Welcome to the other side of sugar-free and white sugar

Sugar Dates Brown Sugar Honey Stevia Coconut Jaggery

One often doesn't realize why they get red bumpy, painful acne on their face, or why do they not lose weight despite working out, why they feel low energy in afternoons? [Considering there aren't any underlying diseases or hormonal imbalances]

A recent brunch with my girlfriends (right before Mumbai went into a lockdown yet again) turned into a transfer of spiritual and medical wisdom amongst us. Well, I knew sugar is unpleasant, and I have seen the positive effects of going off white sugar in my regular fasting glucose blood reports. Having spent time that day with them unveiled a deeper layer of unawareness about health and food. I thank them from the bottom of my heart for putting it in such simple, sweet, awakening words - "The sweeter your blood is, the lower your healing power is." 

They further analogized it with finding small flies around decaying fruits with blood sugar levels. 

Sugar comparision of popular carbonated drink Coca Cola with Spoons of Sugar

Dr Snehal Pawar (a practising cosmetic dermatologist and a certified nutritionist/dietitian) in her recent social ketchup digital magazine interview mentioned that she has successfully gotten her diligent patients off white sugar and witnessed results. She practices and pushes her patients dealing with acne to go off sugar because she has weaned off white sugar in the form of sweets, desserts, pastries, cakes etc., for over two years now. Unless on certain happy occasions - because, moo meetha Karna is part of our tradition. 

Having dealt with massive acne outburst herself, she proudly quotes that it does work. Of course, one has to investigate the reasons for acne, but cutting out refined sugar surely helps. Until a couple of years ago, I wasn't aware of the hazards white refined sugar has on our body and organs. Like in a cup of chai or coffee, I am sure it works just fine in lesser amounts - if you are overall healthy and do not carry a diabetic legacy or have an underlying health issue, and are a little physically active to let it not accumulate. 

Sugar is a part of almost every food that we consume in our daily lives. It is present in fruits, certain grains, cakes, cookies, biscuits, your tea or coffee (if you add any). And it is also a fact that too much sugar is not beneficial for your teeth or your waistline, which is why we tell kids not to consume too many chocolates - sometimes even adults need to be said. 

There are some disputed claims that sugar plays a role in degenerative diseases. Refined sugar is certainly not beneficial. But it has been painted as evil more gravely to promote artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes such as sugar-free, etc., to attract a consumer base. 

Comparision of Sugar in popular juice brand Real in terms of number of spoons

What are artificial sugar substitutes and sweeteners?

A sugar substitute (artificial sweetener) is a food additive that replicates the effect of sugar in taste but usually has zero calories. Besides its benefits, animal studies have convincingly proven that artificial sweeteners lead to weight gain, brain tumours, bladder cancer and many other health complications. Side effects, including some carcinogenicity, are also noted in humans. 

In recent years health, figure and fitness have gained a lot of attention. The imbalance of energy expense between calories consumed on the one hand, and calories burned on the side due to urbanization, sedentary lifestyles and excessive consumption of sugary and fattening foods, leads the Indian population to obesity. 

Obesity is the main factor behind type II diabetes. India is soon to become a diabetic capital of the world by 2030. Hence, growing health awareness today has led to an increased demand for food products that aid better health. Consumers now demand a greater variety of low-calorie products as they strive to make healthier food choices - Enter sugar substitutes. Some examples of sugar substitutes are stevia, Splenda, sugar-free, sugar-free gold, Nutrasweet, sweet n low and low-calorie sweeteners. They are about 200 times sweeter than regular refined sugar. Some are natural sweeteners, and some synthetic. The unnatural ones are, in general, referred to as artificial sweeteners. 

Comparision of sugar in popular energy drink Red Bull in terms of number of spoons

The food and beverage industry are substituting sugar or corn syrup with artificial sweeteners. There are side effects of the individual components that make up artificial sweeteners. One such example is aspartame. Saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame k are also used in the production of non-caloric sweeteners besides aspartame.

Many taste buds cover the human tongue; each has various taste receptors that identify different flavours. When you eat, your taste receptors encounter food molecules and send a signal to your brain, remembering the taste. A sugar molecule fits nicely into the sweetness receptor, which allows the brain to recognize the sweet taste. Overloading of these receptors unnecessarily creates addictions and habit forming dependency, which are also known as cravings. 

Artificial sweeteners function in a similar manner that mimics how sugar molecules behave to fit into the sweetness receptor. But the only difference is that the non-caloric ones do not contain any calories for the human body to break down. Many people move to sugar substitutes because they provide a sweet taste without the added calories. 

Comparision of sugar in popular ice team from lipton in terms of number of spoons

In this blog, we will cover the side effects of both refined sugar and artificial sweeteners.

Side Effects of Refined Sugar

Excessive use of white sugar, also known as table sugar, in daily lives create a range of health problems that come to the surface at some point in lives. 

It makes your organs fat.

  • A diet high in sugar intake, and fructose, a common sugar-like food additive, pushes your liver to store fat, which may lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – a rare condition before the 1980s. They also raise your blood glucose levels which makes you susceptible to type 2 diabetes.               

