Sugar: should we eliminate it from our diet?

shutterstock_268739057Sugar seems to have developed a reputation as the big bad wolf in relation to health. In numerous studies sugar intake is associated with increased aging, cardiovascular disease, obesity and even cancer. Therefore, some experts recommend to reduce sugar intake or to eliminate it completely. But is it really that bad for our health? This review should give some clues.

Sugar is a crystalline carbohydrate that makes foods taste sweet. There are many different types of sugar, some of those sugars occur naturally in fruits, vegetables and other foods but many of the foods we consume contain added sugars. It is added sugar that has been cited as a contributor to many health problems. One study in 2014 claimed that added sugars may increase the risk of high blood pressure and in another study in 2014 an association was found between high added sugar intake and increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease. Perhaps, most strikingly, added sugars have been associated with the significant increase in obesity. A study in 2013 suggested that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages increases weight gain in both children and adults. A review paper from the World Health Organization (WHO) notes an increase in the consumption of such beverages correlates with the increase in obesity.

The next question is, are we becoming addicted to sugar? A study in 2008 found that rats used to consuming a high-sugar diet displayed signs of binging, craving and withdrawal when their sugar intake was reduced. It is possible that sugar works in the brain in much the same way as many illegal drugs? Some people state that sugar is basically a socially acceptable, legal, recreational drug with deadly consequences. Adults in the US consume around 13% of their total daily calorie intake from added sugars. That level is well above the recommended level by the WHO, which states we should consume no more than 10% of total daily calories from free sugar.

If sugar is so bad, is eliminating sugar from our diet the solution? In 2014, the WHO recommended to halve the daily free sugar intake from 10% to 5%. However, cutting all sugar from our diet would be very difficult to achieve. Fruits, vegetables, dairy products and dairy replacements, eggs, alcohol and nuts all contain sugar. Many people turn to artificial sweeteners as a sugar alternative, but these sweeteners may still drive diabetes and obesity. Artificial sweeteners interfere with gut bacteria, increasing the activity of pathways associated with obesity and diabetes according to a study published in the journal, Nature. Instead of steering away from sugar completely, sugar can be consumed as part of a healthy diet, with some noting that sugar also has benefits. Some researchers say our bodies even need sugar, it’s our body’s preferred fuel. There are some tips to reduce sugar intake: cut back on the amount of sugar you may regularly add to foods and drinks such as tea and coffee or replace sugar on cereal or oatmeal with fruit.

The key thing to remember is that sugars occur naturally in a wide range of foods 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.

Read the full article: