Every child knows: sugar is bad for the teeth. Nutrition with a high amount of sugar does not only put you at a risk of dental caries but also affects your physical and mental health, mood and memory.
Sick? Current researches associate sugar consumption with overweight and obesity, which increases the risk of various subsequent illnesses: diabetes type 2, cardiovascular diseases (risk for stroke and heart attack), dementia and cancer. (1)
Sad? In a study on patients with diabetes type 2 the level of blood sugar was manipulated. When the blood glucose was elevated (> 16,5 mmol/l) participants had a reduced energetic arousal and felt more sadness and anxiety (2).
Stupid? In a study on healthy adults memory skills and blood sugar levels were measured. Participants with higher blood sugar levels showed worse memory performance than adults with lower glucose levels. This difference was mediated by structural changes in the brain (3). Another study found that high blood sugar levels within the normal range (> 6.1 mmol) were associated with 6-10% loss in brain volume. The loss effected hippocampus and amygdala -areas that are important for learning, memory and cognitive skills (4).
The WHO recommends the intake of less than 10% or even better less than 5% free sugars of the daily total energy intake. For an adult that means less than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) per day (5). The problem is: there is a high amount of sugar in products where we don’t expect it.
So here are some tips to avoid sugar:
- Pay attention to the ingredients list: There are many names to cover the total amount of contained sugar in products. Everything ending with “-ose” or “syrup” is sugar. The position on the list indicates the relative amount of a compound, so producers often mix different sugars in order to “hide” them at the end of the ingredients list. In “light” products the missing fat is often replaced by sugar. Better base your nutrition on staple foods like whole-grain food, fruits and vegetables to avoid hunger pangs as a response to changes in blood sugar level.
- Avoid ready-made products such as pizza, sauces, soups or ketchup. You might be surprised how much sugar they contain! Also, many cereals and yoghurts contain high amounts of sugar. Prepare it yourself: Use unsweetened yoghurt and add your favourite fruits.
- Step by step: Reduce your sugar intake slowly to be successful in the long term. For example, day by day put a bit less sugar into your coffee to get used to it.
- Save on baking sugar: Just use less than stated in the recipe – it tastes just as good.
- Replace sugary drinks by water or unsweetened teas. Add lemon, mint or pieces of fruit to your water.
- Make it something special: If you don´t buy sweets you will be less tempted by them. It may be a good rule to eat cake and cookies only on special days or with friends.
- Size does count: A small treat, when eaten attentive, will satisfy you better than the whole chocolate bar you consume while being absorbed by reading the newspaper, watching a movie, or driving your car.
- Avoid sugar substitutes: Honey, agave syrup and fruit extract, etc have the same effects as refined sugars. It’s healthier to get used to less sweetness.
- Experiment with spices: Instead of sugar, spices such as cinnamon, vanilla or cardamom can enhance flavor.
- Eat fruits: Satisfy your sweet tooth with fruits instead of sugar.
Get to know the natural taste of your food 😊
 Free sugars include monosaccharides and disaccharides added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, and sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juice concentrates.
(1) Stanhope K. L. (2016). Sugar consumption, metabolic disease and obesity: The state of the controversy. Crit Rev Clin Lab Sci, 53(1): 52-67. doi: 10.3109/10408363.2015.1084990.
(2) Sommerfield, A. J., Deary I. J. & Frier, B. M. (2004). Acute Hyperglycemia Alters Mood State and Impairs Cognitive Performance in People With Type 2 Diabetes. Diabetes Care, 27: 2335–2340.
(3) Kerti, L., Witte, A. V., Winkler, A., Grittner, U., Rujescu, D. & Flöel, A. (2013). Higher glucose levels associated with lower memory and reduced hippocampal microstructure. Neurology, 81 (20), 1746- 1752.
(4) Cherbuin, N., Sachdev, P. &Anstey, K. J. (2912). Higher normal fasting plasma glucose is associated with hippocampal atrophy: The PATH Study. Neurology, 79 (10): 1019- 1026.
(5) WHO Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data (2015). Guideline: Sugar intake for adults and children. World Health Organization.
Retrieved from: http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/149782/9789241549028_eng.