Do sugar sweetened drinks really cause more damage to health than other sugary foods?
India is the largest consumer of sugar. It is also the second biggest producer of sugar behind Brazil.
Too much sugar in the diet and we run the risk of developing type-2 diabetes, getting fatter and suffering with obesity, and also developing dreaded cardiovascular disease.
Sugar is superb source of energy – there is no doubt of that. It is a very simple carbohydrate which we eat in all sorts of types of food. To deal with spikes of rising sugar content in the blood we produce the hormone insulin in our pancreas. This signifies to cells throughout the body to use sugar as energy. If we produce too much insulin then that energy is diverted into fat production and we get obese. It also leads to a host of other chronic diseases.
Drinking sugar sweetened drinks has long been an issue for many of us trying to lose weight. One recent piece of research published in 2019 found in a clinical study that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages could be worse for us than eating foods high in sugar.
The research team based in China and the University of Aberdeen in the UK looked at the impact of white sugar on the regulation of body weight in mice. In this study, they divided the mice into three groups: group one was given a solid form of sucrose, the second group was given a low-calorie solid sucrose diet along with sucrose water and the last one was given sucrose water exclusively. After eight weeks, the group that had access to liquid sucrose had gained significantly more body weight and body fat.
It’s probably not that surprising. we use sugars for all sorts of reasons in foods. It makes them taste nice. It is an important functional ingredient too as it can help extend the shelf-life of products like beverages, jam, confectionery, sauces, various packaged food, murabbas etc. Sugar is an important preservative.
If you look at a typical ingredients list for a soft drink, it will contain sugar listed as glucose, fructose and sucrose. A soft drink will be a ready-to-drink product, an energy drink, fruit juice and so on. Sugar-sweetened drinks usually contain energy-boosting sweeteners such as sucrose (50% glucose, 50% fructose), high-fructose corn syrup, or fruit juice concentrates that are added to the beverage by manufacturers.
There are many other studies out there which have shown a relationship between the consumption of sugar-sweetened drinks and weight gain in children as well as adults.
So how much sugar should we take in a day? The World Health Organisation now recommends keeping it to about six teaspoons (25g) a day. This includes naturally occurring or free sugar from fruits, as well as refined or added sugar.
One country which has given some thought to managing the consumption of sugar is India. There the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has given some guidelines for a low sugar diet:
- All green leafy vegetables including spinach, colocasia (arbi) leaves, french beans and parsley
- Proportions of recommended fruits are 1-2 orange/mausami, 7-8 cherries, 10-12 jamun, 5-6 strawberries, 3-4 plums, 1 apple or a bowl of watermelon daily
- Skimmed or single toned milk
- Curd or paneer made from single toned milk
- Whole wheat bread or multi-grain bread
- 2-3 oat/ wheat cookies per day
- Clear soup, jasmine tea and fresh lime water instead of soft drinks and soda
- Drink plenty -10-15 glasses of water daily