In the beginning, there was fat, but now there’s a new enemy in town – sugar. So what risks do sugar pose for us? Fruit contains sugar, yet we’re advised to eat 5 portions a day. In this blog, I’m going to break down the different sugars out there, and which we should be careful about including in our daily diets.
You might have heard the following terms in relation to sugar:
- Free sugar
- Added sugar
- Natural sugar
- Refined sugar
So what’s the difference?
Free sugar refers to simple sugars that are added to foods by the manufacturer or ourselves. They are also the sugars that are naturally found in honey, syrups and fruit juices.
Added sugar are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or drinks during production, and hence have added calories.
Natural sugar – as you can probably guess – are sugars that are found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and honey.
Refined sugar is made from raw sugar that has undergone a refining process after being extracted from sugarcane or sugar beet. The end result is refined sugar/ white sugar.
You may have heard the terms Complex Carbohydrates and Simple Carbohydrates.
All sugars are carbs, and all carbs end up as glucose (our main source of fuel) after being broken down in the body. The speed at which carbs are broken down and glucose is released into the body depends on whether a food is a complex carb or simple one.
At this point, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve eaten a natural, free, refined or added sugar. They will all end up as glucose. However, foods high in added/refined/free sugar quickly spike glucose and insulin levels in the body, leading to increased energy. There are a couple of negative impacts on the body when these spikes occur:
A spike will be followed by a drop in blood sugar – leaving you low on energy, and more likely to eat more.
If you continue with a diet that consists of high-sugar, over time it will drive the body to develop a resistance to insulin (a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels). Insulin resistance causes blood sugar levels to rise further and strongly increases the risk of type 2 diabetes.
Increased levels of insulin in the blood can also impact your heart. The increased insulin causes the walls of the arteries to grow faster and tense. This will stress the heart and damage it over time. This can lead to heart disease/ attacks, and a stroke.
Sugar can also attach to proteins in the bloodstream, which can result in end products that have an ageing effect on the skin – dreaded sagging skin and wrinkles.
It has been claimed that consuming sugar (regardless of calorie intake) will immediately be converted into fat in the body. The type of sugar that has been named in this scenario is fructose (fruit sugars). Various studies have disproved this theory. An example being a study conducted by McMaster University published in 2012.
In my experience, sugar is lumped into one big group – labelled as avoid. However, it is very important to make the distinction between added/refined/free sugars and sugars that occur naturally. Natural sugars are in healthy foods that contain water, fibre and various micronutrients. Added/refined and free sugars are purely empty calories with no nutritional benefits – they simply add to the number of calories you consume. Eating high sugary foods and drinks will not curb your appetite, hence you are more likely to eat more and hence be at risk of gaining weight. The risks linked to gaining weight? Obesity, diabetes, and heart disease – to name just a few.
So how much sugar (non-natural) is okay? I’ve seen various recommendations out there, but the one I work from is below (source: NHS Choices):
- no more than 19g a day of free sugars for children aged four to six
- no more than 24g a day for seven to 10-year-olds
- no more than 30g a day for children from age 11 and adults
If you’re concerned or unsure about the sugar levels in your diet, feel free to message me on info@TRRPersonalTraining.co.uk