In recent decades, with the growing problem of obesity in Western countries, sugar coating consumption has been increasing. It is an accepted fact that sugar can help us to decay our teeth and increase our weight. But how do we know that sugar is the culprit of other diseases?
Public health agencies like the World Health Organization1 and the American Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee have made clear recommendations: free sugar should not exceed 10% of our total energy intake and no more than 5-6% of calories from the sugar in an ideal diet. In other words, the perfect diet for a person consuming 2500 calories a day is no more than 30 grams of sugar per day. For women, the food eaten includes 2,000 calories per day and should have less than 25 grams of sugar. This number may not be too big, but it is well below the current European average, over 80 grams per day.
In making their recommendations, public health agencies will conduct a thorough review of the available evidence and rank it from "very strong" to "insufficient. Based on their recent surveys, it appears that high sugar intake is strongly associated with overweight and dental caries. However, the evidence for other theories linking sugar to other health problems - addiction, inflammation, diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease - is still insufficient.
Let's look at the evidence and misconceptions behind the various current theories before delving into why the science surrounding the effects of sugar on human health remains difficult and limited.
Do sugar cause diabetes and cardiovascular disease?
Especially in diabetes, a disease defined by excessively high blood sugar levels, makes it easy to assume that overeating sugar is an apparent cause. But this is somewhat complicated because there is not enough evidence to prove that sugar intake is directly related to diabetes and cardiovascular disease,1,2 for example.
However, even if sugar does not directly increase the risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, obesity is a recognized risk factor.4,5 This means that if we consume too much sugar and become overweight, then the risk of obesity increases.
Is sugar addictive?
"Sugar affects our bodies like cocaine," so let's see if there is a factual basis for this theory. An independent review was published in 2016, and it found little evidence to support the idea that humans are addicted to sugar. Furthermore, results from rat experiments show that addiction-like behaviors like binge eating only occur when animals intermittently consume sugar.
"The addiction literature is complex," says MarionNestle (professor of nutrition, health research, and public health at New York University) (who is not affiliated with Nestlé Foods). "Many people consider themselves sugar addicts and report symptoms similar to those of other substance addicts," Nestle added. Whether the "addictive nature" of sugar meets the criteria for addiction to other substances remains controversial. My understanding of addiction is that if people think they are addicted, they should be treated as if they are addicted." So while science can conclude that we do not develop a neurochemical addiction to sugar, there are still people who have similar symptoms of habit, and they need treatment.
Does sugar nourish cancer cells?
Some people say that cancer cells depend on sugar for survival, so many people believe that eating sugar promotes cancer cell growth. There is a conceptual error behind this view. Cancer cells rely on a specific type of sugar, glucose, to survive, as do healthy cells. All cells in the body get their energy from glucose. All the food we eat is converted into glucose in the body somehow, not just the food that contains glucose. Beyond this point, scientists have concluded that there is no evidence that a "sugar-free" diet reduces the risk of cancer or increases the chance of being diagnosed with cancer.
Does sugar cause inflammation?
Some researchers believe that the sugar consumed in our daily diet may cause more inflammation in our bodies, which may be linked to many diseases. However, studies that have attempted to answer this question have tended to be smaller in size and have the opposite conclusion. More studies with larger sample sizes and more extended follow-up periods are needed to reach more reliable findings.
The question of research sugar.
But why are so many studies inconclusive? Current nutrition science still faces many challenges, and decades of sugar industry-supported research have contributed to some of the field's confusion.
Consider, for example, the ethical limits. Nutrition experts dream of providing nutrition to thousands of people by conducting precise experiments with ingredients they believe may cause a particular disease. But we can imagine that not many ethics committees approve these methods, and not many volunteers are willing to be guinea pigs. Problems with experimental research
Because of this, scientists often have to resort to observational studies - instead of feeding people with the research food they are interested in, they ask people what they usually eat and then follow them for years to see who will get a particular disease later. But if you do a study like that, it's hard to explain one of those factors in terms of a person's other lifestyle: for example, scientists can't be sure precisely that eating sugar caused the disease, rather than smoking or lack of exercise. Also, subjects often cannot report their diets very precisely: they may under- or over-report the amount of sugar they consume, which makes scientific conclusions inaccurate. To further complicate matters, many nutrition studies tend to have limited resources. They can only target tiny patient populations, thus not representing the effects of sugar on the people.
About animal studies.
Animal studies can help point a new direction for human research, but they are poor predictors of human response exposure. In human trials, animal studies' results are not always reproducible, which is why the evidence obtained from animal studies is often considered "low level." The gold standard for scientific research is the human randomized controlled trial. More such studies are being conducted, but there are few large-scale studies of this type.
Read more about how the sugar industry is distorting science.
Sugar Industry Review Strengths and Limitations
Thus, reviews - or better yet, meta-analyses - are now one of our safest bets. They analyze the literature and compare all the studies to conclude, thus helping to overcome confusion due to contradictory results. They can help us to identify specific patterns in many small tasks that do not make much sense by themselves. However, we should be wary of these studies' over-glorification for the following reasons industrial investment research topics.
First, some studies are still funded by industry, so we must be careful and always review the research's conflict-of-interest component. Industry-funded reviews and meta-analyses may downplay the strength of the evidence linking sugar to specific diseases. Some researchers have found that most industry-funded studies tend to benefit the sponsor and find a lower risk of eating the sponsor's product. XI. Researchers found that studies funded by industry had more than eight times the results of studies not funded by industry when studying sugar-sweetened beverages.
Inadequate scientific and technical literature
Second, if the literature is limited or wrong, then the review will not give us answers. It will at best tell us that there hasn't been enough good research to draw any conclusions as we have seen with the relationship between sugar and certain diseases. Worse, it will continue the results of individual studies without much critical interpretation. The only way we can be more confident that the conclusions drawn from a meta-analysis will be firm and important is after a large randomized controlled trial has been conducted.
We are reducing sugar intake.
Sugar is an exciting example of how scientific claims can be misused to influence policy and public opinion.
First, the sugar industry tries to convince us that sugar does not have any adverse effects on oral health and obesity. However, some researchers (and individuals and companies that have not even studied the issue systematically but have benefited from it) believe that sugar is the sole culprit of many diseases.
The truth often lies somewhere in between. Many diseases are due to a complex interplay of factors in our lifestyles and diets. But the adverse effects of excessive sugar intake are apparent, and we can be sure of at least one thing: reducing sugar intake is only a good thing for us.
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