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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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:
In such a scenario, can honey be a natural alternative to 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:
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.
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!