Sugar and Inflammation: The Not-so-sweet Connection

Sweetness has an almost universal appeal, and foods that contain sugar make them more appetising. While our love hate relationship with sugar could be our daily struggle, Ms Bibi Chia, Principal Dietitian, Raffles Diabetes & Endocrine Centre, shares why having too much of it can cause inflammation to your body, and how to start an anti-inflammatory diet.

The Connection Between Sugar and Inflammation

Inflammation is a part of your body’s normal response to infection or injury. It happens when your immune system is activated and tells your white blood cells to start repairing damaged tissues.

Processed sugars help release inflammatory messengers that can raise the risk of chronic inflammation that is linked to major diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, and Alzheimer’s.

When protein or fat combines with sugar, it results in harmful compounds called Advanced Glycation End Products (AGEs). Having too much sugar in your blood can cause your gut to become more permeable – resulting in bacteria and other inflammatory particles to enter more easily.

The Sugary Facts

Added sugars come in other names and the chemical name usually ends with ‘ose’. Here is a list of those that are commonly found in the ingredient list.

Sucrose – Glucose – Maltose – Lactose – Fructose – Molasses

Cane syrup – Agave nectar – Corn syrup – Rice malt syrup – Honey – Malt or maple – Hydrolysed starch

“Not all sugars are bad. Some sugars, such as lactose (dairy products) and glucose in fruits, are natural occurring and could be a good source of energy before and after exercise. However, we should limit our daily intake of added refine sugar to about 25g or 6 tsp,” advised Ms Chia.

5 Simple Rules of Thumb for an Anti-inflammatory Diet

  1. Eat more plants. Whole plant foods have the anti-inflammatory nutrients that your body needs. So eating a rainbow of fruits, vegetables and whole grains is the best place to start.
  2. Focus on antioxidants. They help prevent, delay or repair some types of cell and tissue damage. Example, berries, oranges, leafy greens, beets and avocados, as well as beans and lentils, whole grains, ginger, turmeric and green tea.
  3. Include Omega-3s. Omega-3 fatty acids play a role in regulating your body’s inflammatory process and could help regulate pain related to inflammation. You can find them in healthy fats in fish like salmon, tuna and mackerel, as well as smaller amounts in soy, walnuts, pecans, and ground flaxseed.
  4. Eat less red meat. Red meat can be pro-inflammatory. You may try substituting it with fish, chicken, nuts or soy-based protein.
  5. Cut back on processed foods. Sugary cereals and drinks, deep-fried food, and pastries are all pro-inflammatory offenders. They can contain plenty of unhealthy fats that are linked to inflammation. But eating whole fruits, veggies, grains and beans can be quick if you prep ahead for multiple meals.

7 Tips to Reduce Added Sugars in Your Diet

  1. Drink plain water, other calorie-free drinks, or low-fat milk instead of sugary sodas and bubble teas, or sports drinks.
  2. Choose nutrient-rich snacks such as vegetables, fruits, low-fat, low-calorie yogurt, whole-grain crackers instead of pastries, cookies and candies.
  3. When drinking fruit juice, ensure it’s 100 per cent fruit juice — not juice drinks that have added sugars. The best option is to eat the fruit rather than drink the juice in order to get the fibre, and this helps to keep you full for a longer period.
  4. Choose fresh fruit for dessert instead of cakes, cookies, pies, ice cream and other sweets.
  5. Select breakfast cereals that contain less sugar. Skip sugary and frosted cereals.
  6. Opt for reduced-sugar varieties of syrups, jams, jellies and preserves.
  7. Buy canned fruit packed in water or juice, not syrup. If you do purchase fruit packed in syrup, drain and rinse it with water to remove excess syrup.

(Source: Raffles Medical Group)

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