Sweet Temptations ... What you need to know about sugar.

Treat or threat?

>> Well done, here's your candy! <<

>> If you're patient now, you'll get some ice cream later. <<

Birthday cakes, work events, congresses, shop openings celebrated with chocolates for the customers, pralines for valentine's or mother's day, christmas cookies, easter sweets,.. Endless are the situations in which we „deserve“ a sweet treat in our lives. Especially in the childhood of many, sweets were used often to convince them of doing something less enjoyable.

Even infants react positively to sweet taste, so this sweet tooth in contrast to the appeal of salty is not learned from parents, peers or others but comes from somewhere deep inside. 


Sugar, is the one fuel which the human body uses in stressful situations. No matter if this stress is positive stress due to sports (that is why athlets drink sweetened electrolyte drinks or use dextrose during endurance sports), rushing, work or emotional pressure. Accordingly, one way to tackle sugar carvings is to slow down your symathic nervous system (fight or flight mode) and activate the parasympathic nerves (relaxation mode). This can happen with consistent, calm and deep breathing like during meditation or yoga. Other ways are to be found in another article about how to treat yourself without sweets, HERE.

Some sweet music to accompany your read

To use your nutrition for certain purposes like losing or gaining weight, you have to know the impact that food has on your body after you have eaten it. It not only gives you energy, there is a whole web of possible metabolic pathways which can be induced by nutrients, depending on your body's release of signal substances.

Such substances can be hormones for example, like insuline.

Ever heard of that? Maybe in connection with diabetes mellitus?

Every healthy body is producing this hormone in its pancreatic cells, to regulate blood sugar level and satiety.

Insuline works like a key to the cell, which opens it for glucose (aka. dextrose, sugar) so glucose can be utilised inside of the cell.

Insuline is an anabolic hormone, which means that if it is present in the blood (normally after consumption of carbs), it makes body cells store substances rather than release them.

This applies also to body fat – when you eat and accordingly produce insuline your body fat is not available for "burning“ it to energy. The opposite occurs when diabetes mellitus type 1 manifests – the diabetic person's body has no insuline, so no fat can be stored and the person looses a lot of weight very fast which can end lethal without treatment. Additionally his/her body tries to eliminate sugar via renal excretion, so these people are very thirsty and run to the toilet constantly, losing a lot of water. 

So back to our "small" snacks. They might be small in serving size, but when it comes to energy dense treats, like a bar of chocolate for example, one 100g bar brings a plus of ~ 550kcal to the person's energy intake and if this happens every day, it adds up – one kilogramme of fat tissue consists of about 8.000kcal, which could come from 1.450g of chocolate (15 bars).

Now don't think dark chocolate is something completely different – it is true, there are more healthy nutrients, such as polyphenols in the dark type, but still a lot of fat too - still 400 to 500 kcal per bar. 500 kcal is about the amount of energy you can take up with a good sized, well balanced meal consisting of veg, carb- and protein sources.


Snack on some fresh and healthy sweets, being raspberries or other seasonal fruit
Snack on some fresh & healthy sweets

You can, of course, occasionally indulge in sweet treats, if it is in small amounts (so to say a small bar of 25g a day) or you cut down on other meals when you want a big portion of sweets like the whole 100g bar, once in a while (!). Comparing the variety of nutrients like fibre, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and protein of a balanced plate of "real“ healthy food and a bar of chocolate, the choc will definately not win the race, even if it is the dark version. Therefor don´t make it a habit to skip meals for having sweets instead, it won't keep you full and it won't keep/make you healthy for sure.


Treats should make you happy, but. So make sure that you don´t have to regret your sweet temptations, just keep the amounts low and nourish on healthy wholesome food the majority of your time.

Some more details about Sweets

As in the 1950ies nutrition recommendations for the first time ever changed - from promoting eating enough of every nutrient to eating less of particular ones - fat was the first of our nutrients to be utilized as the culprit of unhealthiness.

Indeed fat is the one of our macro-nutrients (being protein, carbohydrates and fat) which provides the greatest density of energy with 9 kcal per gramme. But there are different kinds of fat consisting of different fatty acids of which science is not yet completely knowing each and every possible health effect they might have.


There is a big debate on sugar going on in the nutrition scene at the moment. Since the 1970ies, nutrition scientists have been publishing about the health threatening aspects of sugar and called it „the pure and white deadly“. But however, these guidelines never reached a broad audience due to politically enforced counter-work of the food scientists who were sure, fat is the one and only villan to be made responsible for cardio vascular disease and accordingly didn't want to lose their credibility by exposing their insufficient proof of the established nutrition recommendations.

Scientifically affirmed or not.


