Natural sugar vs. Added sugar
Frequently asked questions from clients include:
The South African Food-Based Dietary Guideline for sugar is “use sugar and foods and drinks high in sugar sparingly”. The World Health Organization (WHO) guideline is to keep intake of free sugars less than 5 % of total energy intake to reduce risk of obesity. For an adult of normal BMI, it works out to roughly 25g or 6 teaspoons a day. This does not include natural sugars found in fresh fruit and vegetables and milk but “hidden” sugars found in processed foods that are not usually seen as sweets.
Some examples of sugar in foods:
Now you can see how quickly this can all add up.
Nowadays maple syrup, coconut sugar and agave syrup are seen as preferred alternatives to white and brown sugar and even honey. These alternatives are still classified as ‘added sugars’ and contain 17 KJ of energy per gram. Swapping out these “ordinary” sugars for these “fancier” ones will not have any impact on your total energy intake which at the end of the day is what affects our body weight. Yes, some of these ‘fancier’ sugars do have slightly different glycemic index ratings but the effect is so minimal if we consider our recommended daily intake of ‘added sugars’.
So why do you find yourself craving more sugar after eating food and drinks high in sugar? This is because sugar activates the brain’s reward system. The reward system is a series of clinical pathways which entices you to want more. Over stimulating this reward pathway can trigger a series of unfortunate events that causes cravings and a loss of control. Dopamine is the chemical involved in this reward pathway. Substances such as alcohol and nicotine send dopamine into overdrive which is what leads to addiction. Sugar also causes the release of dopamine although not to the same extent as drugs. The more sugar you eat, the higher your dopamine levels will be. So eating a lot of sugar will continue to feel rewarding which is a reason why we seem to become addicted to sugary foods.
In the end, try not to be pedantic and get caught up on the small stuff. Rather look at the bigger picture and focus on limiting sources of ‘added sugars’ in your diet. The best way to do this is to avoid processed foods as much as possible, and satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit within reason.
Remember sugar is sugar, so at the end of the day, the focus should be on how much we are eating.