There has been concern about sugar for a long time now, with official guidance changing last year on the recommended daily allowance of sugar. It’s now 90 grams or less, and only 30 grams of that should be processed sugar.
How Your Body Uses Sugar
Natural or processed sweet foods and starchy carbs are broken down by the body into small molecules called monosaccharides – sugars. All food such as pasta, bread, vegetables like sweet potatoes, and rice all turn into sugars eventually as the body processes them.
The speed at which these sugars are absorbed into the body is partly determined by the amount of fibre in your food. Fibre controls blood sugar release by slowing down absorption. High fibre foods take the body longer to break down, and this helps to manage energy levels and blood sugar.
Once the sugar is broken down, it’s absorbed into your blood as glucose through the intestines. Insulin carries the glucose into cells, where it is used as energy. Diabetes disrupts this process, and the glucose stays in the bloodstream and causes damage.
Kinds of Sugar
There are lots of different varieties of sugar, and the names often end in ‘ose’: fructose, lactose, sucrose and maltose.
Fructose is the sugar that’s found in fruit, and lactose is the sugar in milk. Sucrose is just table sugar, and there are also sugar syrups such as honey, agave, maple syrup, dextrose or molasses. These syrups are sugar, but some do contain some beneficial nutrients.
If you are mindful of healthy eating, you might be interested to know that fructose (as found in fruits), is absorbed much more slowly by the body than glucose. It’s also not completely converted to glucose, and doesn’t cause the same sugar spike in blood sugar as table sugar.
There are some sugar substitutes out there, but most of them seem to have some risk of side effects.
• Stevia: this is a plant-based sugar substitute, and does not raise blood sugar levels. If you have too much, you may suffer from digestive complaints.
• Xylitol: this is also a natural product that has no effect on blood sugar, but it can have side effects if you have a lot of it, such as fermenting in the digestive system.
• Fructose: this can be bought as a white powder, but excessive amounts have been linked to increased levels of ghrelin, which is a hormone that controls hunger. Increased ghrelin can contribute to weight gain.
If you want to be healthy and still include sugar, you need to know about how important fibre is in helping with blood sugar and energy levels. You should be eating two to three portions of protein a day, with vegetables and beneficial fats.