The Two Sides of Sugar

Most of us know processed sugar is bad for us. We know that it’s advisable to cut down the consumption of processed sugars in the forms of syrups, granules, powders etc., while increasing our intake of naturally found, or intrinsic, sugars. Like fat earlier in the day, today sugar seems to be our biggest enemy. It’s of utmost importance that we understand what sugars do to our body and why we need to control and alter but not eliminate our consumption of it.

To start with the basics: sugar is categorised under the  macronutrient carbohydrates.  It provides our body with a source of energy that we require to conduct our daily activities. Sugar is of two types; intrinsic and extrinsic. Intrinsic sugars are naturally found in foods like fresh fruit, milk, vegetables etc., while extrinsic sugars are those that have been processed, for e.g.: artificial sweeteners, honey, sugar syrups, etc. It is not a viable option, although preferable, to completely eliminate our intake of extrinsic sugars.

So how do you decide what is the best way and in what quantities to consume both kinds of sugars? Studies suggest that intrinsic sugars are good for the body and its consumption need not be restricted in any way. That means there’s no real dangerous limit to how much fruit you can eat, the more the better. However extrinsic sugars, due to their high levels of processing, tend to be higher in calories and lower in nutritive content. Therefore excess consumption of it puts us at a higher risk of developing obesity and nutrient deficiencies. Even items like fruit juices that are sweetened using natural extracts like honey are bound to be more energy dense (higher calories) and nutrient weak than the actual fruit.

A simple thumb rule to judge food by is to divide the nutrient density of it by it’s calorific value,e.g.: Although an avocado might be high in calorie content it is equally high in nutrients and therefore a better option than a low fat granola bar. Our country still largely survives on home cooked food. In most metro cities, there is a strong network of companies and individuals that provide simple home cooked meals. Secondly we have no dearth of fresh fruit and vegetables. Therefore our concern should be more about restricting and reducing the sugar we consume through snacks, condiments and fast food. Most of our excess sugar consumption is coming from low cal sodas, burger patties and ketchups and not from our full fat milk, potatoes or bananas.

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