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SUGAR -The bigger killer than infectious diseases; every year it claims 35 million lives worldwide:
it was believed that sugar is bad for health because it adds a whole lot of calories to the diet but no nutrition. Now, new research reveals that too much sugar in the blood – even if you are not a diabetic – can actually ravage your heart and liver, upset the hormonal system, raise the level of cholesterol, triglycerides, blood pressure, and increase the chance of cancer.
The study, published in a recent issue of the journal, Nature, states that the annual worldwide death toll due to sugar overload is approximately 35 million – as much as the population of Morocco. In other words, sugar is a bigger killer than even infectious diseases. And here is a list of some of the food types in which it lurks.
To keep increasing weight in check, some people get obsessed with removing all fat from the diet. They insist on having only food and drinks labelled low-fat.
But what exactly is low-fat food? Let’s begin with fat-free food or drinks such as double toned milk, low-fat ice cream or zero-calorie colas. These items are so bland that manufacturers add something, usually variants of sugar and preservatives, to make them palatable. As a result, you get rid of the fat but not the calories.
The thing to keep in mind is that not all fats are bad. Fats such as monounsaturated fatty acid (Mufa) – found in almonds, cashews, peanut butter and olive oil – or polyunsaturated fatty acid (Pufa) – walnuts, animal fats, safflower oil – are beneficial. They play a key role in nutritional balance and disease prevention. It is trans-fats – found in deep fried foods as well as commercial baked goods like biscuits – that are harmful.
Most processed food has a lot of added sugar. That includes breakfast cereals, bread, canned or packed fruit juice, beer, sauce, ketchup, cookies, candy, mayonnaise, salad dressings, soft drinks and so on. A 300ml bottle of soft drinks usually has eight teaspoonfuls of sugar while a single scoop of ice cream has five.
To put it in perspective, according to WHO, men must not have more than nine teaspoons of sugar a day, while six teaspoonfuls are enough for women. A US government guideline on nutrition says about 10-15 per cent of calories can be derived from sugary food but studies reveal that most of us get 25 per cent of calories from sugar.
Sugar is added to food in many avatars – white, brown, high fructose corn syrup (present in most processed food) and agave nectar. Milk and fruits have the natural sugars lactose and fructose, respectively. These are less harmful.
“The protein in dairy products and the fibre in fruits help our body absorb the natural sugar slowly. Slowing down the digestion of sugar prevents an insulin spike and is less harmful to the liver,” says Dr Satinath Mukhopadhyay, head of Endocrinology at IPGMER, Calcutta.
Avoid processed food and limit the intake of sugar-rich food.
According to a study at the University of Florida, sugary food can be as addictive as nicotine and cocaine. Whenever we see sugar, the brain gets a rush of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure. When we consume sugar, our natural opiods and beta-endorphins rush to the brain, a reaction similar to someone on nicotine, cocaine or heroin.
Experts contend that sugar addiction has become the biggest public health crisis in history. “Since sugar induces the same addictive pathways as narcotics, why should this not be taken seriously,” asks Dr Mukhopadhyay.
Sweeteners: good and bad
• Replace sugar with molasses, palm sugar or date palm juice, which provide Vitamin B, iron, calcium and potassium
• Fresh cane juice has vitamins B and C, iron and manganese; coconut sugar (dehydrated sap of the coconut palm) has antioxidants, calcium, zinc, iron and potassium. It doesn’t raise blood sugar and is good for diabetics
• If dessert is a must, have dates – rich in potassium, calcium and Vitamin B6 – raisins and other dry or fresh fruits
• While baking, use palm sugar. Add fresh or dry fruits to sweeten puddings
• Add honey to green tea and maple syrup to tea and coffee. While these sweeteners have calories, they also have antioxidants.
• Avoid sugar substitutes such as aspartame. If you are addicted to sweet tea, add a bit of sugar but never an artificial sweetener, which can give you migraine, eye problems, nausea and vomiting, insomnia, stomach problems, joint ache, depression and even brain cancer.
Resources: The Telegraph Calcutta (India)