Sugar is the generic name for sweet-tasting, soluble carbohydrates, many of which are used in food.
Ingestion of sugars immediately stimulates neural and behavioural responses that are distinct from those evoked by compounds with salty, sour, bitter and/or umami tastes.
In humans, sugars generate the distinctive taste quality of “sweetness”.
It is highly palatable and nutritive (to a certain extent), therefore it is part of our diet and is consumed in both complex and simple forms.
Sugar is obtained from grains, vegetables, nuts, seeds and legumes.
These naturally-occurring carbohydrates contain starch as the main energy source.
They also contain fibre, which is essential to maintain bowel health.
As per dietary guidelines, carbohydrates from the above food sources should constitute 40-55% of the total calorie intake in a balanced diet.
In addition to complex carbohydrates, we also consume simple carbohydrates (free sugar), which is obtained from fruit, milk and added sugars.
The sugar in milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose) are natural and come along with vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
They are considered healthy, whereas added sugars contain only calories and lack these essential vitamins and minerals.
The common source of added sugars are table sugar, candy, pastries, cakes, desserts, cookies, soft drinks and fruit drinks.
Chemically, added sugars are rich in sucrose and fructose (high fructose corn syrup).
As these food products are delicious and easily available, their consumption is enhanced in all age groups throughout the world.
Studies have shown that excessive added sugar can trigger overeating due to brain adaptations, which in turn can cause several health problems, including obesity.
Considering the harmful effects of additional sugars, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that sugar comprise less than 10% of the total calories eaten in a day (i.e. 12 teaspoons of sugar or less in a day for a normal diet).
The organisation even recommends reducing sugar intake to less than 5% (six teaspoons of sugar) if possible for added health benefits.
Carbohydrates consumed in the diet undergo digestion, get converted into glucose and are absorbed.
The body’s cells either use the glucose immediately for energy or it is stored in the liver or muscles (glycogen) for future use.
Vital organs in our body like the brain, red blood cells and kidneys, need glucose as a primary source of energy for optimal function.
Both dietary and stored carbohydrates (glycogen) regularly supply glucose to these organs.
This is aided by the balanced action of hormones named insulin and glucagon.
Any imbalance in the levels of insulin will result in a metabolic disorder known as diabetes mellitus.
Lack of glucose…