Sugar is not harmful to the body if taken in a limited amount, but added sugar is just empty calories, and it can increase our risk of central obesity, fatty liver, and other harmful conditions, says nutritionist Akanksha Mishra.
She recommends replacing white sugar with natural sources such as honey or jaggery. And, if you need a quick energy boost, you can have a high glycemic fruit like bananas, pineapple, or mangoes, instead of an energy drink, cola, or dessert.
We spoke to her about why sugar is bad for us, how does it impact our bodies, and should we replace it with artificial sweeteners. Edited excerpts:
- Why and how is sugar bad for you?
- Tell us about the different types of sugar? Are all types of sugar bad?
- So, how much sugar should you consume in a day?
- We often hear nutritionists or celebrities say that they don’t consume sugar and get their sugar from natural sources, is it okay to do that?
- There is so much bad press on white or refined sugar. How is it bad for us?
- How else does sugar impact you apart from it being empty calories?
- What about artificial sweeteners or stevia? Is stevia good for you?
Why and how is sugar bad for you?
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate. According to health guidelines, if you consume some amount of sugar in a day, it isn’t totally bad. But if you’re talking about refined sugar or white sugar that we usually use at home, that is actually bad. It is highly processed. If you are consuming a spoon or two in your tea or coffee in a day, that isn’t bad. It is bad if you are consuming too much added sugar in a day in various forms like dessert, sweets, cola, or energy drinks etc.
Tell us about the different types of sugar? Are all types of sugar bad?
There are naturally-occuring sugars, which are found in fruits in the form of fructose, and in milk in the form of lactose. Then there are added sugars which include caloric sweeteners which are added to processed foods or beverages, or during preparation. These include white sugar, honey, corn syrup etc. These can be found in dessert, soft drinks, candies, or fruit drinks.
At the end of the day, you are getting sweetener from all of these types. But if you’re consuming too much added sugar or white sugar, which is highly processed, it is not healthy. The amount of calories in different types of sugar like palm, jaggery, or coconut are the same. If you have to pick, I would recommend adding jaggery to your tea, instead of white sugar. If you are making a salad or a pancake, you can add honey. But in terms of calories, you will just have to watch the quantity you consume.
So, how much sugar should you consume in a day?
It is actually very subjective. If someone is diabeteic or has a metabolic syndrome, or is overweight, they need to cut sugar consumption or atleast lower it. In case you are on a specific diet and restricting your calorie intake, let’s say you are consuming 1,200 calories in a day, in that situation you have to calculate how many calories are you getting from other foods in a day. And if you have any left you can use that for sugar or you can replace it with something else.
According to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guidelines, free sugars intake should be less than 5% of total energy intake if possible. Free sugars are monosaccharides, like glucose and fructose, and disaccharides, like table sugar.
We often hear nutritionists or celebrities say that they don’t consume sugar and get their sugar from natural sources, is it okay to do that?
During the day, if we feel that our energy level is low and we need something sweet, we can choose a fruit with a high glycemic index (fruits which release glucose rapidly). Bananas, custard apple or mangoes, depending on the season, are good options. You can also have a white potato salad or a bowl of fruit salad with honey. If you want to drink something instead, you can have lime water and instead of adding too much sugar, you can add more salt instead, and that will give you sodium, potassium, and other minerals, and it will balance your sugar as well. You can also add honey instead of sugar for natural sweetness.
There is so much bad press on white or refined sugar. How is it bad for us?
One gram of sugar is equal to four kilocalories. It doesn’t have any other nutrients. If you use jaggery instead of sugar, your body is getting other minerals, and it has detoxifying agents. The more sugar you eat, the more calories will be stored in your body. Secondly, sulphur and other chemicals are used for polishing sugar, which are not good for you. That is why we say that you should lower your consumption of sugar and replace it with natural alternatives.
How else does sugar impact you apart from it being empty calories?
Basically, obesity. If we are adding sugar to each and every meal, or consuming too many sweets or desserts, it will lead to obesity. In India, central obesity is very common, fatty liver is very common. I have noticed fatty liver in 80% of my patients. Apart from that, if you have a metabolic condition like thyroid or polycystic ovaries (PCOS), refined sugar can worsen the condition. There are also studies to show that it can impact insulin resistance.
What about artificial sweeteners or stevia? Is stevia good for you?
Personally, I don’t recommend sugarfree. There are various research studies to show that artificial sweeteners impact your heart, kidney, etc. Stevia is a natural source, if you have fresh stevia leaves, definitely you can go use those, but I don’t recommend it in tablet or liquid form. There is enough evidence to show that you should avoid using artificial sweeteners. If you have a condition like diabetes, it is recommended that you cut your sugar consumption, but if you can’t, you can add some artificial sweeteners.
Dr. Akanksha Mishra
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