Know Your Sugar!
Updated: Sep 17
Sugar is very much seen as evil or toxic these days. Everyone is trying to eliminate sugar from their diet in one way or another. However, did you know that sugars or carbohydrates are broken down in the body to glucose and used as a preferred source of energy? The brain is one organ that is heavily reliant on glucose. This does not mean you have a free ticket to consume copious amounts of lollies, chocolate, soft drink or cake, what it does mean though is that there is no need to quit sugar altogether or severely restrict your intake. The important point to remember when it comes to sugar is getting the balance right! Too much sugar may be associated with obesity and tooth decay and too little sugar can leave you feeling tired, lethargic and in females can affect your hormones.
The World Health Organisation has released guidelines on sugar consumption, which states that we should consume no more than 5 teaspoons of added sugar per day. Now the key word here is ‘added’. This does not include natural sugars found in dairy and fruit – both important food groups in a balanced diet, however you should still be mindful of your intake of these sugars.
Read on to learn more about the different types of sugars.
Also known as ‘table sugar’, sucrose is a combination of glucose and fructose. It is commonly added to tea, coffee, and used in baking. It is also the type of sugar added to soft drinks, breakfast cereals and other processed packaged foods. It is the main component of brown sugar, golden syrup, molasses and maple syrup. Reducing your intake of sucrose will do wonders for your weight, waistline and those pearly whites!
Found naturally in sweet fruits, such as grapes and berries. Glucose is half as sweet as sucrose and is added in some confectionery products and sports drinks. Glucose is the substance that is measured in the blood stream when testing your blood sugar levels. Glucose is the body’s preferred source of energy.
Fructose is naturally found in honey, apples, pears, watermelon, asparagus, garlic and onion. Recently fructose has been getting a bit of a bad rap for being the biggest cause of our obesity and Type 2 diabetes issues. Many believe consuming fructose results in the entire fructose load being converted to fat by the liver. This is not entirely true. A large amount of fructose is converted to glucose and used by the muscles and brain as energy. Fructose, like many other things in our diet, becomes a problem when an individual’s intake exceeds their body’s requirements. This is when fat gain occurs.
Also known as ‘milk sugar’, lactose is a combination of glucose and galactose. Lactose is what gives dairy products their sweet taste. Lactose is found in milk, yoghurt, ice cream and custard. Some people may have an intolerance to lactose as a result of a deficiency in the substance required to digest the milk sugar. These people may not be able to tolerate large amounts of lactose and may need to seek lactose-free alternatives.
Below is an outline of the different sugar products containing the types of sugars discussed above.
Commonly referred to as ‘bees gold’, honey is a concentrated source of sugar, mainly fructose, produced by bees from the nectar of plants. The taste of honey varies depending on its colour. A lighter honey has a milder taste compared to a darker honey which has a much stronger flavour.
Derived from the Agave plant in Mexico, Agave Syrup is very similar to honey in that it is mainly comprised of fructose. Agave is a very popular health food and is touted as being the more natural alternative to other sugars. The point to remember here is that it is still a sugar and contains a similar amount of calories to other forms of sugar. Obviously the refining process is somewhat different to other type of sugars that come in a granular form. As it is a concentrated source of fructose, Agave should be used in moderation.
Rice Malt Syrup or Brown Rice Syrup
Many claim this product to be healthy, however it is very quickly absorbed into the bloodstream and a rich source of sugars. Use in moderation.
Produced from the sap of cut flower buds of the coconut palm. Coconut sugar has been used as a traditional sweetener for many years in South and South-East Asia. It comes in several forms, including crystals, granules, and block and as a liquid. Coconut sugar is primarily sucrose (70-79%), glucose and fructose (3-9% each).
A ‘natural’ sugar substitute that is 300 x sweeter than sucrose. Stevia is lower in calories and has little effect on your blood sugar levels. Stevia is added to some types of confectionery and is also used by certain frozen yoghurt shops to sweeten their product. Although lower in calories and having little effect on blood sugar levels, the long term effects of stevia are still unclear, therefore it is important to moderate your intake.
Added to many diet products, artificial sweeteners produce a very sweet taste without the calories or the rise in blood glucose levels characteristic of sugar. Many people believe artificial sweeteners are associated with some cancers, however recent research has ruled out any cancer-causing effects of artificial sweeteners. An individual’s choice to use artificial sweeteners and is a personal one, however like sugar it is important to moderate your intake.
Sugar is not solely to blame for the currents issues with have obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. Yes it is likely to be contributing to the problem, but there are other factors contributing to the growing trend of expanding waistlines and elevated blood sugar levels.
Yes most people eat too much sugar and yes most people can afford to reduce their intake. But you don’t need to remove every trace of sugar from your diet. Cutting out sugar alone does not make you healthy. I would advise cutting back on ‘added’ sugar found in processed foods, such as lollies, chocolate, cakes, biscuits etc. These types of foods can still be a part of the diet just in small amounts over the day, at celebrations or special events.
All sugars have a similar calorie content with the major difference being their source and refining process. Stevia is the one exception as it has a lower calorie content, however it is commonly mixed with other ingredients thereby altering the calorie content.
So there you have it! I believe everything can be enjoyed in moderation, including sugar, therefore you can enjoy that sweet treat every so often as long as it stays as a ‘treat’ and does not become an everyday staple in your diet.