Sugar can be detrimental to our health when consumed in excessive amounts. Here are some ways in which excessive sugar intake can be harmful:
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Weight gain and obesity:
High sugar consumption is strongly associated with weight gain and obesity. Sugary foods and drinks are often high in calories and low in nutritional value. Consuming too many calories from sugar can lead to an energy imbalance and contribute to weight gain.
Increased risk of chronic diseases:
Excessive sugar intake is linked to an increased risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and certain types of cancer. Diets high in sugar can raise blood sugar levels, promote insulin resistance, and contribute to the development of these conditions.
Sugar consumption, especially in the form of sugary drinks and foods, can increase the risk of tooth decay and cavities. Bacteria in the mouth feed on sugar and produce acids that attack tooth enamel, leading to dental problems.
High sugar intake can displace nutritious foods in the diet, leading to nutrient deficiencies. Foods high in added sugars often lack essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber that are important for overall health.
Addiction and cravings:
Sugar has addictive properties and can trigger cravings and dependence similar to other addictive substances. Consuming large amounts of sugar can lead to a cycle of cravings, overeating, and difficulty in controlling food intake.
It’s important to note that not all sugars are equally harmful. Naturally occurring sugars in whole foods like fruits and vegetables come with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, which can mitigate some of the negative effects. However, added sugars found in processed foods and sugary drinks are the primary concern.
To maintain good health, it’s recommended to limit added sugar intake and focus on a balanced diet consisting of whole foods, lean proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates. The American Heart Association advises limiting added sugar intake to no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day for women and 36 grams (9 teaspoons) per day for men.
Can we give sugar to infant or children?
Sugar is not necessary for the health and development of infants and young children. In fact, it is generally recommended to limit or avoid giving added sugars to infants and young children. Here are a few reasons why:
Infants and young children have specific nutritional needs that are best met through a balanced diet of breast milk or formula (for infants) and a variety of nutrient-rich foods (for older children). Adding sugar to their diet provides empty calories without any nutritional benefit, potentially displacing more nutritious foods.
The consumption of sugary foods and drinks can increase the risk of tooth decay in young children. Baby teeth are important for proper speech development and the positioning of permanent teeth. Early exposure to sugary substances can lead to cavities and other dental problems.
Taste preferences and habits:
Introducing sugary foods and drinks to infants and young children can shape their taste preferences and create a preference for overly sweet foods. It’s important to encourage a variety of flavours, including naturally sweet fruits, and to promote a balanced diet from an early age.
If you’re introducing solid foods to an infant, it’s recommended to focus on nutrient-rich, age-appropriate foods, such as pureed fruits, vegetables, grains, and proteins. Avoid adding any form of sugar, including honey, to an infant’s food before the age of one, as it can increase the risk of infant botulism.
Natural and harmless substitutes of sugar
If you’re looking for natural and relatively harmless substitutes for sugar, here are a few options to consider:
Fresh or dried fruits can provide natural sweetness and additional nutrients. Dates, mashed bananas, unsweetened applesauce, and pureed fruits can be used as sweeteners in recipes like baked goods and smoothies.
Made from the sap of maple trees, maple syrup is a natural sweetener with a distinctive flavour. Look for 100% pure maple syrup without any added sugars or artificial ingredients.
Derived from the sap of coconut palm trees, coconut sugar is a natural sweetener that retains some nutrients found in the coconut palm. It has a caramel-like flavour and can be used as a substitute for granulated sugar in baking and cooking.
Molasses is a by-product of the sugar refining process and is rich in minerals like iron, calcium, and potassium. It has a robust flavour and can be used as a natural sweetener in certain recipes, such as gingerbread or barbecue sauces.
Agave nectar is derived from the agave plant and is known for its intense sweetness. It can be used as a liquid sweetener in various recipes. However, it’s important to use it in moderation as it is still high in fructose.
Stevia, a natural sweetener derived from the stevia plant, has gained popularity as a sugar substitute. It is intensely sweet and available in liquid or powdered form. Look for pure stevia extract without any additives or fillers.
Remember, even though these alternatives are considered more natural, they still contain sugars or sweetening compounds and should be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet. It’s always a good idea to experiment and find the substitute that suits your taste preferences and dietary needs best.