Article written by Annie Skidmore- BSc Sport & Exercise Science Student
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that can be natural or added to food. Free or simple sugars are those added by the manufacturer, cook or consumer and naturally occurring in honey, syrups, and fruit juices . It is these free sugars that need to be controlled in the diet to prevent poor health and maintain a balanced diet. Free sugar should only contribute to <10% but ideally <5% of total calorie intake . This ensures a high-quality diet still rich in nutrients but reduces dental issues.
However, sugar is NOT all bad. Natural sugar derived from grains, whole fruits, vegetables, and milk (complex carbohydrates) does not contribute to poor dental health, due to the high fibre and water content and protective components .
Sugar is an essential component of the diet needed in moderation to maintain blood sugar levels – especially when exercising. Carbohydrates are required to fuel high-intensity exercise and are necessary post-exercise to refuel quickly and effectively . Carbohydrates in the form of natural sugars would prevent sharp rises in sugar levels however, post-exercise free, simple sugars may be required to elevate potentially very low blood sugar levels and prevent any associated symptoms of low blood sugar. For instance, simple sugars in the form of sweets, cereal or sugary drinks are needed to increase blood sugar levels quickly and prevent any stomach pains when eaten before/during exercise .
High sugar intake produces many negative effects including increased risk of tooth decay/poor dental hygiene . Individuals consuming the recommended WHO free sugar intake have a reduced risk of poor dental health. High free sugar intake e.g., from beverages contributes to weight gain, overweight and obesity . Obesity is a rising global problem with a large increase in childhood and adolescent obesity over the last 40 years . Increased sugar consumption can contribute to health conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and impact mental health, sleep and cause addictive, compulsive eating behaviours . Consumption of carbohydrates in the form of sugar is associated with higher levels of tiredness within the first 30 minutes and reduced alertness within the first 60 minutes of eating and does not contribute to positive moods . Therefore, excess consumption of sugar will exaggerate these negative responses.
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