Does the Body Need Sugar?

Author: Henrik Aulbach



Lesezeit: 5 min

Sugar accompanies us throughout our daily lives. In the past, people didn't have to brush their teeth twice a day because their diet wasn't so enriched with sugar. Nevertheless, sugar is considered a life elixir: When we consume energy sources like carbohydrates, they are broken down into sugars and released into the bloodstream. So, the question is: Does the body really need sugar in its diet?

Sweet Treasure or Harmful Temptation? The Significance of Sugar in History

The origins of pure sugar can be traced back to Asia, with traditions originating from ancient China and India. Here, people began to extract sugar from sugarcane and use it to sweeten foods. Through Arabian and North African trade, sugar production entered medieval Europe. The role of Arab traders and scientists should not be underestimated.

Of course, sugar was initially considered a luxury item in Europe, and until the early modern period, it was mostly reserved for the wealthy classes. When the New World was discovered in 1492, sugarcane cultivation became a driving force in the local plantation economy. With increasing global and European demand, sugar became an integral part of modern nutrition, with refineries and modern sugarcane farming methods driving the production of mass-market sugar. Since then, we have been experiencing the consequences of too much sugar in our diet.

The Sweet Chemistry Behind Taste - What is Sugar?

When we talk about sugar, we usually mean table sugar or sucrose. This consists of equal parts fructose (fruit sugar) and glucose (grape sugar). Our body mainly uses glucose to supply cells and tissues with energy. While fructose and glucose are simple sugars (monosaccharides), sucrose is a disaccharide (double sugar).

You might have also heard of lactose (milk sugar) and maltose (malt sugar). These are also disaccharides composed of two simple sugar units.

Chemically, sugars belong to organic chemistry; they are hydrocarbons composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen atoms. 

The sweet taste occurs because sugar activates our sweet taste receptors. This works according to the lock and key principle: The chemical structure of sugar fits into that of the receptors, signaling the brain that a sweet taste is detected.

Sugar substitutes attempt to mimic this structure to also be able to bind to sweet taste receptors. They are often combined with maltodextrin, an artificial carbohydrate, to be present as crystalline powder like sugar. Maltodextrin is not considered unhealthy and is found in many dietary supplements. The following sugar substitutes are common today:

  • Stevia
  • Erythritol
  • Xylitol
  • Aspartame
  • Sucralose
  • Acesulfame Potassium
  • Neotame
  • Agave Nectar

The Energy Boost: Life Elixir Sugar

Carbohydrates are Polysaccharides. They consist of numerous sugar molecules linked together. When we consume them, our digestive system breaks them down into smaller sugar units, eventually leading to glucose.

Glucose is now the energy supplier of our body. From digestion, glucose enters the bloodstream and reaches parts of the body that need energy. In cells and tissues, glucose is then converted into energy by becoming adenosine triphosphate (ATP).

By the way, when we deplete our fat reserves, body fat is converted into glucose through complex metabolic processes. So, glucose is indeed the primary energy supplier and our life elixir. Excess glucose is also converted into glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles.

Between Pleasure and Danger - Sugar Consumption and Effects

It's no secret that excessive sugar consumption can lead to lifestyle diseases like Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, obesity, or cavities. However, a gram of sugar, like any other gram of digestible carbohydrates, contains about 4 kilocalories. So, where's the problem?

For one, sugar-containing drinks or processed foods contribute to a calorie surplus due to "hidden calories". However, the real issue lies behind insulin resistance. When we consume sugar, our body releases insulin, a hormone that signals our cells to take in sugar. If insulin is released too often and in excess, cells can develop insulin resistance, which can lead to Type 2 diabetes. This can result in high blood sugar levels and serious health problems. Moreover, frequent and irregular spikes in insulin levels are one of the main causes of cravings.

Similar principles apply to rapidly digestible carbohydrates, as found in white flour. Our body quickly converts these carbohydrates into sugars, leading to high insulin spikes.

Cardiovascular diseases are promoted by excessive sugar intake due to potential increases in blood pressure and LDL cholesterol. Additionally, inflammation in the body is more likely to occur with excessive sugar consumption. 

For dental health, sugar is also a problem. Harmful bacteria like cavity-causing bacteria feed on sugar, which you consume, and in return, they give you cavities and decayed teeth. Not a good trade! Good oral care is all the more important. 

Conclusion: Does the Body Need Sugar?

Our body doesn't need refined and processed, pure sugar. It's capable of producing glucose molecules from energy sources like carbohydrates and fats, which then enter the bloodstream as energy suppliers. Additional consumption of pure sugar is unnecessary. Nutrition societies and health organizations recommend avoiding added sugars and instead enjoying natural sugar sources like fruits or vegetables. Fiber and complex carbohydrates are preferable over sugars and simple carbohydrates. 

However, if your sweet tooth gets the best of you, there are numerous sugar substitutes like stevia or erythritol that you can enjoy. Additionally, bitter compounds like our BitterKraft! seem to help regulate cravings for sweetness.

Does the Human Body Need Sugar: Frequently Asked Questions

What Does Sugar Do in the Body?

Sugar is the energy supplier in our body. Carbohydrates and fats are broken down into glucose, which serves as a source of energy in the bloodstream.

Why Is Sugar Unhealthy? How Harmful Is Sugar?

Sugar is unhealthy because it triggers insulin spikes. When consuming refined sugars, your body releases a significant amount of insulin to help transport sugar from the bloodstream into cells. This can lead to insulin resistance and potentially result in cardiovascular diseases, cavities, and obesity, among other sugar-related effects.

How Much Sugar per Day Is Harmful?

Opinions vary on this matter. The World Health Organization recommends consuming no more than 10% of daily caloric intake from sugar. Ideally, the intake should be limited to a maximum of 5%.

What Happens When You Consume Too Much Sugar?

Excessive sugar consumption leads to the release of a large amount of insulin in our body. This hormone facilitates the uptake of sugar from the blood into cells and tissues for energy. Over time, these insulin spikes can lead to cell tolerance to insulin, resulting in reduced sugar absorption. Consequently, this can lead to dangerously high blood sugar levels with severe consequences.

Does Sugar Make You Fat?

Sugar can indirectly contribute to weight gain. Firstly, foods containing added sugar are often calorie-dense, providing a high number of calories without significant satiety. Sugar-sweetened beverages are also a major concern.

Additionally, due to the rapid fluctuations in insulin levels, cravings for sugary foods are favored. After an insulin spike, levels often drop, leading to a desire for more sugar and sweets. 

Which Diseases Are Caused by Sugar?

Excessive sugar consumption or overindulgence can lead to or exacerbate the following diseases:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • Cardiovascular Diseases
  • Cavities
  • Metabolic Syndrome
  • Inflammation
  • Liver Diseases
  • Hormonal Imbalances

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