Sugar, oh not-so-sweet!

….sweet as sugar and everything nice
These lyrics from Lenka’s famous song might make you hum some sweet nothings but in reality, sweet sugar doesn’t always lead to everything NICE (at least medically)!
Though, I personally have nothing much against this poor little thing, which is being targeted left, right and centre by all for the virtue it is best known for i.e being sweet! People globally have kind of taken it up against it and even started calling it names like sweet poison, killer, white devil, evil nutrient….and what not.
This constant jabber makes me look further and dig deep to find out how really good and bad sugar is for our being and is it practically doable to ignore its existence in our lives?

Sugar: The a, b, c…. of it

Sugar” is a common term for naturally occurring “simple carbohydrates”.
When we mention sugar, we usually refer to “table sugar” or sucrose, which is sourced primarily either from sugar cane or sugar beet. Beyond this, there are various other types of sugar available like milk sugars, honey and sugars made by plants during photosynthesis. The sole purpose of sugar is to provide energy for life.
Have a look at its various types
  • Glucose - fruits, vegetables and honey
  • Lactose - milk sugar
  • Sucrose - sugar cane, beet and in some other fruits and vegetables
  • Maltose (malt sugar) - malted drinks and beer
  • Fructose - fruits and honey
And you come across it in the forms of
  • Table sugar – the typical, granulated or cubed ones
  • Caster sugar - finer than granulated sugar used for baking, almost like powder
  • Brown sugar – used for color and flavor
  • Preservative sugar - coarser than granulated sugar, used for jams
One day my 9 year old niece, who is little chubby, asked a very simple and sensible question, “Why you prefer to give me fruits than chocolates? They are also sweet and must be having sugar in them.”
Indeed she was correct. Both the things contain sugar. But the difference comes in process of absorption and utilization of sugar by the body, keeping aside the additional nutritional benefits of the fruits.
To understand it better, take each variant as an example,
Sucrose (table sugar) contains empty calories (of course, this is the one used in chocolates too!). It does not have minerals, vitamins, fiber or any such nutritive element per se`.
Fructose, the sugar derived from fruits and vegetables gets slowly absorbed through the intestines and later gets converted into glucose in the liver. That’s why fructose is a "time-release sugar" as it delivers calories at a gradual rate and not all at once.
Another form of simple sugar glucose breaks down quickly in the stomach and later it gets pumped directly into the bloodstream through the walls of intestine. This raises the blood glucose levels instantly.
That answered my nieces question but of ‘course to her I did it in a much simpler way.

How much is needed in a day

None. Well, none in the added forms of ‘course!
But yes, definitely the carbohydrates are required by the body. The minimum requirement for total carbohydrate in a day from all sources is only 130 grams/day.
As per WHOs guidelines, added sugar per day should not contribute more than 10% of total calorie intake. A person on a 2000 calorie diet a day should consume no more than 50 grams of carbohydrate in the form of sugar (approx 13 teaspoons).
1 teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams of carbohydrate, providing approximately15 calories.
According to the American Heart Foundation, the recommended daily sugar intake for:
Men: 36 grams or 9 teaspoons
Women: 20 grams or 5 teaspoons
Children: 12 grams or 3 teaspoons

Follow the mantra - Reduce, Refrain, and Restrict

It’s ok to have a small helping of occasional sweet treat with friends or sooth your sweet tooth once in a while. The evil occurs only when our diet is usually and consistently high in sugar content.
You can also manage it by making small modifications here and there in your lifestyle and believe me it can reap you huge results, unknowingly. For example:
  • Do not go cold turkey in a day. Slowly wean out of it.
  • Switch to artificial sweeteners for your regular tea, coffee and other drinks.
  • If you want to enjoy a sweet treat, don’t have it with dinner. Savor it during the day itself so that your get enough time and movement to burn it off.
  • Chew sugar-free gum to limit those sweet cravings.
  • Finishing meals with fruits rather than desserts is also a good idea.
  • Don’t keep chocolates, biscuits, and other sugary stuff.

Now… some fun facts and trivia about sugar

After all this heavy stuff, let me lighten you up with some sugary facts and fun trivia about sugar.
  • Lemons are higher in sugar content than strawberries.
  • 'Sugar' and “sure” are the only two english words that are spelt 'su' and pronounced 'sh’.
  • Sugar is used extensively by chemical/pharmaceutical companies to grow “penicillin”.
  • To keep flowers stay fresher longer, put a spoonful of sugar in the vase.
  • Sugar was added to concrete in escalating the setting process.
  • On movie sets, huge glass windows, bottles, plates etc are made of sugar.
  • A pinch of sugar on the tongue is a traditional home remedy for bothering hiccups.
Moral of the story: Consume as little as possible. Daily requirement of carbohydrates can be met though healthier sources like fruits, vegetables, and grains eaten throughout the day.

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