Sugar Basics: the facts

In Cambridge nearly half of all adults are overweight or obese, and a quarter of 10 year old children are overweight or obese.  Even though sugar is such an important issue, it’s surprising how little most of us know about what it actually is, where it comes from, what it does to us and why too much of it is so bad for us.  Here are a few no non-sense facts

What is sugar?
The word ‘sugar’ refers to a range of sweet-flavoured substances that come from a variety of sources. 
Sugar can be found naturally in things like fruit, vegetables, honey and milk. However, what most of us
think of as sugar – the white, powdery stuff – is actually made from sugarcane (a grass) or sugar beet
(a vegetable). The grass or vegetable is boiled up and turned into a liquid before being processed and
turned into a powder that leaves all the nutrients of the grass/vegetable behind and only the sugar

What happens if we eat the right amount of sugar?
When sugar enters the body it makes its way into the bloodstream, providing us with energy. In
response the pancreas releases a substance called insulin into the bloodstream, which ensures
that sugar is released in the right amounts, keeping us balanced yet full of energy. Eaten in the right
amounts, sugar is not harmful.

What happens if we eat too much sugar?
The body goes into overdrive with sugar flooding the bloodstream, which is why we might feel a
burst of energy just after eating sugar. In response the pancreas over-produces insulin, which is
why sometimes after a burst of energy we might get what’s sometimes called a ‘sugar crash’ – an
unpleasant feeling of tiredness and irritation. This, in turn, means that we crave more sugar! Although
it’s worth noting that more sugar won’t stop you feeling bad – try eating protein such as nuts or
cheese instead!

Why is eating too much sugar bad for our health?
The body is unable to burn off excess sugar. Instead it stores it as fat, which can lead to people being
overweight or obese, the consequences of which can be serious disease such as type 2 diabetes,
heart disease and some cancers. Too much sugar can also cause a build-up of acids in the mouth,
which can cause tooth decay. Our bodies also have to draw on the nutrients from the rest of our diet
to process the excess sugar, which can affect our immunity, leaving us more prone to bugs and colds.

How much is too much sugar?
The recommended maximum daily allowances for children and adults are:
● 4-6 year olds: 5 sugar cubes or 19g of sugar
● 7-10 year olds: 6 sugar cubes or 24g of sugar
● 11+ year olds and adults: 7 sugar cubes or 30g of sugar

Are some sugars OK to eat?
Yes. There is no need to worry about the sugars found naturally in fruit, vegetables, plain milk and
plain yoghurt as the health benefits from the other nutrients in these foods outweigh the damage
caused by sugar.
Fruit juices and smoothies are a special case. When fruit is blended or juiced it releases the sugars,
which increases the risk of tooth decay. They should be consumed at a maximum of 150ml (one
glass) a day and only during mealtimes, which lessens the impact of the sugar on teeth.

Which sugars should be avoided?
The real danger comes from what’s known as ‘added sugar’. This means sugar, most commonly table
sugar (the white, powdery stuff), honey and syrups, which is added to food and drinks while they are
being made. Some foods in which you might find added sugar are fizzy drinks, chocolate, cake and
ketchup. However, added sugar is lurking in all sorts of surprising places so we need to make sure we
know how to spot it.

If you’re looking for tips on how to keep healthy and reduce the amount of sugar in your diet have a look at the resources at Change4Life 

We want as many local schools, organisations and businesses to get involved with SUGAR SMART Cambridge.  We’d love to hear from you so please get in touch if you’re interested in getting involved.