Most of us love sugary treats – and so we should, they’re delicious! However, like many things in life there can be too much of a good thing. It’s important to understand what happens when we eat too much sugar. Before we do, this is a good opportunity to provide some clarity on the definition of sugars and how they are related to carbohydrates – as this can be confusing.
Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (the others being fat and protein) that we consume daily. Carbohydrates’ main role is to provides our bodies with energy. Carbohydrates can be separated into three main forms: starch, fibre, and sugar. Sugar is exactly what you’re thinking – it’s the sugar we use in cooking and baking and what makes lollies, chocolates, and soft drinks sweet. However, sugars are also hidden in things like yoghurt and sauces to help make them taste better – we often refer to these as “added sugars.” Compared to starch and fibre, sugars are considered simple carbohydrates. Simple carbohydrates are rapidly broken down by the body, causing rapid spikes in blood sugar levels. On the other hand, complex carbohydrates consist of longer chains of sugar molecules that take longer to digest, providing sustained energy without abrupt blood sugar spikes. Interestingly, when a simple carbohydrate is combined with complex carbohydrates such as fruit or other macronutrients such as milk (protein and fat) digestion and absorption of these sugars are also slowed.
As you’re most likely aware excessive sugar consumption contributes to extra calorie intake. However, there’s a little bit more to the story. If most of your carbohydrates are consumed in their simple form– it sets off a cascade of metabolic responses that promote weight gain. Here’s how:
Blood Sugar Roller Coaster:
When you consume sugary foods, your blood sugar levels soar, followed by a sharp crash. This cycle triggers cravings and overeating, leading to an intake of surplus calories.
Insulin and Fat Storage:
To manage high blood sugar levels, your body releases insulin. Over time, chronic high sugar intake can lead to insulin resistance, where cells become less responsive. As a result, excess sugar is converted and stored as body fat, contributing to weight gain.
Sugary foods are often high in calories but lack vitamins, minerals, and fibre (that helps slow digestion). This may lead to overconsumption as your body seeks other nutrients it needs, resulting in increased calorie intake.
Understanding sugar as a carbohydrate helps us appreciate its diverse sources. Opt for healthier alternatives or look at other factors that can help satiate your sweet tooth:
- Whole Fruits: Fruits offer natural sugars alongside fibre, vitamins, and minerals. The fibre mitigates blood sugar spikes and promotes satiety.
- Dairy: Natural sugars in unsweetened dairy come packaged with protein and calcium, balancing out their impact on blood sugar levels.
- Choose a sugar alternative: Sugar alternatives such as Stevia are calorie-free and do not disrupt blood sugar levels, making it suitable for those trying to manage blod sugar levels and calorie intake.
- Have you tried protein or fibre? Sometimes sweet cravings may be your body sending an indirect signal that it needs other nutrients. Ensuring you are eating enough protein and fibre can help supress sugar cravings.
Sugar, a type of carbohydrate, plays a crucial role in our diets. However, excessive sugar intake can lead to weight gain through various metabolic mechanisms. By grasping the science behind this relationship, we hope you have gained insight on how to navigate a healthier path. However, the doctors and dietitians at Alevia understand there is a lot more than just science behind dietary choices and cravings. Our approach is to mix science with realistic and personalised advice so you can indulge in life’s sweetness without compromising your well-being and health goals.