main global health problem is obesity, and the diseases derived from it. But we must bear in mind that obesity is a multifactorial disease, and there are many other factors that lead to weight gain: sedentary lifestyle, excessive exposure to highly palatable ultra-processed products… Reducing sugar consumption to 5% of the intake daily caloric intake as it is recommended by the WHO (World Health Organization) will undoubtedly help us improve our health.
- Brown sugar is better than white. It is true that real brown sugar (not the refined one that is then dyed) is not as processed, and therefore retains a little more vitamins and minerals, but as with honey and many other sweeteners, the difference it is not significant, and we must consume its consumption as we would with sugar. There are also sweeteners such as agave syrup or coconut sugar, whose absorption is a little slower, but if we compare, they are not a panacea either.
- Sugar is addictive. Although it is true that the sweet taste attracts us and can hook us, try taking a spoonful of sugar and nothing else. Bad, right? What really encourages us to continue eating are, as we have said before, hyper palatable ultra-processed foods made from fats and sugars.
These foods, in the long term, can alter our sensitivity to sweets and make other foods of this nature, such as fruit, seem insufficient to us and we finally have to add sugar to them. For this reason and as a conclusion, I encourage you to progressively reduce your sugar consumption, and to learn to appreciate the natural flavor of unsweetened foods.
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