The title may seem so cliche. But the debates around the role of sugar in lifestyle diseases such as obesity and diabetes are omnipresent and inescapable in the print, the media and even on those chit chats with your next door neighbour.
So, is sugar really the villian of our ages?
The answer is a little uncertain.
Sugar, of course, is no healthy eat. It’s full of empty calories and over indulgence, of course, leads to obesity. Whether sugar is bad for you depends on the source, the quantity and the GI index.
Naturally occuring sugars such as fructose and lactose (found in fruits and milk) are of course, the best source there is, easily absorbed into your body and unlikely to be the causation of weight gain as you are unlikely to consume baskets of fruits or gallons of milk that is necessary to drive the needle north of your weighing scales.
The sugars or sweeteners that we add to our coffees and teas are a different story, though. It may seem surprising but its true that both white and brown sugars are derived from the same source i.e usually sugarcane. The calories and nutrition from both white and brown sugars are surprisingly similar despite the common myth that brown sugars are healthier. Any differences in the calories or minerals’ content are vanishingly minute and both may contribute to weight gain if consumed in excess.
But what is the role of white/brown sugars on obesity?
The answer in confusing and may vary depending on whom you ask. There is a school of thought that over consumption of sugar drives the pancreas into a hyper mode for generating excess insulin to absorb the excessive sugar in the blood and thereby, creating conditions for insulin resistance as we age, resulting in type 2 diabetes besides obesity from all those excessive empty calories. In this theory, sugar is the arch villian of your health story and both obesity and type 2 diabetes, the result.
There is of course, the famous netflix show, What the health, which specifically and rather confusingly states that sugar does not cause diabetes but consumption of meat and diary products do. This flies in the face of high concentration of diabetic vegetarian Indians in the subcontinent so any claims by the show should be viewed with healthy skepticism given the barrage of criticism it has received.
If all this sounds confusing to you, rest assured that it does, because it is.
So, that brings us back to the question: is sugar good for me?
The short answer is, no.
Shorn of essential nutrients such as amino acids, minerals or vitamins, processed white or brown sugar is supremely unhealthy is you are trying to keep those excess pounds under control.
But does that mean we need to give up our aromatic coffees or teas or have them sugar less?
If you are a chai aficionado like me, the answer is, not necessarily.
What is important when assessing a particular tyoe of sugar or sweetener is its GI index.
The glycemic index (GI) is a number from 0 to 100 assigned to a food, with pure glucose arbitrarily given the value of 100, which represents the relative rise in the blood glucose level two hours after consuming that food. A food is considered to have a low GI if it is 55 or less; high GI if 70 or more; and mid-range GI if 56 to 69.
Palm sugar, for instance, has a GI of 35 as compared to a GI of 68 for white sugar and a GI of 55 for honey. Unrefined sugars such as palm sugars tend to be rich in minerals and vitamins as well as phytonutrients such as polyphenols, flavonoids and antioxidants. Date syrup, coconut sugar and maple syrup are other excellent low GI sweeteners that you may want to explore.
The low GI sugars/natural sweeteners will tend to blow a hole in your pocket compared to the lowly priced white sugar in the market but irrespective of the sugar source, moderation is the key when it comes to adding that extra spoon into your chais and lattes.