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The Real Impact of Sugar on Your Body


In today’s fast-paced world, sugar-rich foods have become a staple in many diets. From breakfast cereals and pastries to yogurts and protein bars and even snacks that we would consider 'healthy', sugar is hidden everywhere.


While they may satisfy our cravings and provide a quick energy boost, the long-term effects of consuming large amounts of sugar can be detrimental to our health.


We have to understand how sugar impacts our body to make better and more informed dietary choices. In this article, I will first define what I mean by 'sugar-rich foods' and we will explore the various ways that these sugar-rich foods affect our physical well-being, from metabolic processes to the risk of chronic diseases.


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sugar-rich foods


Distinction between Refined Sugar and Fructose

Understanding the distinction between granulated/refined sugar (sucrose) and fructose is fundamental to grasping how different types of sugars affect the body. While both contribute to the sweet taste we often crave, their chemical structures, sources, and metabolic pathways vary significantly.


Chemical Differences

Refined/ white sugar, scientifically known as sucrose, is a disaccharide composed of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose linked together. When consumed, sucrose is broken down by enzymes in the digestive system into its constituent parts, glucose and fructose, which are then absorbed into the bloodstream.


Fructose, on the other hand, is a monosaccharide, meaning it consists of a single sugar molecule. It is naturally found in fruits, honey, and root vegetables. Unlike glucose, which is used by every cell in the body for energy, fructose is primarily metabolized in the liver. This unique metabolic pathway has significant implications for health, particularly when fructose is consumed in large amounts.


How White/ Refined Sugar is Made

Refined sugar is typically extracted from sugar cane or sugar beets.


The production process involves several steps:

  1. Extraction: Sugar cane or sugar beets are crushed to extract the juice.

  2. Purification: The juice is then purified to remove impurities.

  3. Crystallization: The purified juice is boiled to evaporate water, causing sugar crystals to form.

  4. Separation: The crystals are separated from the remaining liquid (molasses).

  5. Refinement: The raw sugar crystals are further refined and bleached to produce the white granules commonly known as table sugar.



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Fructose is not only found in fruits!


Although fructose occurs naturally in fruit, it is also often an ingredient in the form of white powder added to all kinds of processed foods.


On the ingredient list, words like "High-Fructose Corn Syrup," "Dextrose," "Maltodextrin," "Cane Juice," "Brown Rice syrup," "Honey," or "Molasses," "Fruit Juice Concentrates," "Agave Nectar/Syrup" are used.



But what is actually behind the word Fructose? It is a myth that fructose is only found in fruits. We know that too much fructose can cause health problems such as diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, or fatty liver. However, fructose only becomes a problem when consumed in excessive amounts.


The majority of the fructose we consume today is industrially produced fructose, which is found in fruit juices and processed foods (e.g., cookies, sodas, sauces, chocolate, processed meat and all kinds of sweets).


We would have to eat a lot of fruit to get too much fructose from it. For example, we would have to eat 10-15 apples to get the same amount of fructose as in one liter of apple juice.

However, through industrially processed foods such as ready-made sauces, ready-made meals, sweets, and fruit juices, we quickly consume too much fructose. The fructose in these foods is artificially produced from corn starch and is hidden almost everywhere in the form of high-fructose corn syrup.


Since besides fruit, many industrially processed products contain high amounts of fructose, we quickly end up with an excess of fructose. However, this is not due to the 3-4 servings of fruit, but rather to all the processed products as well as fruit juices and soft drinks that we consume.



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How Fructose is Made

Fructose is found naturally in fruits and some vegetables, but the fructose commonly added to processed foods and beverages is usually derived from corn through the production of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).


The process involves:

  1. Corn Milling: Corn is milled to produce corn starch.

  2. Enzymatic Processing: The corn starch is treated with enzymes to convert it into glucose.

  3. Isomerization: Another enzyme is used to convert a portion of the glucose into fructose, creating a syrup that contains varying ratios of glucose and fructose.

  4. Purification: The resulting syrup is purified and often blended to achieve the desired sweetness level, resulting in HFCS, which is commonly used in sodas, candies, and many processed foods.


In conclusion, fructose from fruit in small amounts is absolutely fine! However, the consumption of fructose-rich foods that are industrially processed should be kept to a minimum. The effects will be discussed in more detail in the following section.



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Impact of a Diet High in Sugar on the Body


Obesity

Excessive sugar consumption and the resulting high calorie intake can lead to obesity in the long run. Additionally, sugar increases insulin levels with each consumption, resulting in a cycle of craving for more sugar.


Sugar also provides what is colloquially termed "empty calories," meaning it has almost no healthy micronutrients and does not satiate us as much as nutrient-rich foods. However, the laws of physics still apply here. If one consumes a lot of sugar but still maintains a calorie deficit, weight gain does not occur.


Achieving a calorie surplus, however, is much easier with high sugary foods for the reasons just mentioned.



Type 2 Diabetes

Excessive sugar consumption can lead to diabetes type II. As the consumption of sugar requires more insulin production, it may become too much for our bodies, leading to insulin resistance.


Furthermore, our satiety and hunger hormones are thrown off balance, resulting in a loss of proper hunger and satiety perception. Type 2 diabetes is a disease mainly caused by an unhealthy, high-calorie diet, excessive eating, and overall excessive sugar consumption.


Additionally, lack of exercise and physical activity further increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes. Proper nutrition and an appropriate exercise program can prevent type 2 diabetes or even reverse it.



Decline in Mental Performance

There are now many studies indicating that excessive sugar consumption is associated with brain degeneration. Many researchers even suggest that sugar promotes dementia and Alzheimer's disease and can significantly impair our mental performance. In particular, children quickly suffer from lack of concentration when consuming too much sugar, which can also negatively affect their ability to learn.



Microbiome and Gut Bacteria

Mostly, our immune system is controlled through our gut. Sugar causes the proliferation and growth of bad gut bacteria. Excessive sugar can completely disrupt our very sensitive gut flora, thus weakening our immune system and making us more susceptible to diseases. High sugar consumption can also promote the permeability of the intestinal wall. In the worst case, this can lead to the so-called "leaky gut syndrome," which can be the origin of any disease.




Progression of Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

NAFLD is an imbalance of energy metabolism in the liver. It occurs when the liver receives more energy than it can break down, leading to an accumulation of energy in the form of triglycerides. Overeating, especially in the form of fructose, as well as a lack of exercise, are the main reasons for the development of NAFLD. Insulin resistance, as present in type 2 diabetes, also promotes the development of NAFLD.



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This is just a glimpse of the negative consequences excessive sugar consumption can have. Other negative effects may include an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases, accelerated aging, skin problems, liver diseases, lethargy, hair loss, sleep disorders, and tooth decay.


Moderation is key. Reducing added sugars and choosing healthier, whole-food alternatives can improve diet quality and overall well-being. Reading food labels and being aware of the various names for sugars can help make better choices. Ultimately, a balanced diet that limits sugar and focuses on nutrient-dense foods supports long-term health and vitality.



Achieve your fitness goals now through personalized guidance from your online nutrition and fitness coach. Book a call now!


Yours, 

signature Vanessa Gaber





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