Types of sugars
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate found in both food and beverages. Once eaten, sugar is broken down into what's called glucose which is ultimately used for energy. Let's break it down some more with the most common types and examples:
Monosaccharides: glucose, galactose, fructose
Disaccharides: sucrose, lactose, maltose
Oligosaccharides: maltodextrin, raffinose
Polyols (sugar alcohols): sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol
Natural vs. added sugars
Natural sugars are sugars that are naturally found in foods. These sugars are often found in foods such as fruit, potatoes, yams, and cow's milk.
Added sugars are sugars that are added to foods during processing. These sugars are usually added for preservation, texture, mouthfeel, and taste. Added sugars are often found in foods such as soda/pop beverages, sweetened coffee or tea, cocktails, energy or sports beverages, fruit juice, store-bought cereals, soups, salad dressings, oatmeal, candies, baked goods, ice cream, and pudding. Limiting our intake of added sugars is generally recommended for overall health.
Liquid sweeteners such as maple syrup, blackstrap molasses, agave syrup, and corn syrup are all considered to be sugars too. They contain about the same amount of calories as white sugar and are generally broken down in the same way. Some have trace minerals in very small amounts. Here at PUL, we love to use these sweeteners for their wonderful flavours and consistencies in particular recipes. It's still generally best to still consume them in moderation though.
Coconut sugar is known to have a small trace amount of minerals, but it's nutritionally identical to white granulated sugar. With that being said, it's best to consume coconut sugar at the same level of moderation.
Effects of excess added sugars
Consuming excess added sugars can contribute to the development of several health effects. Fatigue, weight gain, dental cavities, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease have all been linked to excessive intake of sugars.
Artificial sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are zero- or low-calorie alternatives to the sugar options mentioned above. Due to this, companies market their products as "sugar-free", "diet" or "no calories". They're found in many diabetic products because they have little or no effect on blood sugar levels. Some can be made from natural leaf extracts, and some are manufactured. Most artificial sweeteners are also remarkably sweeter when compared to table sugar. This means that smaller amounts can be used to create the same sweetness level. Some examples of artificial sweeteners include acesulfame potassium, aspartame, cyclamate, neotame, saccharin, stevia or steviol, and sucralose.
Considerations with artificial sweeteners
Conflicting evidence: according to recent high-quality research, artificial sweeteners haven't been linked to health outcomes such as diabetes, kidney disease, high blood pressure, certain cancers or dental health. According to other analyses though, they have been associated with increased BMI and other complications. In short, there are biases and limitations to the studies conducted so far and more research is needed.
Artificial sweeteners as a "free-pass": when people consciously know they're having artificial sweeteners with no calories, they may mentally feel able to compensate with something that does have sugar later on. Others may contain them in excess due to the "low calorie" or "no calorie" label.
Potential gastrointestinal intolerances: some artificial sweeteners include sugar alcohols, which if consumed in large amounts (say, in a beverage) can have a laxative effect.
Effects on the brain: consuming artificial sweeteners lights up similar regions of the brain in terms of satisfaction as with all other types of sugar. With this in mind, artificial sweeteners may not actually help curb sugar cravings from the root because we still tend to crave something sweet. In fact, one study suggests that we use sweet taste to predict the calories in a particular food. When our bodies receive these non-caloric sweeteners instead, it realizes the discrepancy and continues to crave, and can potentially eat even more.
Here at PUL, we recommend whole food sources of natural sugar (such as those found in fruits) above processed foods including added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Natural sugars in foods provide a delicious sweetness, plus we still get the added benefit of other vitamins, minerals, and fibre.
Added sugar in homemade or store-bought foods is indeed something that we also enjoy in moderation rather than restrict. Sugar is part of many dishes or desserts that might contribute to our own satisfaction, sense of cultural or social wellbeing, and overall enjoyment. There isn't enough conclusive evidence to lean one way or the other in terms of long term health effects of artificial sweeteners. If we enjoy the flavour and find we don't compensate for sugar elsewhere in our diet, including artificial sweeteners is likely safe to include in small amounts.
Spotting hidden sugars in the ingredient list
When it comes to the ingredient list of foods, only added sugars are listed. Granulated sugar is easy to spot in the ingredient list. Although food manufacturers can still add sugar in many other sneaky ways. Some more common types of sugar we may say in the ingredient list include:
- evaporated cane juice
- dextrose or dextrin
- cane sugar
- invert sugar
- liquid sweeteners
10 tips to manage sugars
It can be overwhelming living in a world filled with sugar everywhere. Here are 10 tips to help us manage our sugar intake:
|No.01||Reduce: for most recipes, we can reduce the amount of sugar by at least 1/4 without noticing a large difference in the taste or texture.|
|No.02||Substitute: try using dried fruit puree, applesauce, dates, or mashed banana to replace some of the sugar in recipes such as muffins or cookies.|
|No.03||Spices and extracts: using spices such as cinnamon or pumpkin pie spice, and pure extracts such as vanilla, almond or lemon can help give flavour without needing excess sweeteners.|
|No.04||Hydrate: a sugar craving can also be mistaken for thirst. Consider drinking a glass of water first when craving a sweet beverage.|
|No.05||Speaking of fluids: try to limit sodas and energy drinks. instead, we can jazz up our water by adding sliced strawberries or cucumbers or try flavoured unsweetened carbonated water. When purchasing coffee or tea beverages, we can also ask for reduced sweetness if desired.|
|No.06||Do-it-yourself: consider purchasing unsweetened yogurts and plant-based milk. We can add our own fresh fruit or desired syrup to the yogurt to give it a touch of sweetness.|
|No.07||Incorporate fruits: if we crave something sweet after meals, we can try to include some type of fruit in the mix. For example, chocolate-dipped strawberries, frozen banana halves dipped in yogurt with a sprinkle of almonds, and baked apple pieces with a sprinkle of cinnamon are all sweet yet satisfying choices.|
|No.08||Sneaky condiments: condiments can have a surprisingly high amount of sugar added to them. We can enjoy homemade salad dressings, jams, and spreads to help control our sugar intake. Try our PUL 2 ingredient jam or our delicious chocolate spread for some inspiration.|
|No.09||Read the labels: reading the labels is an important way to spot sugars in disguise. When they're among the first few ingredients listed it's an indication that the food is higher in added sugars.|
|No.10||Give it time: when we decrease the number of high sugar foods in our diet and substitute to home-made versions or whole food options, we might notice that intense sugar cravings gradually disappear. We "re-train" our tastebuds to appreciate the natural sweetness of foods and may not even desire highly sweetened foods after a while.|
- Excessive sugar intake can lead to various health complications. It can lead to weight gain, diabetes, cavities, high blood pressure, and other chronic illnesses.
- Watch out for hidden sugars. Sugar can be disguised as many things, and it's valuable to be able to spot a source of sugar in an ingredient list to know what we're buying.
- Consider homemade when possible. We have more control over what goes into our recipes and meals. This allows us to sweeten dishes using food sources such as fruits in place of refined sugars when possible.
- Not all sugar is "bad." Natural sugars from food sources, like fruit, are delicious and have added benefits of vitamins, minerals, and fibre. Restricting absolutely all sugar from the diet is practically impossible and certainly not recommended.