We all succumb to the charms of sugar: a sweet treat after dinner, a sneaky chocolate bar to power through the afternoon; an ice cream on a hot day. The instant benefits of a sugar high are undeniably joyful: everything in the world seems a little bit better.
On one hand, the reason for this is obvious: cookies, cakes and chocolate taste delicious. On another level, we’re simply responding to cellular-level biological prompts. A spoonful of sugar sets off a chemical reaction in our brains, flooding our receptors with dopamine – a feel-good neurotransmitter – that conditions us to associate sugary foods with happiness.
While there’s nothing wrong with indulging in a little treat every now and again, excess sugar can cause all sorts of medical problems and health risks, from diabetes to heart disease. Too much sugar is known to clog arteries, promote visceral fat gain, encourage acne, trigger insulin resistance and cause tooth decay, to name some of the most common side effects. What’s worse, if you regularly overconsume sugar, your body can easily become used to a high sugar intake – requiring more to get the same sugar rush, and creating strong cravings that make it even harder to resist.
But with some knowledge, willpower and planning, you can make a few clever changes to keep your sugar intake at a healthy level.
Excess sugar is often added to all sorts of products like bread, processed foods or cereals to make them taste better and therefore make us consume more. Scanning an item’s ingredients list when you’re food shopping is a fantastic habit to get into, so you’re aware of what’s in your food and can opt for healthier options. Be prepared to go into detective mode: sugar is often given other names. Look for corn sweetener, molasses, high-fructose syrup and glucose, which are all forms of sugar that should be limited.
While sugar is obviously linked to cakes, cookies and desserts, more than half of the excess sugar we consume is actually hiding in liquid form. Soft drinks are the worst offenders by far – according to the American Heart Association, an adult male will reach his maximum daily sugar intake by consuming just one can of soft drink. Sweeteners added to coffee and tea are also culprits – contributing up to 60 per cent of a beverage’s calories.
Limiting the amount of sugary foods you eat is a great healthy habit to get into. We’re not saying never, but it’s all about small changes to your lifestyle: like having one biscuit, not two or three (or the whole packet). If you’re a fan of baking, consider alternative ingredients such as vanilla extract, which deliver a flavour boost without the added health risks from sugar.
Satisfy your sweet tooth by nibbling on a piece of fresh fruit. While fruit is relatively high in sugars, its natural fructose is more easily processed by the body, thereby reducing negative effects. Fruit is also packed with other valuable nutrients and vitamins, making it a healthy sweet option. Don’t be fooled by dried fruit though, this deceptive snack can be double and sometimes even triple the sugar content of fresh fruit.
We’ve come a long way from fake-tasting sweeteners. Sugar substitutes such as erythritol and xylitol are widely available and work well both as general-purpose sweeteners and for baking. There’s also monkfruit: long used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to tend to coughs, it’s now becoming increasingly popular as a low-calorie sweetener. But the important thing to remember with sweeteners is moderation: heaping on the sugar substitute won’t cure you of those sugar cravings.
Having regular health check-ups is an important way to monitor your overall health, and to detect any problems or illnesses associated with excess sugar intake before it gets out of hand. Make sure you have comprehensive medical coverage, such as Cigna’s Premier Health Plan, to ensure you can take care of your health without worrying. Or with the highly customisable Cigna’s DIY Health Plan, you can mix and match your coverage to suit your own needs.
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