If a list of bad foods was drawn, refined sugar would rank second on this list, the first one being refined oils
Some of the qualities of sweet taste mentioned in Ayurveda are:
- Prahaladana: brings happiness to the mind
- Brimhana :nourishing
- Tarpana: nourishes the senses
- Varnakar: Improves skin colour and complexion
- Ayushya: increases life expectancy
Sweet taste enhances the above Kapha like attributes in the body and mind and decrease the opposite Vata like attributes.
Modern day sugar does not bear resemblance to the above mentioned sweet taste. In fact it has qualities quite the opposite.
The main reason sugars are bad for us is that they form bonds with proteins in our body. This reaction is known as ‘glycation reaction’ and the end result is an end product known as ‘advanced glycemic end products’ or simply ‘AGE’s’, an interesting connotation considering that ageing is what these end products result in.
Glycation is a process by which sugar and protein molecules become tangled resulting in the tissues becoming stiff and losing their flexibility. Flexibility and suppleness being a normal attribute of Kapha , it can be said that glycation leads to a reduction in Kapha qualities and an increase in opposite Vata like qualities of dryness and stiffness.
The bonding between sugars and proteins is a natural phenomenon and can be seen everywhere. A roti (Indian whole wheat bread) for eg. becomes hard and brittle after a while if not consumed fresh. It is a result of sugars in wheat, forming bonds with proteins. This kind of a roti is unfit to be consumed. This reaction is easily prevented by smearing ghee on the roti which helps it keep fresh and soft for long.
This incidentally highlights the importance of ghee and other healthy fats in our diets.
A similar reaction is seen when a toffee sticks messily to our skin as the sugars in it have formed dry bonds with skin proteins.
In keeping with the Ayurvedic principle of what happens outside happens inside as well – these glycemic reactions happen all over the body. More the sugar in our diets more the prevalence of these reactions and that’s the main reason sugar is bad for us.
A very popular blood test known as glycated haemoglobin (Hb A1C) measures the amount of glycation that the sugars have inflicted upon the haemoglobin in our blood.
Sugars form glycation bonds with the hormonal receptors proteins. As a result our response to hormones like insulin slows down and results in diabetes and obesity. From an Ayurvedic perspective this can be understood as an obstruction to the free flow of Vata (Vata being the neurohormonal signal). Excess sugar glycates the protein portion of the lipoproteins resulting in a high concentration of bad fats LDL in our blood. Glycation is extremely bad for brain tissue and results in shrinking – damaging the Kapha like attributes of brain.
Some health experts and dieticians who promote paleo diets are so much in opposition to sugars that they even talk against eating fruits. The reason they cite is that fruits also ultimately break down into sugars. But this is far from truth as fruits release their sugars very slowly and this slow release will not jam the hormonal signals.
The summer Ayurvedic diet consists of ‘light sweet’ (laghu madhura) which mainly points towards fruits.