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Which Is Worse For Your Health – Sugar Or Carbs?

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There is one question that puzzles us as much as the ‘which came first – the egg or the hen’ question. This one is linked to health. You guessed right! If you are conscious about your health, we bet you may have googled this question as well. Let us put this musing to rest, once and for all and get to the bottom of the conundrum.

The origin of the debate

Ever since the pandemic struck and we have been trapped in our homes, we have been bombarded with social media posts and discussions on the need to be mindful of our health. Now more than ever, with a virus running rampant, we have to scrutinize our dietary and lifestyle choices. The COVID infection has the potential to take a nasty turn if we are already saddled with comorbidities such as obesity. 

For the first time, the whole nation began to scrutinize health and how it can be improved through a strict diet.

And at the forefront of the list of foods that we decided to be wary about were – sugar and carbohydrates. 

But what if there was more to the story than what you already know? Which is more dangerous of the two and are the carbohydrate and sugar side effects as they are made out to be? Let us take a look.

Here’s what you should know about sugars

What are sugars? Simply put, sugars are the simplest form of carbohydrates. Monosaccharides and Disaccharides are the two categories of sugars.  

  • Monosaccharides – glucose, galactose and fructose.
  • Disaccharides – sucrose, maltose, lactose and trehalose.

Monosaccharides and Disaccharides can be found in nature (in fruits and vegetables). They are produced during photosynthesis. Sugars can also be extracted from the said natural products and used as an additive.

That is why sugars can also be categorized into:

  • Natural sugars
  • Added/processed sugars

The composition of both is exactly the same. When you eat plant products, you are consuming sugar, the same sugar that you add to desserts, the ones that are present in candies, ice-creams and fruit juices. Your body is blind to the source of the sugars. When monosaccharides and disaccharides enter the body, they are broken down into the simplest form of sugar-glucose. This glucose is used by your body as energy to carry out all its functions.

So why is sugar bad? 

Technically, sugar isn’t harmful in fact, it is essential. It is our obsession with added sugars and the processed sugar side effects that pose a serious risk to your health.

Added sugar is sugar that you do not need because this is excess sugar. The added sugar side effects will do the following:

  • Increases the risk of the development of belly (visceral) fat that is linked to heart diseases.
  • Increases the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and impotence. 
  • May speed up the process of ageing.
  • Can lead to weight gain and risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

The optimum amount of daily sugar consumption should not be more than:

  • 25 grams for women
  • 36 grams for men

This target can easily be met by fruits and vegetables (and yes, no need to forego mangoes, ripe papayas or bananas to curb your sugar intake, these are very beneficial fruits). Just say no to processed sugar.

Here’s what you should know about carbohydrates

Carbohydrates are one of the three macronutrients (along with fats and proteins). Sugars are a type of carbohydrate. Fibres and starches (called polysaccharides) are also carbs. All carbohydrates are broken down by your body into glucose which in turn acts as fuel to power all your activities.

So why is a carbs diet considered harmful?

Not all carbohydrates are bad. There are two types of carbs:

  • Simple carbs – These have a simple chemical structure and your body can rapidly break them down. This triggers a rapid spike in blood sugar levels soon after a meal. But the level drops quickly afterwards. This also translates to a quick depletion of energy and fast digestion. This in turn also makes you feel hungry in a very short time and eager to eat more. 
  • Complex carbs – These have a more complex structure and the body takes much longer to break them into glucose. That means there will not be a rapid rise and crash in blood sugar levels. The complex carbs will provide you with a steady supply of energy and keep you feeling full for long.  

So, you see, a simple carbs diet can be dangerous. Examples of foods you need to be cautious about are:

  1. Cookies
  2. Baked products
  3. Fruit juices
  4. White bread
  5. Table sugar (both brown and white)
  6. Ketchup

Complex carbohydrates are good for you. Examples of good carbohydrates are:

  • Whole grains
  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Oats
  • Cereals

It is recommended that 45% – 55% of calories of our calorie intake should come from carbohydrates. So, you cannot do away with a carbs diet or you would not be able to function. Choose your carbs wisely.

What happens if you consume too many simple carbs?

Uncontrolled simple carb consumption can trigger:

  • Obesity
  • Cardiovascular diseases

What should you do to stay healthy?

Now you know that you cannot eliminate carbohydrates and sugars from your diet. So here are a few suggestions for you:

  • Avoid added sugars and simple carbohydrates as much as possible.
  • Make sure that you do some exercise regularly so that even if you have consumed simple carbs and processed sugar, you can burn up the excess.
  • Eat fresh fruits (such as apples, pears, bananas, papayas, vegetables), whole grains, dairy products and nuts (such as almonds or peanuts) regularly.
  • Learn to deal with stress to avoid stress-eating.
  • Improve your quality of sleep.
  • Steer clear of junk foods, excess alcohol and smoking.

Don’t let diet fads call the shots. Your needs are unique to your body, sex, age and geographic location. Be wise and mindful of your diet and lifestyle choices and your health will naturally improve itself.

Key Takeaways

  • Both sugars and carbohydrates are essential to the functioning of the body because they provide us with energy.
  • Natural sugars found in fruits and vegetables are beneficial and can meet the daily required sugar intake.
  • Table sugar or processed sugar is additional sugar consumption and can trigger serious health issues such as obesity or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • Complex carbohydrates such as whole grains and fruits are good for health. 
  • Simple carbohydrates found in desserts and junk food increase the risk of obesity and diabetes.
  • Brown sugar may be slightly healthier than regular sugar but the healthy serving of brown sugar is just one teaspoon. More than that may be harmful to you.
  • Consumption of sugary foods can impact brain chemistry to make you crave more sweets and desserts.

Disclaimer: The information included at this site is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical treatment by a healthcare professional. Because of unique individual needs, the reader should consult their physician to determine the appropriateness of the information for the reader’s situation.

About the author

Shantanu Sodhi

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