Glucose is by far the most vital sugar for most organisms and plays a crucial role for our metabolism! Let’s take a look at why it is so important…
Glucose can be called the basic unit of energy metabolism and is important for the function of all our cells, especially the brain. Most sugars found in nature as well as in industrial foods are built from glucose and metabolised as such. Click here if you want to read more about the chemistry of glucose.
Despite its importance, glucose, or sugar more generally, has a downside and may affect human health negatively: Excess glucose is converted into fat for storage. So how much sugar is really good for us? And why do sugar cravings hit us so often?
According to recommendations from the American Heart Association, sugar intake should be 100 calories – or 6 teaspoons – a day for women and slightly more for men.
What sounds like quite a bit is actually not all that much: A single can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar, which equals around 10 teaspoons, while one chocolate bar already contains 78 grams.
In consequence, actual sugar intake drastically exceeds recommended daily sugar consumption in most Western countries: While the US had the highest sugar consumption with 76,7 grams (39 teaspoons) per day per person in 2008, European countries including Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium are not too far behind.
So what happens in your body after you consume sugar?
The immediate response is regulated by a hormone produced by the pancreas called insulin, which allows the uptake of sugar by cells. The problem with refined sugars, such as table sugar or added sugars in many foods, is the quick increase in blood sugar levels upon consumption followed by a so-called “sugar crash”, that is, a drop in blood levels.
Thus, refined sugars are also referred to as “empty calories” as they provide no nutritional value and do not give long-lasting, sustained energy. Rather, intake of such sugars leads to a hypoglycemic low and tiredness not long after consumption, making cravings more likely. In contrast, whole-grain foods provide stable blood sugar levels over an extended period of time.
Fig 1: Blood Sugar curves after consumption of white bread (yellow) in comparison to high-fiber rye bread (green). (Source: http://pathways4health.org/category/foods-health-conditions/)
Sugar is often ‘hidden’ in industrial products: the list includes many sauces and dressings (ketchup, barbecue sauce and many others), hamburger buns and many cereals amongst other things. Watch out for these hidden sugars – they are often listed as high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, maltose, fructose or sucrose.
Natural sugars include those found in fruits (e.g. fructose), milk (lactose), honey and other non-processed foods.
Especially children’s products, including many cereals, contain high concentrations of added sugars, often even higher than the corresponding adult products. German Foodwatch organisation tested 180 different products concluding that the vast majority contained up to 50 % more sugar if they were targeted for kids than the corresponding adult versions.
What makes sugar even more harmful?
It is known that high-sugar diets in combination with high-fat foods makes it likely for a patient to develop obesity and the many secondary health issues that come with it – including diabetes and a high risk for heart attack and stroke.
More recently, a scientific study by researchers from Washington University has proved that obesity does not only affect the patients themselves but is likely inherited by the next generation through the mother: Experiments in mice showed that a high-sugar, high-fat diet in the maternal generation can lead to overweight mice in the following three generations! You can read more about the study here.
Based on the negative effects high use of sugar can have on our health, it is often politically discussed to restrict sugar use.
Since especially sugary drinks, including the traditional soda drinks but also sweetened (iced) tea and sports drinks, were found to be a major calorie source especially for children and young people, several countries have implemented a so-called “soda tax”.
Fig. 2: Sugar content in popular drinks such as iced tea, yoghurt and electrolyte drinks and the infamous soft drinks. (Source: Grethe Coen sugar scale)
One of the first to do so was France in 2012, and Mexico followed in 2013, raising tax on soda to 10%. The consequence was drastic: In Mexico, soda sales dropped by an average 9% within the first year. In Britain, a similar tax has been announced by the current cabinet and is planned to be implemented by 2018.
While Mexico is the best example to prove a decline in sales of soft drinks after introduction of a sugar tax, it is yet to be assessed whether this directly affects obesity rates as supporters and experts hope.
As you can see, it is important to keep an eye out for glucose in your food. If you are a Kenkodo betaphase participant, check your glucose level at my.kenko.do and take a detailed look! Since glucose is so crucial, we will include it in our future Wellbeing panel in, so you can soon start to track your sugar level in correlation to your lifestyle.
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How is glucose metabolised?
Effects of Dietary Fiber and Its Components on Metabolic Health
How do blood levels react to consumption white vs. whole-grain bread?
Tests for Blood Sugar (Glucose) and HbA1c
Recommendations for Daily Sugar Consumption by the American Heart Association
Sugar Consumption in the US
Added Sugars in Industrial Products
High Sugar in Children’s Products
Fructose-induced leptin resistance exacerbates weight gain in response to subsequent high-fat feeding
Pregnant women’s high-fat, high-sugar diets may affect future generations
Soft drinks stall in France as consumers trade down
Mexican soda tax cuts sales of sugary soft drinks by 6% in first year
The effects of taxes on purchases of sugar-sweetened carbonated soft drinks: A quantile regression approach