The reason for this title is my Indian background. Whenever we feel blessed in life, eating sweet or desert is been the most famous and satisfying way of celebrating. A delicacy. Such is been our upbringing.
But then why eating sugar is unhealthy? How could something that we relish be unhealthy? This led me to study more on the subject and below mentioned is my summation after studying, practicing, and researching on self & students/clients.
Sugar in Science: means all carbohydrates including glucose, fructose, galactose and table sugar (that we know from above is actually sucrose) etc.
(Diabetic: popularly known as ‘sugar’ patients
Diabetes is a metabolic disease that causes high blood sugar because either the body is not making enough insulin (hormone that moves sugar from blood into cells) or can’t effectively use the available insulin.)
Of course, ‘sugar; can be bad for the above mentioned community. Isn’t it logical? What’s the point of eating when you can’t put it to use? You can of course add millions to this list across the nationalities when you look at the number of people who are overweight and/or are metabolically unhealthy.
That said, lets shift back to ‘Sucrose’ that we know as ‘Table Sugar’: this is the sugar we refer to mostly for tea, milk, coffee, sweet drinks, deserts, etc.
Sucrose: It is a disaccharide molecule composed of glucose and fructose (two monosaccharides)
TABLE SUGAR = Sucrose = Glucose + Fructose
Both Glucose & fructose can be used for energy & glycogen stores and of course are rich sources of micronutrients, fibre, etc. This is an important point to note.
Ratio of glucose to fructose in sucrose is approx 50%. This basically means when we take 5 grams of sugar in our tea; we are taking roughly 2.5 g of carbs and 2.5 grams of fructose.
Therefore, when we call ‘Sucrose’ bad for health, we are implying that both ‘Glucose’ & ‘Fructose’ are bad for us. This essentially covers most sugars including carbs and fruits. So it is as good as saying ‘Sugar’ is bad for health.
Ques: IS it BAD for health?
- Yes, if you are metabolically unhealthy. Diabetic/overweight
- Yes, if you have NAFL (non-alcoholic fatty liver). Fructose (almost entirely) is metabolized in the liver
- Yes, if you have any other medical condition where sugar is prohibited
Ques: Why bad?
It is because we overeat and add sucrose on top. This is the most important point to understand here. We can’t overeat our regular food everyday.
Best example is ordering a soda/drink with your meal. We never count a drink, tea, or coffee (if sweet) as food whereas, it could be as good as 25 to 40% of your total calorie intake in a meal. Or having a biscuit with your sweet tea is overeating.
Analogy: In certain communities, warm milk (mostly with sugar) in the night post dinner is treated as nutritionally beneficially and must. NO IT IS NOT if you have had full dinner. Same for mangoes (in season) which are added on top in our meal. In both cases, we are literally adding approx 100 calories (2 chapati’s approx) or more to a meal. And ironically when this happens to be dinner, the added calories may delay the overnight fat oxidation process and you end up burning less fat overnight than your usual.
IF we are not oxidising fat or not able to find time to oxidise fat then we will stop burning fat from fat stores. As a result our fat stores stay full – no space to add more fat.
Ques: But we have survived generations eating the same food?
The answer lies in the above analogy where I said that ‘table sugar/sucrose’ is considered as a blessing in India. How? Well, not long back while growing up, I remember we were offered money to buy some sweet as a treat once in a while by my grandfather. Other than that we mostly consumed fructose via fruits (only local seasonal fruit) and table sugar in our milk or tea. Fast forward to this day…..ask yourself: when was the last time you had a cake, soft drink, desert, ice cream, chocolate, candy, bread, fruit jam, sweetened drink, etc.?
I bet, 95% people would not go beyond 24 hours!
In comparison, we had nothing barring fruits/juice as a child or the occasional sweet even though the meal size is same. Fruits were always seasonal (no refrigeration) and not essential. Therefore, considering the above we may be consuming quite a significant amount of calories more than we think!
This extra is just from our food. I am not even discussing the physical part (calorie burn)! So let us not dwell in the past and accept the reality on this day. Re-look at your plate and adjust for additions. This will help us stay healthy.
DO you see the problem?
If not yet then how is this for a fact: majority of overweight people who do not exercise may either be pre-diabetic or already diabetic not diagnosed yet. Not to forget the increasing population of diabetics and CVD patients in India.
Besides stats and crowded hospitals as a proof, I will give you a logical explanation for this:
Food: You are eating X calories in a day on an average. You basal metabolic rate is set at X. It can fluctuate a bit up and down as we don’t ingest same food everyday.
(Fact: However if we are gaining weight then it is a clear indication that we are eating more than what is required.)
Assuming we carry on like we do in real life and continue:
Situation 1: eating more or less the same X calories (as our lifestyle don’t change everyday) and gaining weight consistently.
Situation 2: eating same calories but reach a plateau soon and stop gaining weight.
If we have not added any physical activity then both these situations are due to our independent capacity to store fat and it does not necessarily mean that the person who gained less fat is healthier than the other.
