Chocolate, cookies and cakes. Tasty yes, healthy no. It is no secret that too much sugar is bad for our health and that this is an unpopular reality. Equally true is the knowledge that our food leaves traces as it passes through our digestive organs and influences the life of the intestines.
Researchers at Columbia University in New York published a study in the journal Cell showing the influence that sugar has on the intestinal microbiome of mice and subsequently even on the immune system.
Good bacteria, bad bacteria
In the intestines live bacteria that are responsible for the increase in certain immune cells, the so-called helper T cells, or more precisely Th17 cells. The scientists observed that these immune cells regulate the absorption of fat in the intestines of mice.
They also found that a particularly sugary diet promotes the growth of certain bacteria, which in turn kill the microbiome that stimulates the immune system. As a result, more fat enters the mice’s body through the intestinal mucosa. The animals not only became overweight, but also became ill.
“How sugar affects the human intestine is still not well understood,” says Christian Sina, director of the Institute for Nutritional Medicine at the University of Lübeck in Germany. There are many studies with mice, but intestinal data in relation to humans are quite scarce. However, one thing is clear: too much sugar is definitely not healthy.
The dose makes the poison
Whoever in a moment of weakness throws himself on the candy shelf and spends the day on the sofa eating chocolate and lemonade will not immediately get sick.
Because of this, Sina doesn’t want to completely demonize sugar. “The pinch of sugar with which you sweeten the coffee is not the problem,” says the nutritionist.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends reducing sugar consumption to about 25 grams a day. This would be six teaspoons. However, a survey by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found between 2017 and 2018 that Americans consumed an average of 17 teaspoons of sugar per day.
Processed foods contain a lot of sugar
Foods that are known to be high in sugar, such as cakes, cookies, and chocolate bars, are not the only problem. The so-called “hidden sugars”, found in processed foods, cause the amount of sugar consumed to increase. Anyone who eats a lot of ready-made foods will quickly exceed their sugar limit.
This results in a vicious cycle: sugary foods not only cause the blood sugar level to rise rapidly, but also to fall rapidly again.
In addition to obesity, cardiovascular diseases are the result of high levels of sugar and lipids in the blood. This leads to heart attacks, strokes, and type 2 diabetes.
no good alternatives
According to Sina, honey, agave syrup and artificial sweeteners like saccharin have their advantages. “However, these alternatives to refined sugar are also not without problems,” she warns. Honey and agave syrup also contain a lot of glucose, that is, sugar.
If the results of the mouse study are also confirmed in human experiments at some point, the WHO or nutritionists may need to re-evaluate the sugar.
But the available data also speaks clearly: less is more. “We have to get away from the feeling that sweets are good for us,” says Sina. At least not on a daily basis and in large quantities.