Added Sugar

Sugar: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

It’s not hard to find SUGAR. It’s in a slew of food and drink products and most often can be found in packaged foods with ingredients ending in the letters -ose like glucose, maltose, dextrose, lactose, fructose, sucrose; it’s all sugar.

Is one better than the other? In the end, all sugars have 4 calories per gram. The differences comes down to any notable nutrients/antioxidants and HOW they affect the body/glycemic load. This week we’re looking a little deeper at what makes each type of sugar different.

Sucrose

Common table sugar (as pictured above). Sucrose contains 50% glucose and 50% fructose. We’ll break each of these down further later on. Sucrose tastes sweeter than glucose but not as sweet as fructose.

Glucose

Glucose comes from the Greek word for “sweet” and contains 1 glucose molecule. Glucose syrup is typically made from breaking down the starch in corn or wheat. Glucose syrup isn’t overly sweet and thus is typically used along with other sweeteners and helps extend the shelf life of products like ice cream [from crystalizing]. Glucose can be metabolized throughout our body, unlike fructose that can only be metabolized by the liver.

Fructose

Although FRUIT is high in fructose, it’s difficult to get excessive amounts from fruit, plus fruit is also very high in FIBER which is nature’s way of balancing it out. Eat fruit, skip the fruit juice (which takes out the fiber)!

If you are a label-reader then you surely have seen “High Fructose Corn Syrup” as a common ingredient that seems to pervade nearly every product on the shelf from ketchup to cookies to cereal. This is concerning because not only is a high intake of fructose bad for your waistline, but it can increase your risk of all sorts of diseases from heart disease to diabetes and even some types of cancer. Check out this link below for a DIY tutorial and you can see first-hand the process involved!
http://www.diyhfcs.mayaweinstein.com/

Maltose

Maltose is made of 2 glucose molecules. Maltose can be found in starchy grains, vegetables, and some fruit. When grains are sprouted in water and then dried, the enzymes in the grains release maltose. You can find it in brewing stores since it is an important part of brewing beer and whiskey. Maltose can also be sold as crystals or syrup, for baking or sweetener.

“Malted” cereals use malted grains to create the natural sweetness. The calories in maltose is equivalent to other sugars, but the potential benefit of maltose over other sugars is that it does not contain any fructose, which can be more harmful in large quantities.

Check out this video to see how malt syrup can be made!

Brown Rice Syrup

Similar to maltose, this is made by soaking, fermenting, and boiling down rice. Brown rice syrup contains 45% maltose (2 glucose molecules), 3% glucose (1 glucose molecule), and 52% maltotriose (3 glucose molecules). This actually puts the glycemic index HIGHER than table sugar. ALSO, arsenic is a toxic chemical known to be found in rice. Boiling rice down into a syrup compounds the amount of potential arsenic. Even though scientific research is limited, choosing fewer items with brown rice syrup may be in your best interest.

Molasses

This syrup is boiled down from refined raw cane sugar or sugar beet juice. The crystals from the boiling process are removed, leaving molasses.

FYI: Blackstrap molasses is when the syrup has been boiled a THIRD time. Each boiling of a sugar produces a different type of molasses. Molasses may be seen as slightly better than “table sugar” since it does contains some nutrients and antioxidants, but essentially…sugar is sugar.

Well alright, there was a lot more “Bad” and “Ugly” than there was good, but at least now you are equipped with knowledge of these different types of sugars and can prepare yourself to read those labels and make more educated decisions!

If Not Sugar, Then What??

Last week we talked about some of the harmful effects of added sugar. BUT, if you are going to have sugar, which kind is the right choice? This week we’ll look at honey, coconut sugar, brown sugar, raw vs white sugar, and even stevia. We have to realize there isn’t a simple answer when it comes to added sugars/sweeteners. Added sugars is where the clear majority of health issues lie. Watch your labels and start playing sugar detective to know what you are eating!

Honey

Honey contains a few more calories than table sugar but unlike stevia or table sugar, it contains a variety of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants making honey more like a food than a sugar. Unfortunately, most non-raw honey has been filtered, heated/pasteurized and processed thereby negating many of the health benefits in an attempt to prevent crystallization once on a store shelf.
(Caution: If you are allergic to bees, raw honey could potentially cause reactions!)

Coconut Sugar

Coconut sugar/coconut palm sugar (not to be confused with palm sugar) is made from the sap of coconut trees and is less processed because the sap is extracted and then placed in heat to dry. It has a couple minerals and antioxidants and a lower glycemic index than table sugar thanks to inulin (a type of fiber). Coconut sugar contains the same number of calories as table sugar, but the amount of nutrients is negligible unless large quantities are consumed so it should really not be consumed for its “nutrition” – it is still ultimately added sugar.

Raw Cane Sugar

Raw cane sugar (also called turbinado sugar) is extracted from the sugarcane plant and not refined. Although in large amounts, no sugar is “good”, raw sugar would be a better alternative than white table sugar since it retains some minerals. Raw sugar includes unrefined cane juice or powder (Sucanat and Rapadura) and date sugar.

Beware: White sugar can be labelled in disguise as refined or dried cane juice and refined cane sugar!

Stevia

While all of our article has been designated to explaining different types of sugar, we wanted to take a moment to acknowledge a natural sweetener that appears to be in good standing. Stevia is a sugar-free and calorie-free South African herb made from the leaves of the stevia plant. It has a glycemic index of zero so it doesn’t raise blood sugar. It appears stevia COULD be your best choice for a sweetener without the additional calories of local honey, etc BUT be careful of overly processed stevia products as in general the word “processed” often means “processed with chemicals”.

Also, be aware of overuse as it can cause you to develop more of a taste for sweets. According to Livestrong.com “crude stevia extracts and whole-leaf stevia are not approved, the Mayo Clinic notes, because there are concerns about their effects on the kidneys, cardiovascular system and blood glucose levels.”

In summary, granulated white sugar/table sugar is the most chemically processed and refined of sugars. Brown sugar is just white sugar with added molasses, thus containing even more calories and sweetness. Choosing artificial sweeteners vs a “better” sugar is a choice you have to make based on the information available to you. There is no simple answer it seems. Our advice? Watch your labels, know your sugars, and choose what is best for you while exercising moderation!