Sugar: A tasty treat or an avoidable health hazard?

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As modern consumers, most of us make an effort to learn more about good nutrition. From table salt to the amount of sugar we consume, we are trying to regain control of what we put in our bodies. However, this is made difficult by the vast ocean of confusing and conflicting information available to us. According to heart.org, reports show that 80% of consumers face conflicting nutritional information and 59% of consumers doubt their dietary choices. However, most people are in agreement over the need to make healthier choices when it comes to their diet and nutrition.

Sugar has nearly always had a reputation problem with regard to good health and well-being. While sugar is a naturally occurring aspect of all carbohydrate-rich food varieties like grains, fruits, vegetables and dairy products, it comes with certain caveats. A diet consisting of "whole foods" and varieties that have naturally occurring sugar is acceptable. Plant-based food sources likewise have high quantities of fibre, essential minerals, and antioxidants, while dairy food sources have high quantities of protein and calcium.

Since the body processes such foods gradually, the natural sugar in them offers a consistent energy supply to the cells. Moreover, a diet rich in natural foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains has been proven to lessen the occurrence of chronic illnesses like diabetes, heart problems, and even some forms of cancer.

Safe quantity of sugar to consume

There is no one-stop solution to this question. While certain people can consume a lot of sugar with little to no harm, other people may need to avoid sugar consumption in their diet as far as possible. As per reports by the American Heart Association (AHA), the upper limit on added sugars a person should eat per day is:

  • Men: 150 calories daily (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons)
  • Women: 100 calories daily (25 grams or 6 teaspoons)

To put that in real-world terms, a 355 ml can of Coca-Cola has 140 calories entirely from sugar, while an average Snickers bar has 120 calories entirely from sugar. It is important to remember that there is no actual requirement for added sugars from these sources in the average person's daily diet.

Reducing sugar in the diet

Set a limit on the consumption of the following foods products, ranked in descending order of importance:

  • Sugary soft drinks - As noted above, every 355 ml can of soft drinks contains nearly 8 teaspoons of sugar.
  • Packaged fruit juices - Readily available fruit juices contain similar quantities of sugar as sugary soft drinks. Choose fresh fruit juice with no additional sweeteners instead.
  • Confectionery and sweets - Try to limit the intake of confectionery and sweets in the diet.
  • Sweet baked goods - Cookies, cakes, and other types of sweet baked goods are often very high in sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  • Low-fat or diet-friendly foods - Such foods often have the "fat" content removed to give way to very high amounts of sugar as a substitute for taste.
  • Water is your best friend - Replacing sugary drinks like soft drinks and juices with water is an excellent idea. Not adding sugar to coffee or tea is also a good alternative.
  • Get creative - There are many healthier versions of your favourite recipes available online. Finding a good alternative to a sugary treat means you can have your cake and eat it too, minus the guilt or fear of health issues!

In closing

As with any dietary or lifestyle changes, it is important to note the levels of sugar consumption that are suitable for you. While certain types of people can get away with some amounts of sugar in their diet, other people may get sugar cravings, indulge in binge eating, face rapid weight gain, and become more susceptible to diseases. Each person's body chemistry is unique, and thus, each one of us needs to learn and understand what works best for our unique lifestyle.

Click here to watch a quick video on diabetes prevention from Dr Lavanya Aribandi, CMO, ekincare.

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