What are some of the bad things about sugar, and what are some alternatives? I find that I crave sugary items, but more and more I'm cognisant of the fact that I may be doing harm to my body. Can you list all the ill effects of sugar consumption, and what I can use as a substitute in my diet?
We have had a love hate relationship with sugar for a while and although sugar has been blamed for many of our health challenges, it is needed by the body to function properly. Sugar occurs naturally in all foods which contain carbohydrates, for example fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products. Consuming these foods which contain natural sugar is good. In addition, plant sources of sugar may also contain fibre, essential vitamins and minerals.
Sugars are an important source of energy that we all need to go about our daily lives. The most important sugar in the body is glucose. Our brain requires this to keep functioning. It is very important to know the difference between naturally occurring sugar, for example, those found in fruits and vegetables which are beneficial to the body, versus those which are added during food processing and in our normal preparation of foods. These include sucrose, maple syrup, and high fructose corn syrup. A large intake of these sugars can be harmful to the body. Unhealthy sugar sources, for example, sodas, will give a quick burst of energy but will usually not provide any other nutrients.
I totally agree with you that there is a need to watch your cravings for sugary items. Diets high in sugar have been found to be associated with many diseases including coronary diseases. A high intake of added sugar can be stored as fat which can lead to obesity which is a major risk factor for many lifestyle disorders/diseases. In addition, high sugar levels give your brain a large surge of dopamine, which is the “feel-good hormone”. This might explain why we crave sweet things.
High sugar intake has also been associated with other conditions including acne, inflammation, increased risk of diabetes, increased risk of cancer, increased risk of depression, fatty liver, cellular ageing, and acceleration of the skin ageing process.
It is better to use whole foods as your source of sugar. They could include ground provisions, fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy products. These usually have other important nutrients and the sugar in them is usually released slower than foods which contain added sugar. Whole foods help to keep our blood sugar constant. So instead of having sodas or sweetened juices, you could have water or coconut water. You could also eat some vegetables which are sweet, for example oranges, bananas or carrots instead of a slice of cake.
Eating small amounts of food with added sugar can be allowed periodically, but mentally it must be understood that most of our sugar requirements should come from healthy foods.
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