Checking Out Sugar Myths: Does The Body Need Sugar And Is It Really Addictive?

Sugar is important for the brain, but it is as addictive as cocaine: there are numerous rumors about the sweetener. But what is really true? Two experts clear up six myths.

There is a lot of discussion about sugar. It is considered an unhealthy fattening food, but it also makes you feel happy and gives you a quick boost of energy. Children in particular find it difficult to resist sweet temptations. But shouldn’t it be better to avoid sugar altogether? We’ve examined the most common claims.

Myth 1: The body needs sugar

That’s not true: “We don’t have to eat sugar as a food,” says Silke Restemeyer from the German Society for Nutrition (DGE). But what the body – strictly speaking, the brain – needs is 130 grams of glucose per day.

The simple sugar belongs to the carbohydrates. Sugar is “the worst way to get glucose supplies,” says Restemeyer. Our metabolism can also break down glucose from multiple sugars such as starch. We take it in, for example, through bread and pasta.

Drinks and foods sweetened with sugar often contain hardly any nutrients, but always contain unnecessary calories. Sugar also increases the risk of tooth decay.

Myth 2: Fructose is healthier than table sugar

A fallacy, says DGE expert Silke Restemeyer. Whether sweetness from fruit, agave syrup or coconut blossom honey: “These alternatives are to be evaluated like household sugar.” Nutritionists advise for a healthy diet to consume less than ten percent of the daily energy from sugar.

When it comes to fructose, however, they differentiate between free sugar and fructose, which occurs naturally in the intact cell structure in fruit: juices and smoothies are included in the ten percent, but fruit is not. Because fruit is far more filling than the liquid versions.

Looking at the eating habits of Germans, Restemeyer doesn’t see a “danger” of eating too much fruit a day because of the sugar. “Most of us don’t even get to the recommended amount of two servings a day.”

Myth 3: Sugar is as addictive as cocaine

This is reported again and again – but that’s not true, says Ute Alexy, ecotrophologist at the Institute for Nutrition and Food Sciences at the University of Bonn. The sweet taste triggers the release of the happiness hormone dopamine in the brain. And that also happens when you take drugs – but also when you listen to music or meet friends.

What gives us pleasure or satisfaction causes pleasure-producing substances to be released as a kind of reward. But that also means that when dopamine is released, we get the signal to repeat something – in order to be rewarded for it again.

“You get such a reward kick when you eat sweets. But that’s not comparable to an addiction like drugs, nicotine or alcohol,” emphasizes the scientist.

Myth 4: It’s best not to eat any sugar at all

“When it comes to sugar, everything is quickly black and white,” criticizes Ute Alexy. “It’s very good to try to reduce sugar in your diet – but you don’t have to cut it out completely.” This also leads to unnecessary conflicts in families – for example, when parents completely forbid their children sweets. “Children have a particularly high preference for sweets,” explains Alexy.

This is evolutionary: sweet foods are not toxic in nature and provide energy that the offspring need to grow. It’s just that children and young people can get sweets everywhere these days. The innate preference decreases into adulthood, the expert explains. She emphasizes: “The recommendation of the World Health Organization is not zero percent sugar, but a maximum of ten percent of the energy intake.”

Myth 5: Sweeteners make it easier to lose weight

Nutritionist Silke Restemeyer advises people who want to lose weight to eat less sweets. However, if you have big problems reducing sweet soft drinks, switching to products with sweeteners can make the first steps towards weight loss easier.

“In the long term, however, this is not recommended,” says the nutritionist. The American College of Cardiology published a study last year. According to the study, sweeteners are just as risky for cardiovascular diseases as traditional table sugar.

Myth 6: Glucose increases the ability to concentrate

When our body absorbs glucose, the blood sugar level rises. This increases performance for a short time because glucose reaches the brain. “But the blood sugar level then falls again relatively quickly,” warns Silke Restemeyer – “and with it the performance.” If you grab the grape sugar again, there will be ups and downs.

It is much better to keep the blood sugar level constant – with foods such as wholemeal bread, legumes, vegetables, fruit or potatoes. Before a class test or exam, the nutritionist recommends that students have a balanced breakfast to help them concentrate – instead of glucose.

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