Sugar – a substance that many people associate with both joy and pleasure, but which can also have a negative impact on the body’s systems, especially on the gut flora. Most of us are aware that sugar can be harmful to the body. This article provides some insight into what types of sugars there are, how they affect us and how we might regulate our sugar intake.
What is sugar?
Sugar is the collective name for several types of sugars. Different sugars are found naturally in fruits, berries and milk. It’s difficult to keep your diet completely free of sugar, but being aware of the different types of sugar available makes it easier to make active and healthy decisions concerning the types of sugar you consume.
- Fructose. Fructose is sometimes called fruit sugar and is found in many foods, especially in fruit. The most common source of fructose, however, is plain white sugar, which consists of some glucose and some fructose. So even though fruit contains fructose, you can eat it with a clear conscience. That’s because fruit generally contains low amounts of fructose. If you eat 500 grams of fruit, you only consume a few tens of grams of fructose. This small amount can be handled by the body – it is not harmful. In addition, fruits contain lots of beneficial fibres and vitamins that have a positive effect on the body and the immune system.
- Glucose. Glucose is the most common of the simple sugars (which also includes fructose). It occurs in free form in many foods and builds up starch and cellulose. Glucose has many different names, including dextrose and grape-sugar.
- Sucrose. Sucrose is used to sweeten food and consists of fructose and glucose. Fructose occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables, and glucose is a type of carbohydrate that is found naturally in some foods and is used as a sweetener in processed foods.
- Lactose. Lactose consists of glucose and galactose and is found in milk from mammals. Therefore it is sometimes called milk sugar. Lactic acid bacteria converts lactose into lactic acid when milk turns acidic, as in the production of sour milk.
- Maltose. Maltose rarely occurs in food but is found in malt used to brew beer. It is therefore sometimes called malt sugar.
- High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). HFCS is a liquid-based sweetener that mainly consists of fructose and a small amount of glucose. HFCS is said to be the worst kind of added sugar and it contributes to both weight gain and heart problems.
- Artificial sweeteners. Among these are aspartame, sucralose and saccharin, all of which are calorie-free sweeteners. In addition to being toxic chemicals, these substances also have a detrimental effect on the gut flora and adversely affect the breakdown of glucose.
- Sugar alcohols. The sugar alcohols sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol contain negligible amounts of calories and carbohydrates. A moderate intake of these is not harmful to the body, but excessive amounts can disrupt the intestinal balance.
- Natural sweeteners. Natural sources of sugar are by far the healthiest. It is also possible to adapt almost all recipes by replacing the regular sugar with healthier alternatives. Some natural sweeteners you can use instead of regular sugar are:
- Maple syrup
- Coconut sugar
- Fruit juice
- Monk fruit
How is our gut flora affected by sugar?
In order for the good bacteria in the intestine to thrive and fulfil their function in the body, they need to be fed with fibre from foods such as bananas, onions and garlic. Sugar and artificial sweeteners have the opposite effect on our gut flora as they promote unhealthy bacteria while halving the concentration of benign bacteria over time. As the benign bacteria in the gut flora are crucial for a well-functioning metabolism, sugar and sweeteners can adversely affect our health, for example by causing glucose intolerance.
But even if sugar and artificial sweeteners are harmful to the body, you don’t have to deny yourself everything that tastes sweet in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. There are, in fact, sweet foods that have a positive effect on the gut flora. One of these is honey (raw/unpasteurized), which can benefit the positive bacteria in the gut. Even dark chocolate with a low sugar content and a cocoa content of at least 70% contains substances that can be broken down into anti-inflammatory components, which contribute to a strengthened immune system and promotes general health.
This is how you can reduce your sugar intake
- Reduce your consumption of sweet foods such as soft drinks, sweets, ice cream, cakes and buns – especially in your day-to-day life.
- Be sure to read the table of contents for different products. When sugar is listed high up in the list of ingredients, this indicates that a lot of sugar has been added to the product.
- Always choose natural sources of sugar and consume regular sugar only on special occasions.
- In addition to reducing your sugar intake, you can make the gut flora more resistant to the sugar you consume by making sure to eat an anti-inflammatory and high-fibre diet rich in vegetables and fruits. You can also add a dietary supplement with lactic acid bacteria and fibre in order to further strengthen the benign bacteria in the gut flora.