We all know and love it – sugar. The sweet substance is what children beg for and adults wag their fingers at in reproach. “Sugar is unhealthy and makes you fat” is often the reason why we should handle the crystalline substance as carefully as possible. But how unhealthy is sugar really, what exactly is it and why is it important?
In this article we would like to take a closer look at sugar, explain the so-called glycemic index and at the same time show what the correct and healthy way of dealing with sugar should be.
What exactly is sugar?
Sugar is a sweet, crystalline substance that can be obtained from various plants - including sugar cane, coconut palms, sugar beets and corn. Sugar consists primarily of carbohydrates in the form of sucrose, which in turn consists of glucose and fructose.
Basically, sugar is an important source of energy for our body and it plays an important role in supplying energy to the brain and muscles. The glucose from sugar is used in the cells of our body to produce energy needed for our physical activities and metabolic processes - in short, for our daily lives.
Because sugar is added to many foods as a sweetener to improve or enhance flavor, it has received a bad reputation over the years. However, we should not forget that many healthy foods, such as fruit, milk and vegetables, naturally contain sugar.
Of course, as with all foods, excessive consumption of sugar can be linked to a number of health problems, such as an increased risk of tooth decay, obesity and type 2 diabetes. A balanced diet with a moderate consumption of sugar, on the other hand, is absolutely right and important. The so-called glycemic index gives us an important indicator for better classification of sugar.
What is the Glycemic Index?
The glycemic index (GI) is a measure of how quickly carbohydrates in food cause our blood sugar levels to rise. This index has a scale of 0 to 100, with foods with a higher GI raising blood sugar levels more quickly than foods with a lower GI.
Foods with a high GI are digested quickly and raise blood sugar levels quickly, while foods with a low GI are digested slowly and raise blood sugar levels more slowly and steadily. Foods with a low GI are generally considered better for blood sugar control.
Foods with a high GI usually include foods with a high sugar content such as sweets, fruit juice, soda and white bread or rice.
Foods with a low GI are usually high in fiber and contain more complex carbohydrates such as whole grains, legumes and many types of fruits and vegetables. More complex carbohydrates, which also contain fats, proteins and fiber, slow down the absorption of carbohydrates (carbohydrates are made up of sugar molecules) into the blood.
However, GI is not a sole indicator of the healthiness or suitability of foods. Other factors such as portion size, mix of different foods, personal energy needs and nutritional density must also be taken into account in order to assess a healthy sugar intake.
But first we would like to clarify what types of sugar there actually are.
Different types of sugar
There are different types of sugar that differ in their chemical structure and properties. Here are some of the most common types of sugar:
- Table sugar (sucrose): Table sugar is obtained from sugar cane or sugar beets and consists of glucose and fructose. It is the most commonly used type of sugar in cooking. Table sugar is added to many foods and drinks to make them more palatable. Glycemic index: 70
- Fruit sugar (fructose): Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar found in fruits, vegetables and honey. Fructose is slightly sweeter than table sugar and is often used as a natural sweetener. Glycemic index: 22 (When it comes to fructose, you have to differentiate between natural and industrial fructose called "free fructose". The latter is often used as a sweetener in drinks or as an energy supplier in cheap energy gels for athletes and is a health hazard).
- Glucose: Glucose is a simple sugar used as fuel in the body. Glucose is also known as dextrose and is used as a sweetener in some foods and drinks. Glycemic index: 100
- Lactose: Lactose is a disaccharide and the main sugar found naturally in dairy products. Lactose is less sweet than table sugar and is often used in the food industry as a filler or to improve texture. Glycemic index: 45.5
- Malt sugar (maltose): Maltose is a disaccharide consisting of two glucose molecules. It is found in grain products and some alcoholic beverages. Maltose is, among other things, the reason why people who drink a lot of alcohol gain weight. Glycemic index: 110
- Coconut blossom sugar: Coconut blossom sugar is a natural sweetener that is obtained from the nectar of coconut blossoms. It is often used as an alternative to traditional sugar and has a sweet taste similar to brown sugar. To make coconut sugar, the nectar from coconut flowers is collected and cooked and dried in a complex process to remove the liquid and crystallize the sugar. Glycemic index: 35
So we now know that among the different types of sugar, certain sugars, such as fructose, lactose and coconut blossom sugar, are preferable to industrial sugar because the GI of these types is slightly lower than that of household sugar.
Nevertheless, the most important factor when consuming sugar is the amount and the appropriate mix of foods, as sugar is fundamentally vital for us humans and should not be demonized. Even foods with a high GI should not generally be viewed as unhealthy, as each person has an individual need for energy and therefore also for sugar.