  • What you must do: Check food labels – biscuits (that are carb-heavy), fruit juices, cereals, snack bars and flavoured yoghurt – and select the ones that contain little or no fructose. A high intake of this food also causes bloating. 

Risk of heart disease.

  • High insulin levels that become chronic cause the muscle cells around each blood vessel in the arteries to grow faster than usual, leading to high blood pressure.

  • What you must do: Count the grams of sugar consumption and stick to the acceptable daily intake: 20 grams for women, 36 grams for men, and 12 grams for children.

Jaggery Unrefined Sugar Lower GI

    Effect on cholesterol levels.

    • Recent studies have suggested that people consuming the highest level of added sugars also record a significant spike in unhealthy cholesterol levels and record low levels of healthy cholesterol.

    • What you must do: Eating a protein-rich breakfast help reduce and fight sugar cravings. Reduce your morning carbohydrate intake like parathas and puris for breakfast and substitute with high protein food such as eggs. If you are a vegetarian, some vegetarian options are listed down here

    Risk of Alzheimer's disease.

    • Various US-based research studies that link insulin resistance and high-fat diets to Alzheimer's portray the condition as a metabolic disease. The brain's ability to process glucose is hindered.

    • What you must do: Avoid sweet, fatty foods, cakes, pastries, soft drinks, etc. 

    Leads to addictive behaviour.

    • Sugar triggers a release of chemicals – opioids and dopamine – that activate your brain's pleasure centre, which doesn't take long to acquire a tolerance, meaning you need larger doses and start craving for more.

    • What you must do: Cut down on the sweet stuff and allow at least a week for your taste buds to pull back and adjust. To get over the urge, eat smaller meals more often throughout the day and, if you can't fight the craving, opt for a sweet treat of fewer than 150 calories. Nuts, fruit and unsweetened popcorn are also options worth considering.

    Good sugar vs Bad sugar but sugar is always bad

      Loss of appetite control.

      • Excessive sugars act negatively on the leptin hormones that send a signal to your brain that you have eaten enough. A high sugar diet can leave you feeling hungry even when you're overeating.

      • What you must do:  Keep walking. Brief exercises, such as a 15-minute walk, has proved to be effective against sugar cravings. 

      Risk of Low moods.

      • It is a fact that it takes just 30 minutes to go from a sugar high to a crash; people who consume long-term junk and sugary food face an almost 40 per cent higher risk of developing depression than those who maintain healthy eating.

      • What you must do: Take an unfiltered, honest look at your diet, figure out exactly how much sugar you're consuming and aim to limit your intake and make healthier choices as per your age and gender.

      Side Effects of sugar-free or artificial sweeteners

      Artificial sweeteners are popular amongst people aiming at weight loss to maintain healthy body weight and keep their calorie intake in check. However, various studies prove otherwise - we have compiled those from different trusted sources for easy reading.

      One primary concern of people who use artificial sweeteners is they may replace the lost calories through other sources, possibly going off track of their weight loss or health benefits. It happens because we like to fool ourselves: "I'm drinking diet soda, fewer calories, so it's okay to have cake." 

      It's also highly likely that these products change the way we taste food. "Non-nutritive sweeteners are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. A minuscule amount produces a sweet taste comparable to that of sugar, without comparable calories. Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes," explains Dr Ludwig - an obesity and weight management specialist at Harvard Affiliated Boston Children's Hospital (Reference: A Harvard blog on artificial sweeteners). 

      This essentially means people who routinely use artificial sweeteners may start to find less intensely sweet foods, such as whole fruits, less appealing and unsweet foods, such as raw vegetables, downright unpalatable.

      In other terms, the use of artificial sweeteners makes you shun healthy, filling, and highly nutritious foods while consuming more artificially flavoured foods having lower nutritional value.

      The FDA, also known as the food and drug administration approved artificial sweeteners, might play another trick. Healthcare Research suggests that they may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake. As a result, we may end up craving more sweets, choose sweeter foods over nutritious food, and gain weight, eventually leading to chronic diseases if not paid attention to. People who choose such unhealthy options end up being obese in their later lives compared to those who watch what they put inside their food. 

      But you say you can give up diet drinks, sweet foods whenever you want? Don't be so sure. Animal studies point in the direction that artificial sweeteners are addictive. In studies of rats exposed to cocaine, most chose saccharin (a sugar) when given a choice between intravenous cocaine or oral saccharine.

      Artificial Sweetners and Sugar not understood by common man should be avoided

      Closing Statement

      There are plenty of upsides of going off sugar or limiting its use every day to few times a week and then probably wean off for good. 

      Going off sugar helps significantly with your skin. It also helps regulate your hormones, mood fight cancer cells because cancer cells feed on sugar if one consumes a lot of sugar. Your energy levels will feel better after you have gone off sugar after the first seven days. And suppose you decide to go off white sugar or artificial sweeteners and still want something sweet. In that case, you can shift to jaggery and dates to get added benefits along with the sweetness.


      Authored by: Padmaja Rai

      About the Author: Padmaja is a healthcare consultant and avid fitness enthusiast. She holds a masters' in bio-innovation and rare diseases from University of Pennsylvania. She is a firm believer in ancient Indian holistic healing.

      Leave a comment

      Please note, comments must be approved before they are published