Facts about sugar
Posted on 21 April 2015
It’s sweet, it makes us feel good and can be moreish. But how much sugar is enough? And is it even good for us? We spoke to endocrinologist Marli Conradie to get the scoop on sugar.
Sugar is sugar, right?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that there are various forms of sugar, and there are three you should know:
1. Glucose is the form that the cells in our body use for energy.
2. Fructose is naturally found in fruits and vegetables.
3. Sucrose, known as table sugar, is cane or beet sugar.
Did you know? On food labels, sugar goes by many names, including syrup, corn syrup, malt syrup, molasses, dextrose, agave nectar, brown rice sugar and even evaporated cane juice.
How does sugar make its way through your body?
When you consume sugar, it’s absorbed into your blood stream where it will stay if it’s not transported to your cells. Your pancreas secretes a hormone called insulin immediately after a meal so that glucose is able to enter the cells.
What’s a sugar high?
Sugar has an effect on how we feel – it increases the levels of serotonin (feel-good hormones), so sugar makes us feel good. The problem is we can get addicted to how sugar consumption makes us feel, and this is one of the main contributors to the obesity epidemic. When we consume too much sugar too quickly, the increased amount of insulin and subsequent drop in glucose can actually make you feel depressed and fatigued.
So how much is enough?
It’s difficult to give an exact amount – it differs from person to person. If you’re a diabetic, the guideline is to steer clear of sugar. However, there are many forms of sugar (for example, the fructose in fruit) that diabetics can eat safely. What you should be doing is distinguishing between added sugar (the sugar in your coffee, a soda, a chocolate) and natural sugars (such as an apple). The World Health Organization recommends a daily sugar intake of 50g. If one teaspoon equals 4g, you shouldn’t be eating (or drinking) more than 12 teaspoons a day. Sound like a lot? It’s not. That can of soda you had at lunch contains about 40g (or 10 teaspoons) of sugar.
What happens if we eat too much sugar?
Our bodies store this sugar as a source of energy that can be used in extreme circumstances (like when you’re stuck on an island without food!). Your body stores it by making something called glycogen, which is stored in your liver and muscles. This is the more immediate source of energy, for example when you fast overnight. Our bodies store surplus sugar that isn’t being used as tryglicerides, which in simple terms is fat.
Is sugar good for me?
The good news is that we all need sugar as an energy source – so yes, it can be considered good for you. However, you need to ask yourself: what type of sugar am I eating? Having an apple and a glass of water (if you’re thirsty) with all the added fibre is much better for you than drinking apple juice. It’s the same when it comes to carbohydrates – complex carbs (brown rice) is much healthier for you than simple carbs (white bread). If you’re at a healthy weight, you can consume sugar on a daily basis as long as you’re active enough to use it. But having added sugar in your diet offers no nutritional value.