Post No.: 0910
The love for the taste of sweetness is written deep into human genetic instincts. The main difference when it comes to how much populations in different times and places consume sugar is whether their environment is full of highly accessible and relatively cheap ultra-processed sugary foods and drinks like biscuits and soda.
There’s a negligible difference in calorie density between different sugar sources such as refined white sugar versus brown sugar. So brown sugar isn’t a ‘healthy sugar’. There’s some difference between solid crystal sources and liquid sources like honey, but the latter are still highly calorie dense. Some sources may contain traces of desirable minerals but you’d need to consume an unhealthy amount of sugar to obtain enough of them. It’s just like the minerals in sea salt where you’d need to consume an unhealthy amount of salt to consider it as a viable source of those minerals – it’s healthier, and cheaper, to obtain those minerals from other sources like vegetables. As usual, one must look at the costs as well as the benefits when assessing whether something is good or bad for us.
Something that’s sweeter than refined white sugar gram-for-gram, like natural agave syrup, may mean one can use less of it – but most people will just use it like-for-like in quantity. This also risks one getting habituated to the higher sweetness taste and therefore an escalation of sugar consumption. Agave syrup is expensive to buy too.
Excessive sugar is harmful for your pancreas, kidneys, liver and heart. The pancreas works overtime to produce insulin to stabilise your blood sugar levels. Glucose releases into the bloodstream, whereas fructose, if not immediately utilised, goes to the liver and turns into fat.
We also need think about our teeth – that was the topic of Post No.: 0774.
Hidden sugar is in tons of processed foods because, like salt and fat, it’s an incredibly cheap way to make low-quality foods taste better. This is a case of getting what you pay for when something is cheap (although it may not be the case when something is expensive!) Intrinsic sugars are found in whole foods while extrinsic sugars are any added or processed sugars.
‘Low fat’ doesn’t mean low sugar – many ‘low fat version’ marketed products are actually very high in sugar content and therefore calories! Excess sugar or protein will be converted into and stored as fat in the body.
Something may have a lower glycemic index (GI) but that alone won’t make it healthy – chocolate brownies have a relatively low GI compared to carrots but this doesn’t make them healthier (fat reduces the GI of foods).
Smoothies and juices – considered healthy by many – can be high in sugar because many fruits are naturally high in sugar. Some smoothies and juices even contain more sugar than soda per volume! Similarly, a lot of ‘healthy snack bars’, like those marketed as for breakfast, contain the same amount of sugar as overtly high-calorie confectionery. And the problem with people thinking that they’re healthy is that they may consume more of them.
Although fruit contains fructose – if you eat whole fruit instead of just drink the juice, you’ll consume a proportional amount of fibre too. And fibre helps you feel fuller for longer thus you’ll consume fewer calories overall compared to refined or processed foods or drinks. A lot of the fibre and vitamins are present in the flesh of fruit. Large pieces of fibre slow the absorption of sugars in the stomach, whereas blitzing or blending breaks down the fibres and the sugars in the cells of the fruit so that the sugars get absorbed extremely quickly in the stomach, meaning that people tend to consume such sources of sugar faster and also more copiously as a result. A glass of apple juice may contain 5-6 blitzed apples, which is a lot of sugar – sugar you wouldn’t have consumed if you tried to eat those apples as whole fruit because you’d probably feel satisfied after a couple of apples.
High-fibre foods, like whole grains, oats and beans, absorb cholesterol in the intestine thus help to pass it out of the system. Healthy fats in nuts, seeds and olives also speed up how fast your liver breaks cholesterol down.
But whole grain products will become partly processed if they’ve been ground down. Now being more like a powder may enable one to access more of the nutrients (as would thoroughly chewing one’s food before swallowing), but coarser grains will contain more effective fibrous material that’ll keep one feeling fuller for longer; and therefore less likely to snack between meals.
So eat whole fruit and grains rather than drink juices if possible. In fact, cutting out sugary drinks from one’s diet is a great first step and will go a long way towards cutting out much of the calories from most people’s diets – sugary and/or alcoholic drinks, even though high in calories, don’t make one’s stomach feel satisfyingly full, thus they’re nearly all pain, no gain once they’ve passed your throat! Woof.
Sugar, whether it’s from honey, coconuts, fruits, refined from cane or beets, brown, white or whatever – they’re still chemically sugar and thus calorie dense. But although fruit like berries or bananas contain sugar and therefore lots of calories, they’re still overall better than candy or confectionery for they also contain healthful vitamins and minerals, plus you’re less likely to binge on whole fruit like you might with doughnuts or Danish pastries.
Is it calories or sweetness that our brains care about when we ‘crave sugar’? According to MRI scans, we care about the expectation of calories, not just sweetness. Yet if we don’t know whether a sweet thing is high calories or zero calories, the brain will react in similar ways – at least initially i.e. we don’t yet understand how the brain and body reacts in the minutes or hours afterwards once it realises that no energy was actually consumed. More research is therefore required in this area.
