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Why is sugar among the most vilified dietary staples?

Why is sugar among the most vilified dietary staples?

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Ria Catsicas, registered dietician and spokesperson for the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA), examines what sugar does to the body.

“To evaluate the impact of sugar on health and the development of chronic disease, we must consider the fact that we eat a variety of foods every day, some of which contain sugar and others which do not.”

The amount and frequency of consumption will impact health in a different way. For example a daily breakfast consisting of a sugar containing cereal e.g., Coco Pops (10 g sugar) accompanied with a fruit flavoured low-fat yoghurt (15 g sugar) and coffee with sugar (10 g sugar) TOTAL – 35 g (7 teaspoons) will impact health in a different way compared to a breakfast consisting of rolled oats sweetened with sweetener and cinnamon served with low fat milk and berries (total 15 g sugar).

Fructose and glucose, two sugars present in fruit, are bound in a food matrix (with fibre that slows metabolism and absorption) and will affect our blood sugar levels very differently from a packet of sweets (90 g sugar; 18 teaspoons), 340 ml Coke equating to 7 teaspoons of sugar.

Consuming excessive amounts of sugar frequently, especially in the form of snacks and beverages (as opposed to actual food), results in abruptly high blood glucose levels, a strong insulin response, and low blood sugar levels. An increase in hunger (cravings), poor mood management, poor sleep, poor attention, and suboptimal energy levels can all result from this roller-coaster of blood glucose levels, Catsicas told IOL Lifestyle.

Why is sugar among the most vilified dietary staples?
Combinations of nutrient-poor food, stress, inactivity, and genetic predisposition all contribute to type 2 diabetes. Stress, a bad diet, and a sedentary lifestyle. A surplus of energy is what leads to abdominal obesity. Picture by Mathilde Langevin/unsplash

Bad and good sugars

The Society of Endocrinology Metabolism and Diabetes in South Africa and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes both advise patients with diabetes to limit their intake of sugar to no more than 5% of their total calorie intake.

In order to produce dishes that don’t taste sweet, a minimal amount of sugar must be employed. It is best to steer clear of or consume very little high sugar.

Honey, cane sugar, glucose powder, and fructose powder are all examples of refined sugars that can cause the aforementioned symptoms.

Does sugar cause diabetes?

“One dietary item cannot be the root cause of a complex illness like diabetes. Combinations of nutrient-poor food, stress, inactivity, and genetic predisposition all contribute to type 2 diabetes. Stress, a bad diet, and a sedentary lifestyle. A surplus of energy is what leads to abdominal obesity,” pointed out Catsicas.

A surplus of energy (kilojoules) from all sources, including food, leads to abdominal obesity (carbohydrates, fat and protein). Fat cells, which increase in size and number, store extra energy as fatty acids.

The release of adipokines, cytokines, and inflammatory markers by abdominal fat cells causes our cells to become resistant to insulin, which in turn causes inflammation, arteriosclerosis, and high blood pressure by forcing the pancreas to work harder over time. A high-sugar, high-fat diet, as well as fatty acids from abdominal fat cells, invade the liver and pancreas, causing the pancreas to release less insulin and promoting the development of diabetes, she said.

A high sugar intake as part of a nutrient-deficient diet (characterised by refined starches such as white and brown bread, white rice, pasta, deep fried potato chips, vetkoek, biscuits, rusks, pasties, pies, fast foods (pizzas/burgers), white maize meal, (pap) and saturated fats such as in high fat meats, processed meats, and cheese) can contribute to the development of not only type 2 diabetes but also heart disease.

“Diabetics should seek comprehensive education on the principles of optimal blood glucose and weight control from a registered dietitian. The dietitian translates these principles into food (meals (menu) and snacks) while taking into account the individual person, lifestyle, medication, and so on.”

Read the latest issue of IOL Health digital magazine here.

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