Blame The Sugar!
Now that the case against fat is losing ground according to global health experts, the attention has shifted to sugar. While fat may get acquitted on most charges, the evidence for sugar’s connection with heart attacks, cholesterol issues and other cardiovascular diseases is piling up.
Wolf in sheepskin
There are many types of sugar, but we’ll focus on this distinction: intrinsic sugar and free (added) sugar. Intrinsic sugar is the type that naturally occurs in foods, as part of their structure. For example, milk naturally contains sugar called lactose.
The real problem for weight gain, obesity and health problems is free or added sugar. Added sugars are sugars and syrups that aren’t contained within the structure of the food, rather they are added to solid food and beverages during processing or preparation. Added sugars have no nutritional value and a considerable caloric load. Instead of labelling them as added sugars, many food manufacturers choose healthier-sounding names such as sucrose, fructose, dextrose, molasses, agave, date/rice/corn syrup, cane sugar, honey, beet sugar, barley malt, cane juice, etc.
Added sugars are found in the overwhelming majority of commercially made food. Not only can you find it in food that tastes sweet, but it is also in salad dressings, ready meals, bread and condiments.
Is intrinsic sugar perfectly fine then? In most cases, yes. But depending on your weight loss goals, it might be needed to cut down on highly sweet fruit in the restriction period or further. The thing is that consuming intrinsic sugar means you are eating whole foods, which have fibre, vitamins and antioxidants. This makes them more healthful, and the fibre keeps your appetite and blood sugar down.
Why is sugar so dangerous?
Sugar causes insulin spikes, which activates the sympathetic nervous system and leads to increased systolic and diastolic blood pressure. It is also thought that a high-sugar diet causes sodium build-up within cells, resulting in hypertension and possibly heart attack.
Researchers believe that there is a connection between cholesterol levels and sugary nutrition. Adults who ate inordinate amounts of sugar (around 46 teaspoons a day) were 3 times more likely to have low levels of good HDL cholesterol and high levels of bad LDL cholesterol. Excess intake of sugar also hike up triglyceride levels.
A 2014 study in the U.S. concluded that individuals who got between 17 and 21% of daily calories from sugar were almost 40% more likely to develop a fatal cardiovascular condition. This risk was more than double for intake higher than 21% of daily calories.
What can you do about it?
The first thing is to cut down on added sugar. The American Heart Association recommends that sugars make up under 10% of your daily calories. For women, that is around 6 teaspoons, while for men it’s around 9. Bear in mind that most people get majority of sugar through beverages.
Monitor your sugar consumption. Read labels and learn to recognize the myriad of monikers that mask sugar in labels. When you can, replace sugar with stevia, which is a real sugar substitute, without any sugar molecules.
Focus on healthy foods that you could be eating more of. Replace commercial sweets and candy for fruit and unsweetened home-made fruit yoghurt and frozen yoghurt. Eat home-made sweets, meals and condiments, because that gives you control over sugar.
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