Refined sugar, a pure carbohydrate, without any fibre or other plant contents has become part of western diets just ~ 300 years ago - in evolutionary terms, very recently compared with saturated fatty acids, which are present even in human breast milk. This fact gives scientists around the world to think - it seems more likely to be the recent refined one, rather than the prehistoric naturally occurring nutrient, making us sick. The new villan seems to be found in the 1970ies in this refined carbohydrate. Even the 7-countries-study of 1958/1964 which was primarily used to proof that saturated fat is the main reason for cardio vascular disease in Europe was differently interpretet years later. An Italian researcher thereby found that the food that correlated most closely with deaths from heart disease was not saturated fat, but refined sugar. Even the American Heart Association agrees with elevated sugar cosumption, being a major risk factor for cardio vascular disease, by increasing triglyceride levels, total and LDL cholesterol, and blood pressure, independent of sugars' effect on body weight [5].


Excess sugar is processed in the liver, where some parts of it can be turned into fat. Dr. Robert Lustig provides an interesting comparison between the liver processing of alcohol, fructose and glucose in his talk „The Bitter Truth“. Following the biochemical pathways there are astonishing similarities between fructose and alcohol processing in the liver. Both are converted to uric acid and fat at some point and therefor can lead to dyslipidaemia (like high cholesterols or triglicerides) and fatty liver disease (non- or alcoholic) which is a major contributor to the metabolic syndrome and liver failure. Glucose (aka. dextrose) is mainly stored as glycogen and to a far smaller extent leads to fat in the liver than alohol and fructose do [4].

Sugar is mostly consumed as sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, which both contain glucose AND fructose to the same amount. Glucose alone is rarely used for sweetening because it tastes 25% less sweeter than the previously mentioned sweeteners. Glucose is the only carbohydrate which starch molecules are broken down to, so starchy foods like pasta, potatos and bread (depending on its ingredients) usually do not contain high amounts of fructose and therefor don't lead to fatty liver in the first place. This is a job for fructose and sucrose, entering our diet in the form of sweet beverages like soft drinks, fruit juice and milky drinks (which should be considered as food btw.), sweets, fast food or even some long-shelf-life-bread. Start playing detective when you purchase your weekly groceries if you want to cut down on sugar, you might end up surprised!


To cut down on sugar, many people try to replace it with artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols (aka. polyols). The long-term health effects are questionable because these substances are not used widespread and only in small amounts. Therefor they are handled with caution by food safety institutions and upper limits are set for artificial sweeteners.


By the way: Even for added sugar a limited consumption is recommended, being less than 10% of the total caloric intake, which would be 50g (x4kcal per gramme = 200kcal) of added sugar in the averave 2000 kcal diet. "Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This  does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits" states the United States Agricultural Department.

Thus, brown sugar, corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), honey, invert sugar, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses (golden syrup), fruit nectars, raw sugar, cane juice as well as agave syrup count as ADDED sweeteners.


Whether those sweeteners are "natural" or "organic" makes no dietetic, whilst a great environmental, difference.


Limit your consumption of foods with high amounts of added sugars, such as sugar-sweetened beverages.


Just one 330ml can soft drink contains 35 to 50g of sugar (7 to 10 sugar cubes!) being 140 to 200 kcal and zero vital micro nutritients like naturally occurring fibre, minerals or vitamins!! You can imagine the above picture with sugar cubes instead of ice in the glass to have a more picturesque describtion of the sugar amount in just one can. (Hey wait, are you a soda-drinker? Cutting here could be THE solution to your weight management!)


Where does the limit for sugar come from? Nutrition recommendation boards took the average uptake of sugar and set the limit slightly below that percentage to guide the limitation of energy dense food intake in order to make space for more healthy foods like whole grains and vegetables instead, makes sense. BUT: Does the substitution of sugar with other sweeteners make sense? [6]

Due to possible relations of artificial sweeteners with increasing cancer rates in animal tests (despite the fact that animal testing is necessary to legalize these substances) and the laxative effects of great amounts of polyols I am doubting the attempt of cutting down on sugar this way.


To help you make the switch to a diet lower in sugar, especially for people with overweight (BMI [kg/m²] ≥ 25), artificial sweeteners and polyols can be helpful though!



Examples of low calorie sweeteners

in accordance to EUFIC (European Food Information Council)


times sweeter than sucrose


EU use since

Acesulfame-K (E950)
























Steviol glycosides












*Steviol glycosides are the natural sweet components found in the leaves of the stevia plant. (table contains information found under: http://www.eufic.org/article/en/page/RARCHIVE/expid/Benefits_Safety_Low_Calorie_Sweeteners/ . status 20th January 2017) 

Sugar in detail

The most common sweet stuff, which is a more or less guilty pleasure in the diets of most of us, is this addictively sweet white powder. But what exactly is sugar & where does it come from? Let me break it down for you.


Sugar is a chemical structure (no panic, basically EVERYTHING is made up of and can be broken down into chemicals, chemical does NOT correspond to artificial) consisting of carbon, oxygen and hydrogen. Sugar is a kind of carbohydrate (carbs, which provide 4,1 kcal/g) and there are again different kinds of sugar.

