From jam for breakfast to ice cream in the afternoon to chocolate in the evening: sweets accompany many people throughout the day. They often eat more than is good for them. But how unhealthy is sugar really - and how can you wean yourself from it?
Sugar doesn't have the best reputation - and yet many cannot leave it alone. It may be worth considering reducing sugar consumption. How do you go about it? But let's start at the beginning: "Sugar is basically a building material that we need," says Antonia Stahl, a nutritionist in Falkensee.
Sugar is one of the carbohydrates. The body needs the simple sugar glucose, for example, to keep the brain, muscle cells and other processes running. First of all, sugar is neither good nor bad, but simply an energy supplier for the body.
It gets a bit more complicated with everything that is commonly understood by sugar, says Stahl. Because sugar is not just sugar. There is refined sugar, for example, which is obtained from sugar beet and processed further. And there are sugars that occur naturally in food.
There are also differences in the shape of the sugar molecules. The types of sugar glucose (dextrose) and fructose (fruit sugar) are so-called simple sugars. They are found in fruit, but also in honey. The classic table sugar - also known under the name sucrose - is also a simple sugar.
All of these sugars are short-chain carbohydrates, making them readily available to the body. This means that the blood sugar level rises quickly and a high level of insulin is released. However, there are also differences among the simple sugars: fructose is significantly sweeter than glucose and causes the blood sugar level to rise a little less quickly.
And then there are polysaccharides, which consist of several sugar molecules. They are more difficult to get rid of by the body and therefore tend to be a bit healthier, as nutritionist Stahl explains. However: multiple sugars do not really please the sweet tooth. Because they are found, for example, in vegetables or whole grain products - which do not necessarily satisfy our sweet cravings.
So sugar comes in many forms: However, the body does not need the typical industrial sugar that is found in products, says Antonia Stahl. The carbohydrates from vegetables, fruit and whole grain products, for example, are completely sufficient for the body to generate energy.
Sugar should make up a maximum of ten percent of the total energy intake per day, explains Silke Restemeyer from the German Society for Nutrition (DGE). With an energy intake of 2000 calories, that is a maximum of 50 grams of sugar.
This maximum ten percent includes all added sugars, but also the sugar that occurs in honey or fruit juices. The sugar in fruit and natural yoghurt is not included. "For a balanced diet, you should eat at least three servings of vegetables and two servings of fruit every day," says Restemeyer.
The big problem: If you snack on a lot of sweets, you are displacing other foods from your menu that provide important nutrients. It is also better to avoid sugar-sweetened drinks, as they contain hardly any nutrients but many unnecessary calories.
A piece of chocolate is not a problem with an otherwise balanced diet, says nutrition expert Restemeyer. However, according to nutritionist Stahl, it becomes critical if you consume large amounts of added sugar every day. This increases the risk of obesity, diabetes and tooth decay.
However, cutting out refined sugar is a little trickier than just cutting out the sweets. Because sugar is often added to cheese, sausage and yoghurt for flavor, as Stahl explains. Frozen pizzas, barbecue sauces or potato salad from the supermarket also often contain considerable amounts of sugar, says nutritionist Restemeyer from the DGE.
Of course, the best choice is natural, unprocessed food. Especially at the beginning it is anything but easy to do without sugar. Stahl advises starting small. The first step is to develop an awareness of sugar levels by reading nutrient charts while shopping. If processed products have a maximum of five grams of sugar per 100 grams, they are suitable for a low-sugar diet.
You can start by establishing one low-sugar meal a day. A healthy breakfast - such as oatmeal with milk and fruit instead of chocolate muesli - is a good start to the day and a change in diet. If you have the first meal under control, you can switch another to sugar-free, recommends nutritionist Stahl. Over time, this reduces the craving for sugar.
If you feel like sweets, you should reach for healthy snacks: vegetable sticks instead of chocolate bars, natural yoghurt with fresh fruit instead of vanilla pudding. It becomes easier if you consider the following: In addition to sugar, you often do without additives and have a longer-lasting feeling of satiety, says Silke Restemeyer.
And when it comes to drinks - does it make sense to use a sugar-free soft drink with a sweetener? Sweeteners such as aspartame are not sugar, do not cause tooth decay and have hardly any calories. But: In larger quantities, they can have a laxative effect, says Restemeyer. And: They are not helpful when it comes to weaning yourself from cravings for sweets. So a water with fresh lemon and mint is better.
If you find it very difficult to give up sweets, you can sweeten your yoghurt with a teaspoon of honey or agave syrup, at least initially, says Stahl. However, the nutritionist emphasizes: "This unrefined sugar is still sugar that should only be enjoyed in moderation."
(This article was first published on Saturday, May 28, 2022.)