Sugar makes food more pleasant, it is satisfying and nourishes the brain but… there is a but. In fact, too much sugar is bad for your health, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. So, the question to ask is, how much sugar is too much? This question is answered by a very recent scientific research published in The British Medical Journal thanks to the work of a Chinese and American team (Huang et al, The BMJ, 2023).
Sugar, cross and delight
Cakes, biscuits, chocolate bars, fruit juices but also foods you would never think of such as soups, ready-made savory dishes, savory snacks, breakfast cereals and yoghurt. All these foods have one thing in common and that is that in most cases, with a few exceptions indicated on the label, they have added sugars. Sugar, as we know, makes everything more delicious, satisfies the desire for sweets, sometimes even calms down, without forgetting that sugar, through one of its components, glucose, nourishes the body and the brain. Indeed, glucose is the main food of the brain, without which the reactions essential to the production of energy and the functioning of neurons would not take place. However, glucose is introduced into the body through various food sources, such as bread, pasta and carbohydrates in general, but also onion, beetroot, corn and turnips, cabbage, potatoes, mushrooms, peppers and fruit in general, just to name a few examples. It is therefore clear that consuming highly processed foods that contain added sugars means running the risk of exceeding the amount of glucose needed and starting to cause damage to the body. Oh yes, because too much sugar is bad for you and it doesn't just cause diabetes.
Too much sugar paves the way for more than 45 different diseases
The study we're talking about today performed a research and comparison work of previous studies that had analyzed the effects of added sugars on the body. What is emerged is that a high consumption of foods containing added sugar leads to weight gain and an increased risk of developing a wide range of diseases, up to 45 have been counted, such as diseases of the cardiovascular system, including hypertension, even in children, heart attack and stroke, diabetes, fatty liver disease, but also tumors, especially those affecting the breast, prostate, liver and pancreas. Not only that, an excess of sugar has been associated with the onset of asthma in children, attention deficit disorder, tooth decay and depression. Studies have shown that each additional serving of a sugary drink per week increases the risk of gout by 4% and that each additional 250 ml serving of sugary drinks per day is associated with a 17% increase in the risk of cardiovascular disease and a 4% increase in mortality from all causes. But added sugars are not only in the form of white sugar, fructose is also often added to foods, pure or in the form of syrup. In this case, each increase of 25 grams per day is associated with a 22% increase in the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. This consideration does not apply to the fructose contained in fruit as it is part of a synergy between vitamins, minerals, fibers and antioxidants that bring health benefits.
How much sugar is too much
The intake of foods containing added sugars is therefore generally more harmful than healthy. Sweets and other foods or drinks with added sugar should be considered voluptuary, exceptions to the rule rather than habits even if, as we have seen, sugar is really everywhere. So much so that it is important to return to the initial question, when is sugar too much? The Chinese and American study sets a benchmark of 25 grams of sugar per day, which corresponds to 6 teaspoons. But be careful, we are not referring only to the teaspoons used to sweeten coffee…but to all the added sugars in our diet. To give an example, just think that ready-made sauces can often contain up to 12 teaspoons of sugar... Instead, the consumption of sugary drinks should be limited to one portion, around 200 ml, per week. Based on studies, these are the limits below which it is possible to limit the harmful effects of sugar on our body.
We conclude with an observation. Sugar, we have seen, is bad for health, even if this does not mean that we must now exclude all traces of it from our diet, it would be a renunciation that would then lead to consuming sugar even more. However, it is important to be aware, to know that sugar can also be contained in foods we would least think about, hence the importance of reading well food labels, and that often a good choice can be to prefer foods as they are, finally savoring aromas and flavours. For example, a fruit salad is already delicious like this, perhaps with the addition of a little lemon juice and ground flax seeds, but without table sugar. Small amounts of sugar, better brown sugar, can be used in cakes, or to sweeten them we can use fruit puree or even dates! Tea is a drink to be sipped on its own, or, if you really want to sweeten it, you can use little honey, which not only sweetens but also brings health benefits. And the tomato sauce is to be accepted with its slightly acidic notes, without thinking of wanting to correct them at all costs by adding sugar…