Simple sugars (monosaccharides) consist of only one molecule, namely glucose, fructose or galactose. 

Disaccharides are composed of two monosaccharides: maltose is two times glucose, lactose is glucose and galactose, sucrose is glucose and fructose.


Sugar Cane by Robert Brenner  / pixelio.de
Sugar Cane by Robert Brenner / pixelio.de
Sugar Beets by Sandro Almir Immanuel  / pixelio.de
Sugar Beets by Sandro Almir Immanuel / pixelio.de
Natural Food vs. Pills, Supplements, Vitamins

Lactose is the sugar which naturally occurs in milk, no matter of which mammal - yes - also in human milk.


Humans usually loose their ability to absorb lactose properly due to decreasing quantities of the intestinal enzyme lactase after childhood. You can imagine enzymes like little tools - knifes or scissors - your body cells use for certain processes like splitting substances into their chemical bricks. However, in countries where a lot of dairy is consumed most people have adapted and keep producing lactase enzymes as adults. Lactose intolerant people cannot absorb lactose and accordingly suffer from bloating, abdominal pain and diarrhea after consumption of milk products. For lactose free products this enzyme can be biotechnologically generated and added to common milk products. Lactase pills are also available in pharmacies to be taken with meals. Lactose is devided into glucose and galactose by the enzyme to be absorbed in the small intestine and utilized or stored in the bodycells. 

Digestion by sigrid rossmann  / pixelio.de
Digestion by sigrid rossmann / pixelio.de
Sugar Cubes by BirgitH  / pixelio.de
Sugar Cubes by BirgitH / pixelio.de

Sugar fuels your cells with energy quickly, and is easy for your body to utilize (if you do have the hormone insulin, which is not the case in diabetic persons without medical treatment, but that's another story...). Therefor you might be familiar with cravings for something sweet when you are exhausted or tired. 


Sucrose is the sugar which is most commonly used for cooking and baking or sweetening drinks. It can be made by refining sucrose from cane (grown in tropical areas, such as Brazil, Thailand or India) or from sugar beets (grown in cold regions like France, Germany and Belgium) [1].


Fructose and glucose can be extracted from Maize, SWEET corn, starch. This cheap sweetener is mainly used as glucose-fructose-syrup in industrial food products like sweets, canned fruit and soft drinks [2].

Keep in mind, for ANY refined ingredient (flour, sugar, oil etc.) - your body has to provide all necessary minerals & vitamins to process the nutrient, which the WHOLE, natural version of this ingredient (whole grain, sugary fruits, seeds/olives etc.) would already provide you with. The same is for vitamins. Supplements mostly don't come with all the fibre, minerals and other healthy nutrients which REAL, natural food would provide you with. Nature provides us with all we need, we just have to use it in the right way. Processing and the reduction of the nutritional value of our ingredients mostly go hand in hand.

Milk by Harry Hautumm  / pixelio.de
Milk by Harry Hautumm / pixelio.de

The digestion of carbs starts in the mouth, so the better and longer you chew your food, the easier the nutrients can be absorbed. Enzymes from your saliva, called amylase, start breaking carbs down to their components - saccharides - until they reach the stomach. In the acidic sphere of the stomach, the enzymes can't work, so digestion continues as soon as the chewed food reaches the small intestine. In the brush boarder of the small intestine more amylase can be found, here the major part of carb digestion takes place. They are broken down into monosaccharides which can finally be absorbed into the intestinal lumen. Like any other nutrient, sugar first is transported to the liver over enteric blood vessels and the liver - the CEO of metabolism - either stores it or distributes it all over the blood system, so it can reach muscles, other tissues and the brain.

The human brain needs about 120g of glucose per day to functon well, in starvation modus it can utilize other substances than sugar [3]. Body cells need the hormone insuline to be able to let glucose in, insuline is acting like a key for the blood sugar. Your fasting blood sugar should always be in a balanced level between 60 and 100mg/dl or 3,3 - 5,6 mmol/l, when you eat something with carbs it rises and your pancreas releases insuline to lower the level again via putting the blood glucose into cells so they can store or use it. In people with diabetes mellitus this mechanism does not work and their blood glucose rises and rises until they react to the symptoms and inject insuline or take antidiabetic medicine - learn more about diabetes here.


1 http://www.worldstopexports.com/sugar-exports-country/

2 http://www.eufic.org/page/en/page/FAQ/faqid/glucose-fructose-syrup/

3 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK22436/

4 http://www.uctv.tv/shows/Sugar-The-Bitter-Truth-16717

5 http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/090115p38.shtml

6 https://ce.todaysdietitian.com/content/recorded-webinar-18 

7 https://e.jimdo.com/app/s78472468cf4e09ce/p8da0f94bc2f7aec4/?cmsEdit=1

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