Sugar – Friend or Foe?

Talk about sugar has been going on for some time now. There are all kinds of sugar, including glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose and sucrose - also known as table sugar. Basically, sugar is a crystalline carbohydrate that makes foods taste sweet.

Many of these sugars appear naturally in fruits and vegetables. The problem is the so called ‘added sugars’. These are the sugars added by ourselves or by food manufacturers. Ever since low-fat guidelines first came out, sugar became the number one ingredient food manufacturers use to give flavor to their foods. And it’s not only flavor, but also color, mass and thickness in food items. In addition, they prevent mold forming and act as a preservative. The most common sources of added sugars are soft drinks, cakes, pies, chocolate, fruit drinks and desserts.

The worrying thing is that added sugar can be found in what are described as healthy foods, like yogurt, fruit juices and breakfast cereals. If Hong Kong shoppers took a look at the food packaging of healthy foods, they’d discover a large amount of added sugars in many of these items. Added sugars are closely related to many health issues, such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, premature aging and tooth decay.

A 2008 study by researchers from Princeton University found that rats used to consume a high-sugar diet showed signs of withdrawal when they sugar intake was reduced. This study displayed that sugar can be addictive. It works the addiction and reward pathways in the brain in much the same way as many illegal drugs.

In light of a huge number of studies showing the negative side effects of sugar, the WHO (World Health Organization) revised their added sugar recommendations in 2014. The WHO issued a draft guideline stating they would like to halve their recommended daily free sugar intake from 10% to 5%.

Many people turn to artificial sweeteners like saccharin, sucralose and aspartame. A study published in the journal Nature, suggests artificial sweeteners may still drive diabetes and obesity. The study found that long term consumption of artificial sweeteners was associated with increased weight, abdominal obesity, higher fasting blood glucose levels and increased glycosylated hemoglobin levels.

Although these are all worrying results, cutting all sugar from your diet would be difficult and may not be that healthy at all. Biochemist Leah Fitzsimmons, of the University of Birmingham in the UK states, “Fruits, vegetables, dairy products and dairy replacements, eggs, alcohol and nuts all contain sugar, which would leave you with little other than meat and fats to eat - definitely not very healthy."

Instead of staying away of all sugars, experts say it should be part of a healthy, well balanced diet. Avoid processed foods and drinks and eat more natural foods like fruits and vegetables. This way you’ll avoid all the empty calories associated with these foods and drinks and decrease your chance of disease and obesity. You can always look for expert advice of a nutritionist or visit us in our studio in Aberdeen, Hong Kong where our professional trainers will be happy to assist you.