Sugar has become a big health concern due to its links to some of the deadliest health conditions. The truth is that not all sugar is bad, in fact, sugar is a part of our natural foods. The problem comes when we ditch the natural part and go all fancy, refined, and processed. While natural fructose forms part of a healthy diet, the same cannot be said for added refined sugar, a common occurrence in most of the food we are consuming.
What is refined sugar?
Natural sugar is found as fructose in dairy products, fruits, and vegetables, and they play an important role in providing essential nutrients that keep us healthy. On the other hand, refined sugar is a sugar beet or sugar cane extract. Refined sugar is mostly glucose and fructose combined and it does not come with the nutritional value that natural sugar does.
Natural sugar breaks down slowly in the body, but refined sugar breaks down rapidly. The fast refined sugar action provides an unsustainable energy spike, which dissipates quickly, and leaves you wanting to eat more. Simply put, eating more sugar loads the system with sugar that converts to fat and gives rise to poor health and disease.
Consequences of excessive refined sugar
The American Heart Association has pegged the maximum daily sugar intake at 6 teaspoons for women and 9 teaspoons for men. Anything beyond this is excessive and the root of numerous health problems including obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and cancer.
It is perhaps unsurprising that refined sugar can lead to obesity since the excess sugar in the body converts to fat or glycogen. According to the World Health Organization, 650 million adults were obese in 2016, and the figure is rising. This increase in obesity has a direct link to increases in heart disease, which currently stands as the biggest killer worldwide.
It may be a myth that sugar causes type 2 diabetes, but being overweight or obese is a top contributing factor to this type of diabetes. With both heart disease and type 2 diabetes comes the risk of hypertension, which has been found in at least 50% of the patients. Cancer is another disease whose prevalence is growing and whose connection to refined sugars is receiving a lot of attention. Too much sugar leads to high insulin levels and being overweight, both of which increase the chances of getting certain cancers.
Additional health problems that may stem from consuming excess sugar include depression, kidney disease, accelerated aging and cognitive decline, and dental problems.
Sneaky sources of refined sugar
When we think of sugar, we tend to think about sweet foods, but the reality of refined sugar is that you do not have to taste the sweetness for it to be present. Refined sugar sneaks on us in a lot of the foods that we consume, some of them under the guise of being ‘healthy foods’. Here’s a small graphic that I put together that shows the foods you should be wary of as they have been shown to contain lots of refined sugar in most cases.
Spotting the sugar
We now know not to trust anything canned, bottled, and packaged commercially. Most labels are misleading as they tend not to tell the whole story, and manufacturing processes hide a lot. A lot of commercially produced food gets great ‘healthy marketing’, but research is showing that these foods are highly processed and stripped of their health factor.