Numerous studies have associated sugar intake with increased aging, cardiovascular disease, obesity and even cancer, with many health experts around the globe calling for reductions in recommended sugar intake, and some calling for completely cutting out sugar from the diet.
Sugar is basically a crystalline carbohydrate that makes foods taste sweet and comes in different varieties, including as glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose and sucrose which is the popular table sugar. Some of these sugars, such as glucose, fructose and lactose, occur naturally in fruits, vegetables and other foods. But many of the foods we consume contain ‘added’ sugars — sugar that we add to a product ourselves to enhance the flavor, or sugar that has been added to a product by a manufacturer.
The most common sources of added sugars include soft drinks, cakes, pies, chocolate, fruit drinks and desserts. Just a single can of cola can contain up to 8 teaspoons of added sugar, while an average-sized chocolate bar can contain up to 6 teaspoons. It is this ‘added’ sugars that have been cited as a contributor to many health problems.
A study in 2014, found that added sugars could increase the risk of high blood pressure, even more so than sodium and another study led by the US-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) noted that high added sugar intake led to increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease (CVD). Perhaps most strongly, added sugars have been associated with the significant increase in obesity.
The sugar levels currently recommended by WHO state that we should consume no more than 10 percent of total daily calories from ‘free’ sugars - both naturally occurring sugars and those that are added to products by the manufacturer. But experts now say that added sugars at even this recommended level is harmful to health and they are calling on WHO to revise this down by half, to 5 percent of total daily calories.
Many people turn to artificial sweeteners as a sugar alternative, but according to a study in 2014, these sweeteners may still drive diabetes and obesity. The study suggested artificial sweeteners, including saccharin, sucralose and aspartame, interfere with gut bacteria, increasing the activity of pathways associated with obesity and diabetes.
The key thing to remember is that sugars occur naturally in a wide range of foods, including in fruit, vegetables and dairy products, and can be consumed within a healthy, balanced diet and active lifestyle. As always, balance and variety in a diet is the most important thing for people to remember.