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The real lowdown on sugar

Let’s just get one thing straight. All sugars are not bad – it depends on where you get them from, and of course how much of it you are eating. We all know that too much sugar in our diet is associated with health risks, such as obesity and weight gain. This then has the potential to other problems, and we don’t want that! I’m going to give a quick, brief science lesson for you. Sugar isn’t just the stuff we chuck in our coffees each morning; it’s actually a group of molecules. There are several members in this molecule group, including:

– Glucose
– Fructose (aka fruit sugar)
– Sucrose
– Maltose
– Lactose (aka milk sugar)
– Galactose

We, as humans, need sugar. Sugar is in our DNA, and helps to power our cells and store energy. You know how plants store sunlight for energy? We convert sugar into fuel. Sugars live under the group named ‘Carbohydrates’ and this group also includes starches (like potatoes) and fibre (good for the bowels!). The more complex the molecule, the slower it will digest. Sugar is a simple molecule, while fibre and starches are more complicated. This is why starchy or fibrous foods keep us fuller for longer.

The difference with sugars is that naturally occurring sugars in whole foods such as fruits, dairy and even some veg (hi sweet potatoes!) is generally balanced by other nutrition benefits. They actually do some good in the body. On the other hand, adding a sugar to your morning coffee or a drizzle of maple syrup on your yoghurt is simply adding no nutrition and extra kilojoules to your meal.

A previous post talked about how to read food labels, and this applies again in this weeks topic. Ingredients are listed in the order of most to least, so if sugar or another type of sugar are listed in the first three, then maybe it’s not the best option. It doesn’t add a lot of nutrient value, as it doesn’t give us any vitamins, minerals or antioxidants – things that are beneficial to us.

Now I hear you ask; but doesn’t a lot of sugar cause diabetes? Sugar alone doesn’t necessarily cause chronic health problems – there are other factors. You hear a lot in the news that obesity/diabetes/cardiovascular disease (take your pick of which is in the news this week!) are caused by too much sugar in the diet. But this isn’t the only factor – excess fat in our diet and minimal exercise can also be a contributing factor to chronic disease.

Sugar is energy dense, meaning it can lead to weight gain when eaten in excess. The World Health Organisation recommends that Australian adults consume no more than 13 teaspoons of sugar per day. This can quickly add up with all the ‘secret’ sugars in foods. Research has shown that we consume, in reality, way more than the recommended amount.

So what can you take from today’s post/rant? Sugar isn’t the devil in food form. Talk to a professional about sugars and how to avoid having too much in your diet (without cutting dairy and fruit from your daily meals!).

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