Who does not love sugar? A sweet tooth is something which is really hard to ditch sometimes.
People today are obsessed with sugar-free meals. Restaurants and cafes have a whole separate menu for the ‘fitness freaks’ who dig the sugar-free stuff.
Why shouldn’t we enjoy those chocolate shakes, mouth-watering pastries and amazing soft drinks? To understand this, we need to get into the science, what is sugar and how it interacts with our body?
So what is Sugar?
Sugar is produced by all green plants through photosynthesis. The sugar that we consume in food products is mostly extracted from sugar beet and sugar cane plants.
The table sugar that we see is processed sugar. It is scientifically known as Sucrose. Sucrose is a complex sugar that can be further divided into simple sugars Glucose and Fructose. There are two other types of complex sugars that we readily find in food, Lactose (milk sugar) is found in milk and contains Glucose and Galactose, and Maltose containing two units of Glucose which is found in foods with fermented starch such as bread or beer.
Sources of Sugar
We ingest sugar primarily in two forms as Carbohydrates, i.e, complex sugar like in whole grains, fruits, vegetables which are complex sugar plus natural fibre. And in the form of added processed sugar in food products like pastry, chocolate, ice cream etc. Even the food products that do not appear to be sugary may contain sugar to make them taste better for marketing purpose.
Digestion and Absorption of Sugar in the body
Carbohydrate digestion in the body starts from the mouth. Enzymes (digestion catalyst) in the mouth start to break down complex form of sugar in Carbs to digestible simpler form of sugar. The major part of this activity occurs in the intestine where a number of different enzymes help in the process of breakdown of different types of sugar.
The simpler form of sugar i.e. Glucose, Fructose and/or Galactose are taken to the liver for further distribution.
Glucose enters the bloodstream and is absorbed by the cells through the hormone Insulin. Cells further utilize glucose to release energy.
Fructose and Galactose are converted into Glucose and some byproducts. The Glucose is absorbed by the bloodstream into the cells. Also, the excess Glucose is stored in the form of Glycogen in the liver and muscles for further use as an energy source. Surplus glucose also gets stored as fatty acid in the fat tissues of the body.
What does sugar do to your body, when consumed in excess?
Excess of sugar consumption happens when we ingest a large amount of sugar in small proportions of food. The processed foods are generally added with High Fructose Corn Syrup or Corn Syrup. High Fructose Corn Syrup contains fructose and is a major ingredient of soft drinks and other confectioneries as fructose is sweeter than pure glucose. Corn Syrup is made from cornstarch and comprises of maltose and other sugars. It is mostly used to thicken and sweeten the food products. We have seen above how the body metabolizes these different types of sugars. Extra amounts of sugar lead to hoards of problems. Some of them are listed under:-
1) Insulin Resistance – The excess amount of sugar demands a greater amount of insulin hormone to be released for the absorption of glucose. When the insulin levels in the body remain high, the body develops resistance to the hormone and the extra glucose is not absorbed by the cells leading to high glucose levels in the blood. Symptoms of insulin resistance include fatigue, hunger, brain fog and high blood pressure.
2) Diabetes – Diabetes is a prevalent health disorder which impairs the body’s ability to process blood glucose. There are three types of diabetes Type 1, Type 2 and Gestational Diabetes. Diabetes leads the body into lots of complications including Heart Diseases.
3) Weight Gain– Excess of sugar cannot be utilized by the body and is stored as fat. This fat gets accumulated under the skin and around the organs in the body increasing the fat levels and leading to weight gain.
4) Liver Damage– High doses of sugar can cause damage to the liver. The way our bodies metabolize fructose can stress out and inflame the organ. High fructose leads to the development of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, where fat accumulates throughout the liver.
Sugary foods provide a spike in the blood sugar level without supplying the essential nutrients found in naturally occurring food sources. It also creates a tendency to eat more of sweet products thus creating an addiction to sugary foods.
Cutting out sugar in the diet
Sugar is hidden in most of the packaged products that we find in the market today. Some of the manufacturers do not even mention the quantity of sugar in the product. Even some products marketed as sugarless have hidden amounts of sugar.
To cut out the excess sugar from our diet we need to avoid our dependency on the packaged food and make a shift towards more naturally occurring sources of food. Natural food sources like whole grains, vegetables and fruits do contain sugar but help regulate it in our body owing to the other nutrients and fibre contained in them.
Occasional bouts of desserts and sweets can satiate the sweet cravings in us but a regular binge on sugary foods must be avoided to enjoy a healthy lifestyle.