The bittersweet truth about simple sugars and their effect on your health

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Sugar
Sugar

Article Written by David Mbewa

Sugar has a complicated connotation for most people. On one hand, sugar gives us energy while, on the other hand, its high intake is believed to be a major cause of obesity and several chronic diseases, like diabetes, heart diseases and hypertension.

According to a recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO), less than 10 percent of energy contribution should come from sugars added to foods during production and consumption, including natural sugars found in honey, fruit juices and syrups.

Excess intake of sugar comes from consuming products, particularly sweet food and beverages, which manufacturers have added to increase flavor or extend shelf life.

According to nutritionist Lucy Chege, excessive consumption of sugar also has other harmful effects including increasing one’s risk of depression and speeding up the rate of cellular aging.

“Any compromise or change of natural state of a cell could result in destruction of its DNA structure putting one at risk of many diseases, especially cancer. We may not feel it but we’re constantly repairing, healing and rebuilding our body,” Chege noted.

“Our bodies are always busy making cells to replace old ones, as different body cells have different “shelf life”, and how those new cells are is directly determined by how well you have been eating.”

Chege urged people to consume more “nutrient-dense” foods, like fruits, eggs, seafood, whole grains and vegetables, which are high in nutrients in comparison to their calorie content.

Chege said that while these foods naturally contain sugar, they must not be avoided as they greatly benefit one’s health.

“Eating whole foods, sourcing fruits and vegetables from accountable farmers can help us build healthy cells that work better and are less susceptible to premature aging and disease.”

Some experts have warned that one of the risks of simple sugars is that they may displace the intake of nutrient-dense foods.

She, however, cautioned that people needed to be mindful of the source of their “healthy” foods as there are many instances of their “purity” being compromised in a world where profits are king.

“Vegetables and fruits are one of the healthiest foods of choice but instead of playing their role in disease prevention they are turning into disease causing agents.”

“You need to know where your vegetables and fruits were planted before terming them healthy, but is this possible especially in urban areas? Maybe this has contributed to the high rise of non- communicable diseases, especially cancer.”

Cancer has been identified as the second leading cause of deaths due to non-communicable diseases (or NCDs) in Kenya.

Chege further called for a major shift in people’s dietary choices given the dynamic lifestyle challenges of the 21st Century and a decline in the life expectancy of the population.

Living a healthy lifestyle in Kenya has become a tricky affair as fast foods and sweet foods and beverages continue gaining popularity among the new generation and their children.

“I urge all of us to adopt a diet that is low in simple sugars and refined carbohydrates which usually lead to obesity putting someone at risk of many cancers and other non-communicable diseases,” Chege said, noting that nutrition in Kenya is increasingly gaining more and more attention among all classes of society.

So, what is going to be on your plate during your next meal?

Lucy Chege is a registered and licensed nutritionist based in Kenya, proficient in medical nutrition therapy. She is also the founder of ‘Nutrition Therapy by Lucy’.

Twitter: @LucyChegeM

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