When it comes to sweetening our favourite desserts, lemonades, teas, or coffees, it’s usually white or refined sugar we reach for as if by instinct. At times we consider natural sugars such as honey, fruit juices and syrups. In our modern lifestyles, it’s true we really stuff way too much sugar in our bodies, and we don’t even notice.
How so? Just look at these everyday foods we love:
- Fruit Juice
- Tomato Sauce
- Soft Drinks
- Salad Dressings
- Cakes & Pastries
- Chocolates & Confectionaries
- Jams, Jellies and Marmalades
They’re all supremely delicious and sinfully addictive. And they all have one thing in common: they’re packed to the gills with added sugar.
And we know foods loaded with sugar aren’t the healthiest food choices.
But Don't We Need Sugar in Our Diet?
Simply put, sugar is a crystalline carbohydrate that adds sweetness to food. It consists of monosaccharides, i.e. glucose, fructose, and galactose, and disaccharides, i.e. maltose, lactose and sucrose.
- Glucose occurs naturally in fruits and plant juices
- Fructose occurs naturally in fruits, certain root vegetables such as sugar beet, and sugarcane and honey
- Lactose occurs naturally in milk
- Galactose combines with glucose to form lactose
And yes, we need sugar in our diet. It’s the natural fuel that energizes our bodies, helping us move and enjoy life. We get it from the carbohydrates which are the main source of sugar supply.
Natural sugars in foods, i.e. fruits, vegetables, and even honey are the healthy sugars that contain other nutrients too. We can mostly consume them without fear, provided we eat in moderation.
Therefore, since the body needs sugar for metabolism, we must consume it in the form of carbohydrates which ultimately get broken down into blood sugar or glucose - the main sugar in the blood.
The ideal carbohydrate is one with high dietary fibre, e.g. multigrain bread. These types of foods have a low glycemic index too, meaning they release glucose slowly into the bloodstream, thus maintaining constant sugar levels.
In prepared foods and beverages, e.g. cakes, pies, or colas we add sugar to sweeten them further and add to taste. It is this added sugar which is 100% sucrose in our foods that is the problem. It leads to eating sugar beyond limits and that’s what destroys our health instead of building it.
Over-consumption of this type of sugar is bad for our bodies. It has only what are called empty calories, devoid of nutrients.
Studies have indicated that too much added sugar intake may lead to many health complications, e.g. obesity, cardiovascular diseases, dementia and diabetes.
How much Sugar is Safe to Consume?
- The daily intake of added sugar shouldn’t exceed 25 grams or 6 teaspoons for women which totals about 100 calories.
- For men, 38 grams or 9 teaspoons that work out to 150 calories is the recommended maximum intake.
- Children’s daily intake shouldn’t shoot beyond 3-6 teaspoons, depending upon age.
These figures correspond with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation which states that no more than 10% of an adult’s calorie supply should come from added sugar or natural sugars. Less than 5% is ideal.
That means if your diet makes up 2000 calories, only 5% calories, i.e. 25 grams should come from added sugar or natural sugar.
However, what’s alarming is nowadays more and more people over-consume sugar, often beyond 15%, whether as added sugar like sucrose or as natural sugar like honey and juices.
This negatively impacts health.
2 Health Impacting Consequences of Too Much Sugar
There’s no doubt excess sugar is bad for the body.
Research has narrowed down two major ill effects of too much sugar in the diet:
- Excess sugar consumption leads to obesity – Excess sugar consumption in the form of popular foods and beverages over long periods by children, adolescents and also adults, seriously affects hormonal balance. Sooner or later the critical body functions go haywire. As we eat more sugar our bloodstream floods with higher levels of glucose. This causes the pancreas to release more insulin in to help digest the extra sugar. More insulin not only causes the body to store more food calories as fat, but it also causes leptin resistance in our brains. Leptin is a very important hormone that informs our brain that we have eaten our fill. The brain then tells the body to stop eating. When leptin resistance happens the brain is no longer able to hear that ‘feeling of fullness’ message and so fails to signal the body to stop eating. The person eating continues splurging and gradually becomes obese. Obesity leads to sluggishness and inactivity, which leads to further weight gain and even more health complications. But we can’t blame excess sugar as the lone culprit here. It’s the skewed nutrient combination in sugar-rich foods that’s the main problem.
- The more sugar we consume the more sugar we crave – Many processed foods we consume, e.g. ice creams, energy drinks and soft drinks contain added sugar much beyond the WHO limits. Consuming such foods causes neurochemical changes in the brain’s central or limbic region. Research has found evidence that sugar can be addictive and that sugar addicts have comparable withdrawal symptoms and unnatural cravings similar to those found in alcohol and drug addicts. They often develop disorderly eating habits that may lead to either bulimia or obesity.
How Bad is Excess Sugar for Children and the Elderly?
The impact of added or empty sugar on children is alarming. For example, there’s a clear link between excess sugar consumption and dental caries or cavities and obesity.
In the elderly, it’s a factor of cardio-metabolic and early death risk.