Some research suggests that some people who consume ‘diet version’ fizzy drinks that contain artificial sweeteners can end up overall consuming more calories than if they’d just drank the regular sugar versions. The hypothesis is that experiencing a sweet taste without the subsequent calories the body expects from consuming something sweet can trigger an elevated feeling of hunger afterwards. However, some people will ultimately consume fewer calories if they drink ‘diet version’ fizzy drinks compared to the full sugar versions.
Perhaps the best solution is to not drink so much of these sweet fizzy drinks – ‘diet’ or regular – at all! Drink sparkling water with some low-calorie flavourings instead.
Not all artificial or alternative sweeteners e.g. aspartame, saccharin, stevia, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, neotame, xylitol or erythritol, are the same. It’s claimed that oligofructose contains about half the calorie density of regular sugar. Stevia doesn’t seem to raise blood sugar levels, but saccharin can dramatically. The mechanism as to why artificial sweeteners like saccharin may lead to this, as well as to weight gain, could be because of its effects on one’s gut microbiota? A less diverse gut fauna is correlated with obesity. But it’s never too late to improve your gut health (in the most extreme case, a poo transplant from a healthy donor will work about 80-90% of the time!)
These may need further testing for long-term and high consumption safety but there are miracle berries that contain the compound miraculin that can make sour foods like lemons taste sweet! They won’t work on hot food though.
Scientists are working on other non-sugar, non-calorie, ways of providing a ‘sweet’ taste by studying the aromatic volatile compounds that affect the way foods and drinks smell. Food technology is advancing constantly and scientists are continually coming up with new ingredients via the lab – only time and extensive testing will tell if what they come up with is safe and does what they claim they do.
This suggests that if the artificial sweeteners on the market today were scientifically proven to be harmful for human consumption then they wouldn’t be allowed to be sold without heavy regulations. Having said that, some might claim that some of the science hasn’t been appropriately conducted – just like some scientists question how artificial additives have been studied separately rather than in combinations with other ingredients like how they’re found in real food products. Substances like asbestos or CFCs weren’t always banned after all!
One study suggested that swilling a sugary or sweet drink in the mouth then spitting it out (i.e. not swallowing it) may, like artificial sweeteners, fool the brain into thinking it has consumed some calories and thus may allow one to perform a little bit harder in the gym and reduce fuzzy fatigue for exercises lasting between 30-60 minutes, without actually consuming the calories. The hypothesis is that the brain will believe that the energy expenditure will be immediately replaced. If your goal is to lose weight then this is better than drinking those high-glucose ‘energy drinks’ because you might just be consuming the calories you were hoping to burn off by exercising!
Glucose sources are decent sources of the energy you’ll need for a long workout, but you highly likely won’t need the quantities found in those ‘sports drinks’ marketed and sold by drinks manufacturers. (You can make your own sugary solution if you’re going to just spit it out anyway!) So you don’t need those high-glucose ‘energy drinks’, particularly for exercise sessions that last less than an hour. Plain water is sufficient for hydration.
Current evidence shows that – in normal healthy individuals – ‘sugar highs’ and hyperactivity after consuming sugar is a myth, but ‘sugar crashes’ do exist. We can ironically feel tired soon after a high intake of energy. Keeping our blood sugar levels even throughout the day makes us feel better so avoid large intakes at once. Having said that, homeostasis largely does an excellent job at stabilising our blood sugar levels unless we have diabetes.
Kids are often accused of being hyperactive when they’re just having active fun. Sometimes it’s the context when a lot of sugary snacks are served – such as during parties, which are normally lively!
It’s also worth mentioning that salt is also found in plenty of desserts or sweet products, sometimes in surprising amounts – it’s not just ‘salted caramel’-type products but things like regular cookies or cheesecakes. Consuming too much sodium can lead to hypertension/high blood pressure.
Instead of adding salt to dishes to enhance flavour – monosodium glutamate (MSG) is arguably better because it contains only a third of the amount of sodium as sodium chloride (table salt) per gram. It gives that savoury umami taste. It’s the sodium salt of glutamic acid, which is one of the most abundant naturally-occurring, non-essential amino acids found in things such as tomatoes, cheese, mushrooms, grapes and more.
Another way to reduce salt intake is to grind salt into a fine powder, which makes a little go a longer way. Coarser grains of salt take longer to dissolve on the tongue thus we taste less of the saltiness yet consume the sodium into our system anyway.
Bananas are high in potassium, which can counteract some of the effects of sodium too. It’s about balancing the consumption of both potassium and sodium.
Most cramps during exercise aren’t to do with dehydration or low electrolytes/salts. Nonetheless, you do need to watch your electrolyte levels if you exercise for longer than an hour.
…Overall, I reckon people need to wake up their taste buds and lives. Healthy people still prefer chocolates to celery sticks but don’t feel entitled to expect everything they consume needs to be >7/10 on the scale of pleasure. It’s in fact the bitter and sour that makes one appreciate the sweet more. This is true of life generally.