Have you also developed a kind of love-hate relationship with it? Everyone loves him, everyone wants him. And yet you hate him and would prefer to do without him altogether: I'm talking about sugar.
The worldwide consumption of sugar is still increasing and especially in recent years controversial debates about this food have broken out again and again. Are all species really as unhealthy as we think? Or can sugar also be healthy? If so, what kind of sugar? In what quantities? And what about "modern" sweeteners like stevia?
I will try to answer all these questions today.
What is sugar and how does it work?
Sugar belongs to the carbohydrates and is found in countless foods and foodstuffs. The white sugar we are most familiar with comes mostly from sugar beet or sugar cane. It is extracted from these plants and then crystallized.
When we eat sugar, our body converts it into glucose. Glucose is a major source of energy for living organisms such as humans: In fact, for our muscles and brain, glucose is the primary and therefore most important "fuel". Ultimately, therefore, we need sugar in order to function properly. So why is sugar so frowned upon?
Why does sugar have such a bad reputation?
Sugar can be extracted from two different types of carbohydrates: Complex carbohydrates and simple carbohydrates.
Complex carbohydrates are naturally found in foods, whereas simple carbohydrates are usually added to foods. They can be found in foods and drinks such as sweetened coffee, energy drinks, fruit juices, cornflakes and, of course, in most sweets - in the traditional way. These simple carbohydrates cause our blood sugar levels to rise rapidly. The sharp rise is followed by an equally rapid drop in blood sugar, which is why we sometimes feel particularly tired after eating a sweet food.
But excessive sugar consumption has more and longer-term consequences than fatigue. It is not only the pancreas that is under strain; high sugar consumption can also lead to weight gain, increase the risk of developing diabetes or high blood pressure, etc.
What about the "natural" sugar found in some foods?
Complex carbohydrates are contained in whole grains, legumes and vegetables, for example. As the name suggests, complex carbohydrates have a more complex structure than simple carbohydrates. This means that it takes the body longer to break down the sugar. It is digested and processed for longer, thus ensuring a long-lasting energy supply and protecting the pancreas. Foods containing complex carbohydrates are therefore rich in nutrients, provide valuable energy to our brain and muscles and keep us full longer.
And what about fruit?
People know that fruit can contain a lot of sugar and many people try to avoid fruit. And it is true that sugar contains simple carbohydrates. But also complex carbohydrates. That makes things a bit more complicated. One component of fruit makes the decisive difference: fibre. Fibre is not contained in (artificially produced) fruit juices and slows down the absorption of sugar into the body. Not to mention that fruit naturally contains a whole host of other important nutrients and is an important part of a balanced diet.
Natural sweeteners: agave syrup, maple syrup, coconut blossom sugar.
These sweeteners are more natural than processed white sugar. So they're healthier too, right? However, our body breaks down and processes these sugars in the same way as classic sugar. Coconut blossom sugar, maple syrup and agave syrup therefore still fall into the category of "simple carbohydrates". These sweeteners have a stronger taste of their own than white sugar and are especially popular for baking. As long as everything is used in moderation, there is nothing to be said against consuming these natural sweeteners.
Sugar substitutes: Stevia and other artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are also under discussion. Many people opt for sugar substitutes because they often contain hardly any calories. They have hardly any effect on the blood sugar level and often taste sweeter than white sugar. Therefore, smaller amounts of sugar substitutes have the same sweetening effect as a larger amount of conventional sugar.
A current meta-analysis found out that artificial sweeteners do not pose a risk of diabetes, kidney disease or high blood pressure Another analysis points out, however, that sugars can cause an increased BMI and may also cause other complications. In summary: Most studies to date have been flawed and biased. Further research should therefore be carried out in this area.
In principle, it is recommended to prefer whole and natural foods to processed foods whenever possible. And this includes added sugar and artificial sweeteners.