Sugar is quite possibly the single, worst constituent of the modern, Western diet. Available in many forms – dextrose, fructose, sucrose and maltose are just some of the names you are likely to see in a list of ingredients on packaging. Generally, the ‘ose' suffix denotes the name for a type of sugar, but there are other forms of sugar, listed under less conspicuous names, which can prove misleading; evaporated cane juice, for example.

If labels aren’t confusing enough, there are certain types of sugar that are harbouring under the misconception of being a ‘health food’. Honey is such an example, as is agave. Remember: natural does not automatically mean better for you. The bottom line is, sugar provides nothing but empty calories. The more ‘natural’ sources of sugar are apt to contain a few trace minerals at best – but mostly in negligible quantities that aren’t worth emphasising.

Sugar sets up a viscous cycle in the body; blood glucose levels rise, prompting the release of insulin from the pancreas, which transports the glucose to the cells of the body, providing an immediate energy source. Glucose is also converted to glycogen and stored in the muscles and liver, as fuel during exercise. The problem arises when intake reaches an excessive level, prompting blood glucose levels to skyrocket, which is met with equally high levels of insulin. Blood glucose then plummets, which causes fatigue, poor concentration and sugar cravings… and the process repeats itself. What’s more, sugar is thought to cause the release of 'feel good' brain chemicals like dopamine and serotonin, so we associate eating these foods with pleasure. This means sugar has the potential to be addictive!

Eventually, this can lead to something known as insulin resistance, whereby the body stops responding to insulin. This can cause metabolic crisis, damaging the pancreas and leading to chronic diseases such as metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes. Fat accumulates around the abdomen as the body is forced to rapidly convert excess glucose to fat.

The damage doesn’t stop there, though. The toxic effects of sugar begin in the mouth; bacteria present there feed on sugar deposits on the teeth and around the gums, releasing acids that gradually wear away at tooth enamel. When saliva washes over the teeth, the calcium present causes food particles to harden, trapping bacteria in in a sticky layer, and leading to possible gum disease halitosis, other dental issues. Lovely. 

So, do you still fancy that jam donut? :)

In a follow-up article, we’ll be suggesting the best ways you can cut down on sugar in your diet, or ‘wean’ yourself off it (so to speak). The less sugary your diet, the lower your risk of inflammation and consequent health problems, and the better your state of wellbeing.