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By Julia Haimovich, Accredited Practicing Dietitian.

Sweet or Sinful: Navigating the World of Sugars.

Sugars, found ubiquitously in our diet, add a delightful sweetness to various culinary delights. Yet,
not all sugars are created equal, and their influence on our health can vary significantly. This article
delves into the physiology behind these sugars and the chronic conditions they can influence.

Beneficial Sugars:

Natural Sugars: Derived from fruits, vegetables, and honey, natural sugars come bundled with a
plethora of vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre. These sugars, such as fructose in apples, are
metabolised slowly. They promote steady blood sugar levels due to the accompanying fibre, which
hinders rapid sugar absorption. This property is crucial for preventing blood sugar spikes, making
natural sugars beneficial for individuals with diabetes. (1)

Whole grains, legumes, and select fruits contain complex sugars intricately woven with fibre. The
fibre-sugar tandem supports digestive health and ensures a gradual release of energy. For instance,
oatmeal, buckwheat, quinoa, and barley, known for their fibre-rich carbohydrates, exemplify this
healthful synergy. This gradual energy release can aid in weight management and prevent energy
crashes. These sugars serve as prebiotics, providing nourishment for beneficial gut bacteria, which,
in turn, contribute to better digestive health and overall well-being. (2)

Harmful Sugars:

Processed and refined sugars, such as sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup, are devoid of essential
nutrients. The swift digestion of these sugars results in abrupt spikes in blood sugar levels. This
phenomenon is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Sugary beverages like
soft drinks, laden with high-fructose corn syrup, stand out as prime examples of sugar culprits. 3
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and saccharin are low in calories but may disrupt the body’s
calorie-regulating mechanisms. This disruption can lead to weight gain over time. These sweeteners
are commonly found in sugar-free products and diet soft drinks, presenting a paradoxical risk to
those seeking to reduce calorie intake and manage weight. (4)

The impact of sugars on our health is far from uniform. To maintain a harmonious relationship with
sugar, it is imperative to limit the intake of refined sugars and artificial sweeteners while embracing
natural sugars and fibre-enriched sources. This balanced approach is essential for mitigating the risks
of chronic conditions like diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular diseases. Ultimately, moderation in
sugar consumption and adherence to a well-balanced diet are our allies in nurturing a healthy
connection with this sweet indulgence.

    1. Grembecka, M. (2015). Natural sweeteners in a human diet. Roczniki Państwowego Zakładu
      Higieny, 66(3).
    2. h Puhlmann, M. L., & de Vos, W. M. (2022). Intrinsic dietary fibers and the gut microbiome:
      Rediscovering the benefits of the plant cell matrix for human health. Frontiers in
      Immunology, 13, 954845.
    3. Martinon, P., Fraticelli, L., Giboreau, A., Dussart, C., Bourgeois, D., & Carrouel, F. (2021).
      Nutrition as a key modifiable factor for periodontitis and main chronic diseases. Journal of
      clinical medicine, 10(2), 197.
    4. Steffen, B. T., Jacobs, D. R., Yi, S. Y., Lees, S. J., Shikany, J. M., Terry, J. G., … & Steffen, L.
      M. (2023). Long-term aspartame and saccharin intakes are related to greater volumes of
      visceral, intermuscular, and subcutaneous adipose tissue: the CARDIA study. International
      Journal of Obesity, 47(10), 939-947.
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