I recently asked my clients how they were doing with their sugar consumption and most of them thought they were doing pretty well. While they may not be physically putting the white stuff in their food and drink, their are so many forms of sugar out there, that I like to remind them ( and you) what to look for when reading labels.
Every few months, I revisit the topic of sugar because I strongly believe that it is the first thing to address when I'm helping a new client work on being healthier. Even my long term clients need a little reminder. That being said, there are literally over a hundred different names for sugar, so educating yourself on the biggest names that sneak into your food will help you make better snacking decisions.
How much sugar is in that protein bar???
Before we begin, you must know where to look to identify the amount of sugar in anything that is packaged or jarred. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires all packaged foods and drinks to list the sugar content per serving. This information must appear on a product's nutrition facts label, along with things like calorie, fat, sodium and fiber content. But manufacturers are't required to list how much of the total sugar in a food or drink is naturally-occurring (as with, say, 100% fruit juice) and how much comes in the form of added sweeteners. To spot added sugars or sweeteners in a product, you need to look below the nutrient info to its ingredient list.
On nutrition facts labels, ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. The relative position of sugar -- by any of its names -- in an ingredients list identifies whether a product contains a lot of sugar or just a small amount. Products that list sugar sources near the top of the ingredient list or have several types of added sugar throughout the list have high added sugar content. You should avoid food and beverages where sugar is listed in the first 4 ingredients.
Common Names For Sugar
According to the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, added sugars show up on food and drink labels under the following names: Anhydrous dextrose, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, crystal dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup, molasses, pancake syrup, raw sugar, sugar, syrup and white sugar. Other types of sugar you might commonly see on ingredient lists are fructose, lactose and maltose. Fructose is sugar derived from fruit and vegetables; lactose is milk sugar; and maltose is sugar that comes from grain.
What's the Difference between Fructose, Glucose and Sucrose?
Sucrose, glucose and fructose are important carbohydrates, commonly referred to as simple sugars. Sugar is found naturally in whole foods and is often added to processed foods to sweeten them and increase flavor. Your tongue can't quite distinguish between these sugars, but your body can tell the difference. They all provide the same amount of energy per gram, but are processed and used differently throughout the body.
Simple carbohydrates are classified as either monosaccharides or disaccharides. Monosaccharides are the simplest, most basic units of carbohydrates and are made up of only one sugar unit. Glucose and fructose are monosaccharides and are the building blocks of sucrose, a disaccharide. Thus, disaccharides are just a pair of linked sugar molecules. They are formed when two monosaccharides are joined together and a molecule of water is removed -- a dehydration reaction.
The most important monosaccharide is glucose, the body’s preferred energy source. Glucose is also called blood sugar, as it circulates in the blood, and relies on the enzymes glucokinase or hexokinase to initiate metabolism. Your body processes most carbohydrates you eat into glucose, either to be used immediately for energy or to be stored in muscle cells or the liver as glycogen for later use. Unlike fructose, insulin is secreted primarily in response to elevated blood concentrations of glucose, and insulin facilitates the entry of glucose into cells.
Fructose is a sugar found naturally in many fruits and vegetables, and added to various beverages such as soda and fruit-flavored drinks. However, it is very different from other sugars because it has a different metabolic pathway and is not the preferred energy source for muscles or the brain. Fructose is only metabolized in the liver and relies on fructokinase to initiate metabolism. It is also more lipogenic, or fat-producing, than glucose. Unlike glucose, too, it does not cause insulin to be released or stimulate production of leptin, a key hormone for regulating energy intake and expenditure. These factors raise concerns about chronically high intakes of dietary fructose, because it appears to behave more like fat in the body than like other carbohydrates.
Sucrose is commonly known as table sugar, and is obtained from sugar cane or sugar beets. Fruits and vegetables also naturally contain sucrose. When sucrose is consumed, the enzyme beta-fructosidase separates sucrose into its individual sugar units of glucose and fructose. Both sugars are then taken up by their specific transport mechanisms. The body responds to the glucose content of the meal in its usual manner; however, fructose uptake occurs at the same time. The body will use glucose as its main energy source and the excess energy from fructose, if not needed, will be poured into fat synthesis, which is stimulated by the insulin released in response to glucose. That is why you can eat a lot of fruit and find yourself with a lot of belly fat.
What kind of sugar is BEST?
As so-called “healthy” sweeteners flood the market, we're left to wonder, which to choose? Is one really better than the other?
Honestly, whether you’re talking about coconut sugar or honey or table sugar, these sweeteners are all sugar delivery mechanisms with minor differences. Some are sucrose, some are fructose, so they affect the body slightly differently.
While there are better versions than others, too much sugar in the form of sucrose, glucose, or fructose can lead to numerous health problems, so limit your intake regardless of what kind you are eating.