Here is an example:
It may be good for athletes if they can use foods with a high GI to meet the high energy requirements of their sport. When playing tennis, for example, you often see athletes consuming high-sugar foods or drinks before the match in order to quickly gain additional energy. It is very helpful if the GI of these foods is high, as the blood sugar level rises quickly and energy is made available quickly. Since tennis players burn off this energy quickly, consuming foods with a high GI is not harmful, but beneficial. If, on the other hand, a teenager drinks a liter of sugar-rich lemonade while sitting in front of the computer and does not eat a balanced diet or exercise enough, then this high sugar consumption will lead to health problems in the long term.
What's good about sugar?
Sugar is an important source of energy for us and plays an essential role in various biological processes in the body. When we consume carbohydrates and sugar, they are converted into glucose in our body, which is then used as an energy source for our cells. Without sugar and other carbohydrates, our body would not have enough energy to carry out normal physical and mental activities. Sugars that occur naturally in foods should be prioritized in our diet and provide us with valuable energy.
If we do a lot of exercise, we can eat sugar-rich foods with a high GI more often. However, if we don't exercise our body exceptionally or regularly, then too much sugar can be harmful to us. Since not all sources of sugar are created equal and too much added sugar in food can have negative effects on our health, we should generally only consume highly processed foods, such as white bread, concentrated fruit juices, lemonade and milk chocolate, in limited quantities. Refined sugar and sugary foods can lead to a number of health problems if consumed in excess.
When sugar becomes harmful – the dose makes the poison
There is no specific amount of sugar that is considered "too much" for all people, as individual tolerance and need for sugar can vary depending on age, gender, body size, activity level and health status.
The Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office recommends that we should not consume more than 50g of sugar per day - this corresponds to approximately 10% of the energy intake of the “average person”. A high-performance athlete, on the other hand, can consume a higher amount of sugar.
If we consume too much sugar in our diet, it can lead to a variety of health problems. In the long term, high sugar consumption can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, dental caries and other chronic diseases. In the short term, high sugar consumption can cause blood sugar fluctuations and mood swings because sugar is quickly digested and converted into glucose, which can lead to a rapid increase in blood sugar levels and an insulin response.
It is therefore important to limit sugar consumption in the diet and eat a balanced diet with a variety of healthy foods. Basically, a so-called “deep glycemic response” should be achieved with our diet in terms of sugar.
A deep glycemic response is the goal
A deep glycemic response is achieved when foods or drinks with a low glycemic index (GI) are consumed.
Foods with a low GI are digested slowly, resulting in a slow and steady rise in blood sugar levels. This can help keep blood sugar levels stable and avoid fluctuations caused by rapid rises and falls in blood sugar levels.
Some examples of foods with a low GI include whole grains, legumes, vegetables and some fruits such as berries. Additionally, it is important to note that combining foods, such as eating carbohydrates along with protein and fiber, can help lower the overall glycemic index of the meal.
A wonderful example of a food with a deep glycemic response is porridge.
Porridge as an example of a healthy sugar intake
Porridge, also known as oatmeal, is a healthy and nutritious food prepared from oatmeal and water or milk. Some reasons why porridge is so healthy are as follows:
- Rich in fiber: Oatmeal, the main ingredient in porridge, is rich in soluble fiber, which can help lower blood cholesterol levels and promote intestinal health.
- Rich in nutrients: Porridge contains a variety of nutrients such as iron, zinc, magnesium and B vitamins, which are important for maintaining body functions.
- Low glycemic index: Porridge has a low glycemic index, meaning it increases blood sugar levels slowly and steadily, which can help maintain stable energy levels.
- Filling: Due to its high fiber and protein content, porridge can help you feel full and satisfied for longer, which can help reduce cravings for unhealthy snacks and sweets.
- Flexibility: Porridge can be prepared in many different ways and enriched with different ingredients such as cocoa nibs , nuts or dates and figs to increase nutrient density and vary the taste.
All of these factors make porridge a healthy and nutritious breakfast that can help promote a balanced diet and provide a good start to the day. Porridge is also an ideal example of eating a food that naturally contains sugar.
Our Swiss Smartfood® 1 Berries, for example, is a tasty protein porridge that contains a balanced recipe made from selected Swiss organic ingredients. Mixed with boiling water, the natural flavors develop perfectly and the organic oat flakes swell to create a delicious treat for the palate. The oat flakes it contains are rich in beta-glucans, which help maintain normal blood cholesterol levels. A positive effect can be seen from a daily intake of 3 g of oat beta glucans. The deep glycemic response of our recipe protects the pancreas and provides our body with long-term and constant energy. The finest Swiss organic berries round off the taste experience.
- https://www.blv.admin.ch/blv/de/home/lebensmittel-und-ernaehrung/ernaehrung/product composition/sugarreduction.html#:~:text=Wie%20viel%20Zucker%20in%20der, g%20pro %20Person%20and%20Day .