Therefore, in either scenario, you reach a plateau. But if you are:
a) eating same X calories that got you here in the first place
b) and have not changed your lifestyle
THEN WHERE IS THE EXCESS FOOD GOING WHICH WAS EARLIER GETTING STORED AS FAT?
- Your glycogen stores are full which basically means that your muscles need no more even if fuel is available.
- Your liver is either at its threshold to store fat or already fatty which means it cant store anymore.
- Your adipocytes (stores fat) are full. The excess is already showing as subcutaneus fat around your belly and everywhere if you are highly overweight.
High Glucose &/Or high insulin in blood – Diabeties.
When there is no demand for energy and liver glycogen stores are full; the extra gets converted in fat causing Fatty liver leading to NAFL
Consistently High Cholesterol leading to atherosclerosis (Cardiovascular disease)
Ques: Does this apply to all overweight people even when they are not diabetic?
NO…not necessarily. They may be metabolically healthy. But if they continue to eat the same amount of calories then they will start to become metabolically unhealthy as they reach their fat storage threshold unless they create a demand by exercising OR cutting down on eating.
Caveat: Most obese are metabolically unhealthy. This means that they are not oxidising fat optimally as explained above leading to bad mitochondrial health.
The best way to check if your metabolic machinery by yourself is to increase the calorie burn, create deficit, and see whether you lose weight. Or eat less and create calorie deficit. If you do not lose weight either way say in 2 to 4 weeks then that clearly indicates what you are eating is not keeping you healthy. Seek experts help….
Ques: IS ‘sugar’ bad then?
NO, not yet!
However, if you are not able to lose weight even after creating calorie deficit; you definitely need a dietary intervention. This is the reason why majority of people give up and stop to worry about their weight which may further lead to any disease.
Cut out sucrose & fructose from your food and see how it effects you. In my experience you will lose weight in a week. If you DON’T then ‘SUGAR’ is BAD for YOU.
Ques: What about fruits?
Same as above. Fruits contain a little extra fructose and therefore, are more calorie dense than our regular food.
As long as we can create space (eating less food) to consume the calories from fruit, it is a healthy food rich in micronutrients and fibre. However, we only consume fruit for its macronutrients and never worry about calories. Whereas, factually speaking, it is a big snack or a meal by itself depending on the portion and ideally should not be consumed with food unless….
Many scientists/Keto diet community either intentionally or unintentionally forget to mention the target group when they are advising against sugar. This creates a confusion in the society. Yes, we can survive without ‘Carbs’ or ‘Sugar’ but does that mean we stop eating? We can also survive without food…why don’t we save ourselves the effort of cooking and eating when we can survive without eating for days/months.
How can you maintain your weight?
Learn to SWAP calories: Firstly, cut down on sucrose as much as possible. Secondly, treat everything whether it is fruit, drink, tea, or anything that we ingest as food . If I were to have a mango then I must create space for it in my body by cutting down on chapati’s or whatever I eat. You just can’t add up! Of course, once in a while nothing can be unhealthy, but doing it persistently without burning extra is bound to cause problems as explained above.
You will get a sense of how much to cut down on your food as you start paying more attention and treat everything as food. SWEET in my opinion should remain a delicacy for on average Indian.
Exercise: Firstly, it doesn’t necessarily mean some rigorous activity. For a non active person, it could be as simple as getting up from their chair a few times during the day. It could be a 10 minute walk. It could be stretching your limbs. Having said that it could be heavy weight training or long distance running or any other type of high intensity exercising as well. It depends on where you are with your physicality and not what age you are.
Quantity: This is highly individualistic. It depends on the amount of physical activity, environment, metabolic health, genes, what kind of food you eat etc. Example: even in my present shape, I consume sugar in my tea and something sweet post meal. Once in a while I can squeeze in a proper desert as well. This is only possible if we keep a watch on the quantity we are eating which is the hardest part for most when it comes to cakes, icecream, chocolate, or favourite desert. Understanding what the food does (post ingestion) may help us contain it.
Decreasing sugar in tea/coffee/milk or decreasing the size of your drink could be your first step.
Metabolic flexibility: This is where the dietary intervention seems to help immensely in my studies and perhaps is the need of time. In my experience changing our diet especially if we haven’t done it in many years, can only help our metabolism.
Metabolic flexibility basically means that both your fat and carbs metabolism are working well. You can shuttle between your energy sources effortlessly. This is what we see mostly in young healthy children because their machinery is new and working at its best.
Another factor in my opinion is the timing and type of food you eat in a meal especially when you are working to repair your metabolic health.
All experts have their way of working on metabolic health differently. I have mine.
Conclusion: Sugar is a fabulous source of energy. It is our preferred body fuel. It can’t be wrong!! Stop debating.
But it can equally be bad for health! It is purely dependent on our metabolic health. Sucrose consumption is also dependent on your metabolic health but it is best if treated as a delicacy because it makes us forget our limits. Less satiating effect. Eat less.
Swap calories in case if you like seasonal fruits.
Happy to edit if any expert wants to add pr discount (if they have a science reasoning) something. This is how I have understood it so far…
Happy Diwali to all…..relish the sweet on Diwali and then drop it for sometime 🙂