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Being too sweet is bad for your health

October 2016

Sugar is bad for us. Most of us know this now and recently the media and health authorities have been upping their voices to ensure everyone knows the danger of too much sugar in a diet.

But what really is the problem with this wonderful natural substance that makes food taste so much better and which was hailed as an exciting breakthrough when it first came into the UK.

Sugar here was unknown until the Crusaders brought sugar home with them to Europe after their campaigns in the middle east. But it was really during the 18th century when sugar really took off and by 1750 sugar surpassed grain as the most valuable commodity in European trade.

Since then sugar has been a major part of our diet and is included in many processed and manufactured foods as well as being added to complete dishes.

Most of us are aware that sugar is full of calories and contains no nutrition proteins or fats or vitamins or minerals. So as a food nutrient it is useless.

And of course most of us also know that sugar is very bad for teeth; it feeds the harmful bacteria in the mouth which can lead to serious tooth decay.

But if that is not bad enough, sugar is high in a substance called fructose. When you eat sugar, your body breaks it down into two simple sugars, glucose and fructose. Glucose is not the problem, but fructose is because naturally we produce very little fructose and it doesn’t do anything for our health. When you have fructose in your body, it can only be broken down by the liver in any proper amounts. Normally the liver will turn the fructose into glycogen and store it until this is needed. However, when the liver is already fairly full of glycogen, then additional fructose will be turned into fat. This can lead to fatty liver.

The condition caused by a build-up of fat in the liver when not caused by excess drinking is called NAFLD – non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. A healthy liver should contain little or no fat, yet at the moment it is estimated that up to one in every three people in the UK has at least early stages of NAFLD. No wonder health professionals are now continually harping n about sugar.

Actually early staged NAFLD doesn’t usually cause much damage, but if it gets worse, then you can have serious problems. Including an increased risk of diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

Worth bearing in mind here that fruit does not cause the same problems, eating loads of fruit won’t cause excess fructose in your body.

Another problem from sugar is insulin resistance.  Insulin is vital in our body as it allows glucose, or our blood sugar, to enter cells from the bloodstream and it informs the cells to start burning glucose instead of fat. Anything that interferes with the levels of glucose in the body is dangerous and can cause the complications of diabetes such as blindness and numerous other serious health problems. Now research shows that sugar consumption is associated with insulin resistance. 

One of the major problems is that sugar is addictive. When you eat sugar, it causes a release of dopamine in the reward centre of the brain. This is what leads to addiction, once the reward effect has worn off, you want to feed it again.

And there is more! New studies are indicating that saturated fat is not the big cause of heart disease; instead it could be sugar. It now seems that large amounts of fructose can raise is all very medical but it seems this can lead to raised blood glucose and insulin levels and increase abdominal obesity in as little as 10 weeks. These can all be major risk factors in heart disease.

Either way we know that being obese is bad, and sugar is a leading contributor to obesity.

 The good news is that one teaspoon of sugar contains just 16 calories. Wasted calories of course, but a teaspoon in the occasional cup of tea or coffee isn’t going to cause horror with your doctor.

But add that teaspoon to all the sugar found in many drinks and indeed many foods, as well as in chocolates, cakes and other snacks, and you may be surprised at the levels of sugar you eat every day.

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