Here’s a look at some bad effects of excess sugar:
It’s convenient for parents to reward their children with sweets and candies. But do they realise how harmful this seemingly innocuous gesture is? Children very soon turn sugar addicts with potential physical and psychological implications. When denied sweets disturbing withdrawal symptoms then become noticeable, e.g. irritability, mood swings, lethargy, hyperactivity and body tremors.
Tooth decay and dental caries in children are painful and unsightly as well. The child may even encounter traumatic experiences as a result of bullying by peers because of his/her condition. This can have a long-lasting psychological impact that can affect normal behaviour.
Too much sugar in children can lead to malnutrition which is nothing but poor nutrition. These children soon become starved of other nutrients such as minerals and vitamins essential for proper growth. One such mineral is chromium which regulates blood sugar. The result is though the child looks chubby or healthy he or she is under-nourished in some nutrients and over-nourished in others.
When parents take the easy way out by giving the young children sweets and chocolates instead of disciplining them and delaying their gratification, psychological imbalances and delinquency can occur when these children enter adolescence. They grow up exhibiting aggressive behaviour, even committing violent crimes. Researchers found out that 70% of those youngsters who committed violent crimes ate candy every day as children!
On the Elderly:
Sugar impacts cardiovascular health. This is more pronounced in seniors who love sweets and snacks stacked with not only sugar but fats as well. Too much sugar increases the risk of high blood pressure, cholesterol and abnormal weight gain which cascades with a negative impact on their hearts.
Seniors will do well to keep track of their sugar intake or replacing it with alternative natural sugar such as raw honey (again in moderation) as per guidelines, i.e. not more than 25 grams for women and 36 grams for men per day.
Sugar is notorious for causing blood sugar levels to either plummet or spike. This can make matters worse for senior citizens who may already be saddled an already impaired immune system or other health issues. It’s best to listen to the doctors and avoid non-essential added sugars or regulate its intake.
The ageing process in seniors may accelerate rapidly with the indiscriminate intake of added sugar.
Seniors are known for behaving like children when it comes to the craving for forbidden foods such as sweets and desserts. They even manage to obtain them surreptitiously. What they don’t realise is that sagging skin can also compound depression and anxiety as well as impact memory and cognition.
It’s wise for seniors to stick to prescribed limits or avoid added sugar altogether. Raw honey or other natural substitutes are the best choices, again within limits.
Sugar and Diabetes
According to IDF (International Diabetes Foundation), in 2019 approximately 463 million people in the age group of 20 to 79 years are reported to have diabetes of SME type or the other.
Diabetes has become a major public health problem that’s assuming epidemic proportions worldwide and by 2045 the number of diabetic persons will become 700 million.
China is number one in the top ten lists of countries with the highest number of diabetics followed closely by India and the USA.
India, which now has a reported 75 million diabetic cases, will be saddled with 135 million cases by the year 2045.
Almost 80% of diabetes cases are reported in developing countries and the number of type 2 diabetic cases – the lifestyle one – is proportionately higher.
Here’s what’s worse.
Diabetes can also cause many other health problems, making life even more miserable for the sufferers. Here’s an incomplete list of the complications:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Nerve damage (neuropathy)
- Kidney damage (nephropathy)
- Eye damage (retinopathy)
- Foot damage
- Skin conditions
- Hearing impairment
- Alzheimer's disease
In such a scenario, can honey be a natural alternative to sugar?
3 Reasons Why Raw Honey is a Healthier Choice Than Sugar
Is honey a natural sugar?
Though both honey and sugars are sweeteners they have different textures, tastes and nutritional values.
Here are three reasons why raw honey is a healthier choice than sugar:
Sugar Content: Sugar is 100% sucrose, or 50% each fructose and glucose, and nothing else. This means it’s high on the glycemic index that can suddenly and rapidly spike blood sugar levels when consumed. Honey is 40% fructose and 30% glucose. The remainder is
- minerals that include selenium, zinc, magnesium and potassium
- amino acids
- bee propolis
- Calorie-wise: Honey is a few notches higher than sugar but these other nutrients in honey score over sugar giving you the benefits sugar can never give.
- Medicinal Value: Raw honey, that isn’t processed, thus preserving the food values. Besides these benefits, honey has a host of properties that:
- Help relieve symptoms of cough
- Ease pollen allergies – besides being antioxidant and anti-inflammatory
- Help in digestion
- Aid faster healing of wounds, skin problems and hair fall when applied topically.
It’s not that honey doesn’t have disadvantages. Besides having more calories than refined sugar it can be life-threatening if given to infants under a year of age.
People with diabetes have to be careful with honey. Too much of it can suddenly spike blood sugar levels leading to weight gain, cardiovascular diseases and other illnesses.
So it's always wise to consult your physician first.
But when you consider the positives, honey has everything sugar doesn’t.
What's the Best Choice?
If it’s only for sweetening that you want and provided you keep a tab on calories, you can choose either.
However, you must remember that while sugar has only empty calories, raw honey trumps with its superior composition of nutrients, minerals, vitamins, enzymes and antioxidants.
And if you are to choose honey, we at Zizira have the right stuff for you: choices of naturally processed, unadulterated, unfiltered and unique raw honey from the villages of Meghalaya.
Pick the one you want!