Ideally, you should keep your sugar consumption to 5-10% of your daily caloric intake. That number depends on your size, your goals, and your activity level. If you want to be moderately fit—say 15% body fat for a man, 23 to 25% for a woman, then you can eat a little more sugar. If you want a six pack you’re going to need to keep at at 12-16%. Eat the sugar you enjoy in moderation—and eat it slowly and until you’re satisfied.
Here is a list of Common Forms of Sugar from Best to Worst
Type: Natural substitute
Pros: Sugar-free and non-caloric, made from the leaves of the stevia plant. “If you’re comparing caloric and non-caloric sweeteners, stevia comes out on top. It doesn’t raise blood sugar and it’s natural and beneficial in reasonable amounts. It’s bio-active, so it could have some anti-inflammatory compounds and can also help you cut calories.
Cons: There’s a minor aftertaste that can take getting used to and overusing it could cause you to develop more of a taste for sweet
Type: An even blend of fructose and glucose
Pros: Honey’s calling card is that it has anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties, which is why it can also be used as a cough suppressant or sore throat soother. Manuka and other high-grade honeys often contain more beneficial properties—and overall honey is more of an actual food than sugar
Cons: It’s high in calories and carbs.
3. PURE MAPLE SYRUP
Type: About 2/3 sucrose
Pros: Lower on the glycemic Index, (about a 56 compared to table sugar which is 65) which means that it impacts your blood sugar levels less drastically than table sugar. It also Contains some important antioxidants and minerals like Zinc and Manganese. The antioxidants in pure maple syrup reduce free radical damage that can cause inflammation and contribute to the formation of various chronic diseases. When possible, choose darker, grade B maple syrups since they contain more beneficial antioxidants that lighter syrups do.
Cons: It doesn't supply a very high level of important vitamins or minerals compared to other whole foods like vegetables, fruits, and quality proteins and fats.
4. COCONUT SUGAR
Type: Mostly sucrose with some nutrients
Pros: This one gets positive marks. It’s made from the sap of coconut trees and is less processed because the sap is extracted and then placed in heat to dry, leaving it with a more natural brownish color like raw sugar. It can also contain trace amounts of minerals like magnesium, potassium, and inulin, a prebiotic fiber.
Cons: It’s still a high-calorie sweetener and causes advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which gradually lead to a break down in your collagen.
5. RAW CANE SUGAR
Pros: Extracted from the sugarcane plant and not refined. Also called turbinado sugar, it may come in the form of cane juice, which is often used to sweeten non-dairy milks like almond, hemp, and cashew and in many healthier baking options. This raw form of sugar is somewhat less processed than table sugar. It still retains some of the molasses and moisture from the plant so technically you’re consuming less sugar and calories per serving, making it healthier
Cons: That’s mostly irrelevant in the big picture. It’s not like you’re eating the actual plant.
Type: More fructose than glucose (it can be up to 90% fructose)
Pros: Fans like the syrupy flavor. It mixes well with tequila, making it a mainstay in artisanal margaritas.
Cons: It’s touted as having a lower glycemic index but this can be misleading. That may be beneficial if someone has diabetes, but not so much if you don’t
7. BROWN SUGAR
Pros: Some of the molasses leftover from the refining process is added back into the sugar after processing, which provides a darker color and a minor amount of trace nutrients.
Cons: Not enough nutrients remain to be of benefit.
8. GRANULATED WHITE SUGAR
Pros: Made from either sugar cane or sugar beets, it offers the mildest flavor, melts and blends easily into beverages, warm or cold, and is ideal for baking.
Cons: Best known as table sugar and the most common, it is also the most chemically processed and refined of the bunch.
9. SWEETENERS (ASPARTAME, SPLENDA)
Type: Artificial substitute
Pros: Sugar-free and non-caloric
Cons: These sweeteners are chemical compounds and not real food. Splenda is sucralose (a sugar molecule mixed with chlorine molecules in a patented process). Maltodextrin, which is a corn product and can be genetically modified, is then added as a bulking agent. “Aspartame is on the EPA’s list of potential carcinogens. In animal models it’s linked to leukemia in very high doses. The danger of sweeteners is that they are 600% sweeter than sugar which inevitably makes you crave MORE sweet. This is definitely the worst of the bunch and should be avoided at all costs.
Well, there you have it! If you've ever wondered what sugars to avoid and which sugars are best, you should have a better understanding. At the end of the day, sugar is sugar and should be enjoyed in moderation. If you are looking for healthy meals with delicious swaps, my 4 week meal plan for winter is pretty amazing. I give you so many delicious options with plenty of good for you swaps that will make eating healthy a breeze. You can check it out here!
Here's to helping you love the body you live in!