Sugar is an integral part of our diet. We need sugar to give us energy. It is the fuel for our brain and muscles. But according to WHO, increased intake of ‘free sugars’ in our diet is directly related to increased weight gain and obesity, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease, increased blood pressure, stroke, Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and cancer.
It also leads to increased tooth decay, in both children and adults.
These are the sugars that have been added to foods by the manufacturer, cook or consumer. They are present in fizzy drinks, candy, cakes, ice creams, chocolates etc. They also include sugar in honey, syrups (e.g. maple syrup), unsweetened fruit juices and fruit concentrates.
But it does not include sugar found in milk and dairy products, intact fruits or vegetables and grains. This means that sugar is good, as long as it comes from sources like intact fruits, vegetables, milk, milk products and cereals. (where it is packed with protein, fiber, vitamins and many other nutrients)
The hidden free sugars
While all of us know the obvious foods that contain sugar, we are oblivious to the sugar that is hidden from plain view in processed foods which may not be predominantly sweet. They include foods like ready-made ketchups, ready-made sauces, breakfast cereals, flavored curd, fruit drinks, energy drinks and bread. In fact, hidden sugars are an important cause for our high sugar intake.
Our ancestors needed all the sugar they could find because it gave them energy and fat for survival. But in today’s age of plenty this tendency is detrimental. Aggressive advertising, relentless marketing and the convenience of buying ready-made foods is only worsening the situation. Finally, the fact that our brains perceive sugar as a reward and the ‘feel good’ feeling that comes with it can make it difficult to reduce our sugar cravings.
The way out
Beating the sugar culture will take policy level changes in the food industry, advertising, marketing and education.
While we cannot eliminate sugar completely overnight, as individuals, we can take some baby steps like –
- Cut down on added sugar in our foods
- Decrease use of processed foods
- Use water instead of juices and soft drinks to quench thirst
- Stop using sweets as rewards
- Read food labels and look for hidden sugars. (Know the different names of sugar in food ingredient list like- maltose, dextrose, High fructose corn syrup, molasses, sucrose, aspartame, agave nectar etc.)
- Use fruits as desserts
- Educate children about advertising and marketing tactics
Sugar laden food was meant to be an occasional treat to be relished and enjoyed. Let’s keep it that way.
WHO (World Health Organization) has strongly recommended that free sugars must not contribute to more than 10% of your energy intake.