Beware of added sugars! (by Doctor Paola Salgarelli)
The less added sugar we use the better it is for our health. But what exactly are they?
Let’s start by clarifying what is meant by sugars. First of all, the correct denomination is either simple sugars or simple carbohydrates. They are part of the family of carbohydrates which can be, in fact, simple or complex depending on the type of structure. The structure of carbohydrates is based on molecules called monosaccharides (the most important is glucose) and, simplifying, it can be said that complex carbohydrates are formed by long chains of monosaccharides (starch, for example, is formed by chains of glucose), while simple carbohydrates (or simple sugars) are either formed from a single monosaccharide molecule or from 2 (disaccardi). The main monosaccharides are glucose, fructose and galactose and they combine together to give rise to disaccharides such as, for example, sucrose and lactose.
Once clarified what is meant by simple sugars, it is necessary to make a further distinction within this category, because it is essential to also talk about added sugars. This term refers to all sugars (simple) that are added to food during the process or preparation phase of a food. This definition therefore does not include sugars naturally present in a food such as lactose in milk or fructose in fruit.
It is important to pay attention especially to added sugars because they are more harmful than sugars naturally present in a food. We explain why. The simple sugars present, for example, in fruit, are trapped inside the cells and ingested together with fiber. They do not dramatically impact blood sugar levels as an added sugar that is “free” and therefore causes dangerous glycemic and insulin peaks. This does not mean that we have to go overboard with the sugars found in fruit, but it should be emphasized that they are less harmful.
Why does excess sugar harm health so much? The answer is simple: it makes you fat and obesity (but sometimes even overweight), increases the risk of developing different forms of cancer, degenerative diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. Sugar also makes you fat because it is addictive: too many sugars cause peaks of insulin which quickly consumes circulating sugar, leading us to feel like sweet again in a matter of moments.
With sugary drinks the situation is even worse: they do not give a sense of satiety and sugar enters the circulation even more quickly because it is taken without other components (such as flour in sweets) which slows down its emission into the bloodstream. Attention also to sweeteners, they must be used in moderation because they do not get us used to the sugary flavor, leading us to look for other sweets.
At this point it is important to clarify what the dose of added sugar should not be exceeded. According to the World Health Organization, the maximum daily quantity is equal to 5 teaspoons, or 25 g. This limit is valid for both adults and children. This count includes the common table sugar, the one added to foods, the one contained in snacks and drinks, but also honey, syrups, fruit juices, jams.
If we prepare a dessert we know how much sugar we add, but if we buy a packaged product how do we do it? We orient ourselves by reading the labels! First of all, let’s check if names like sucrose, cane sugar, dextrose, invert sugar, glucose, fructose, maltose, etc. appear on the label. Secondly, we check at what point in the list of ingredients these names appear, the ingredients are always in descending order, therefore if the added sugars are named among the first items we deduce that the quantity is high. It is also useful to consult the “simple sugars” item in the nutritional table to get an idea, but remember that not all simple sugars are added sugars.
Simple sugars do not appear among the ingredients of BIVO: a further confirmation of the validity of this product.
Shumei Sun Guo, Wei Wu, William Cameron Chumlea, and Alex F Roche. Predicting overweight and obesity in adulthood from body mass index values in childhood and adolescence. Am J Clin Nutr 2002; 76: 653–8.
Guideline for healthy eating, 2018 revision by CREA (Center for Food and Nutrition Research)
Paola Salgarelli, Nutritional Biologist, specialist in Food Science
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