Graduate Ambassador, James Cheng, gives us an insight into the sweet substance that we all love so much for Sugar Awareness Week.
What is sugar?
In society, sugar is commonly known as a sweet granular-like substance used in many foods. Children often cannot get enough of it and our perception of sweet is generally accepted as an evolutionary adaptation that draws us to high energy foods sources that were historically scarce.
The issue that our population now face is that since we have mastered the environment around us, we can cultivate and refine foods high in sugar that appeal to our evolutionary biology. This causes many problems since our bodies have not evolved to cope with high levels of sugar consumption.
The body can easily work with sugar, directing it where energy is needed while also being able to store the energy away as fat when in excess hence why too much is bad. Compared to the long complex structure of carbohydrates, your body doesn’t spend quite so much time processing these short sugar chains so the energy inside is readily available.
Why is it sweet?
Similar to how we evolved to taste many harmful substances as bitter to instinctively avoid its consumption, it is believed that the association of sugar and the sweet taste is a positive attractant making us want to eat more. This in part is linked with the reward pathway leading in the brain, releasing a chemical called dopamine which scientists have found to be associated with addiction.
Children Love Sugar!
It’s common knowledge that children have a particularly strong craving for sugar compared to adults. This observation has scientific merit, with researchers showing newly born children prefer sweet tastes. This is believed to naturally attract them to their mother’s milk. This preference is maintained up to adulthood at which point the attraction to sweet foods decline, coinciding with when you stop growing. Newborns respond to even dilute sweet tastes, differentiate varying degrees of sweetness, and, given the choice, will consume more of a sugar solution than water. This behaviour has also been observed in other mammals and it is believed that sweet preference is associated with a need for more calories. It’s important to point out that increased intake of sugar is not an appropriate method to increase calories.
The Tooth about Teeth
A high sugar diet correlates with increased tooth decay. It is a common misconception that sugar is direct responsible for teeth decay. What actually happens is that the bacteria on your teeth, such as Streptococcus mutans, release minute amounts of acid. This slowly breaks down the structure of the enamel gaining access to the dentine below, subsequently causing tooth sensitivity and decay. A high sugar environment for the bacteria on the teeth leads to their increased growth and therefore increased acid release.
While an apple and a glass of apple juice might equate to the same amount of sugar in terms of your diet, an apple is much healthier for your teeth. Biting and swallowing chunks of apple means that sugar will be trapped in the structure of the apple pieces effectively bypassing contact with your teeth, however drinking a glass of apple juice means that your teeth are exposed to all the sugar. Whole fruit has a whole plethora of benefits over juice.
Sweet isn’t so innocent
In moderate consumption lots of research has shown that in infants, immediately after tasting sweet solutions they exhibit positive emotional reactions and can even trigger automatic responses leading to relaxation of agitated infants.
Lots of research has been ongoing about the effects of sugar on the body and it has been well established that an increase or decrease in sugar is associated with a parallel change in body weight. As such the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend less than 10% of our total energy intake should be derived from sugar. Furthermore a high fat and sugar diet has been shown to promote muscle breakdown, inflammation and impaired glucose transport that eventually leads to Type II diabetes.
Visit Sugar.org to learn more about the History of Sugar!