You are probably familiar with the feeling: in the afternoon you might suddenly feel like eating chocolate or drinking a sugary fizzy drink. This is no coincidence – it is your blood sugar level crying out for more energy. However, it is not always healthy for your body if you give in to these demands. Here, we’ll explain why and how you can handle sugar in a more responsible way.

 

What is sugar anyway?

Conventional household sugar (sucrose) is not only a foodstuff but also a luxury item. It is present in almost all food products in supermarkets, even in places we don’t expect. The average German consumes about 70kg of sugar each year, which is about 200g per day! That is the equivalent of the sugar content of 5kg of raspberries or 2kg of apples.

Sugar is made from sugar cane, sugar beet or sugar palm. The main components of these are the simple sugars glucose and fructose (fruit sugar). The body processes each kind of sugar in a different way.

Glucose – your source of energy

Glucose is your body’s most important source of energy. It causes an increase in the production of serotonin, the “happiness hormone”, and a sudden rise in your blood sugar level. You have probably eaten something sweet during considerable physical or mental exertion in order to increase your energy levels quickly. In order to transfer glucose from the bloodstream into other areas such as the brain and muscles, your body needs the hormone insulin. Glucose can be metabolised by nearly every cell in the body. Excessive and very frequent consumption can put pressure on your organs and lead to irregular blood sugar levels. Insulin also inhibits fat combustion, which makes it harder to lose weight.

Fructose – healthy fruit sugar?

Fructose, on the other hand, has no effect on blood sugar levels and is not necessary for survival. However, too much fruit sugar can cause cholesterol levels to rise, which can lead to cardiovascular diseases in the long term. The liver is the only organ that can process this kind of sugar; a healthy liver can easily process 30g of fructose per day, which is about 60g of sugar (sucrose, i.e. household sugar, is 50% fructose and 50% glucose). If you consume more sugar than this, your liver might not be able to keep up.

Sugar is not always just sugar

Although household sugar contains both fructose and glucose, it is highly processed and therefore no longer contains the important vitamins, antioxidants and water that are present in fruit and vegetables. This means that you are just consuming empty calories. Because your body can’t find any nutrients in the food you have eaten, you become hungry again very quickly. The fibre contained in fruit means that the sugar is metabolised more slowly, so you feel full for longer.

Interestingly, we consume a lot more sugar through drinks than by eating chocolate and so on. According to studies (Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: Pan & Hu, 2011), this is because it takes longer to feel full when we are drinking compared to when we are eating solid foods. For example, you can drink a bottle of lemonade much more quickly than you can eat a packet of sweets, right?

Effects of sugar on your body

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), too much sugar can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart conditions, tooth decay and various accompanying conditions such as tiredness, lethargy and even depression.

How much sugar is good for me?

There are no exact rules for the perfect daily sugar intake. In general, it is worth remembering that your body can manage without sugar, but can process a certain amount quite easily.

For this reason, the WHO recommends consuming only a tenth of your recommended daily allowance in the form of sugar, or if possible even less. For an average daily consumption of 2,300 calories, this means consuming about 50g of sugar per day.

To conclude, sugar in moderation and in the right foods is no problem at all; just try to handle your sugar consumption a bit more responsibly in the future. Here we have four tips for you on how to handle responsibly:

1. Consume more natural sugars

Instead of chocolate or sweet drinks, you should eat wholegrain bread or rice. These contain glucose, which supplies essential nutrients to your body. It is broken down slowly and enters your blood gradually, which means that you feel full for longer.

Fruit and vegetables are also good sources of natural sugar. Some, like dried fruit, figs, mango, cherries and grapes are quite high in sugar, so you should not eat too much of those. Fruits like avocado, raspberries, blackberries and strawberries are relatively low in sugar, so you can eat them with a clear conscience.

2. Watch out for hidden sugar in food products

Sugar goes by many different names. When you buy food products, look out for these terms, which tell you that the product contains a lot of sugar:

Agave nectar, agave syrup, brown rice syrup, brown cane sugar, brown sugar, dextrin, dextrose, fruit juice concentrate, fruit sugar, barley malt syrup, fructose syrup, invert sugar, caramel, coconut sugar, skimmed milk powder, corn syrup, maltodextrin, whey powder, muscovado sugar, palm sugar, refined sugar, raffinose, raw cane sugar, raw crystal sugar, cane sugar, saccharose, sucrose, sweet whey powder, evaporated cane sugar, whole cane sugar, sugar beet syrup.

3. Watch out for food products that are particularly high in sugar

The following food products have a particularly high sugar content and should be enjoyed with some caution:

Apple juice, cornflakes, ready-to-drink smoothies, fruit yoghurts, fruit milk, herring salad, instant tea, ketchup, muesli, pickled red cabbage, salad dressing, sparkling wine.

4. Get some exercise

Regular exercise increases your body’s energy consumption. The liver produces starch from the fructose that you have ingested, which compensates for this energy consumption. This means that you don’t put on weight and that you protect yourself against conditions that may arise due to the intake of sugar.

As a comparison, if you don’t do any sport and consume a lot of fructose, the liver converts it into glycerol, which is then stored in adipose tissues as fat – and saved for a rainy day, you see 😉 Here you can read about how much sport is good for you.

It isn´t that hard to handle sugar responsibly. Try swapping Coke for water or tea, drinking coffee without sugar or eating muesli without honey, or try getting used to porridge oats instead of cornflakes 🙂