One of the keys to a healthy diet is to reduce the amount of sugar we consume. We all know that refined white sugar is not good for us, but it’s helpful to know what kind of sugars we can have, that won’t do so much harm.
This blog post gives you the low down on all sugars and what you need to do to satisfy that sweet tooth without compromising your health!
Why is Sugar Bad?
Firstly, a note on why sugar is actually bad for us. When we ingest sugar in the form of sucrose or glucose, our blood becomes saturated with glucose. Insulin is released to drive the glucose into our muscles where needed, then the rest is taken out of our blood and stored safely away as fat. Consistently elevated blood sugar levels leads to consistently high insulin levels, to try and clear the sugar from our blood. This in turn leads to a plethora of conditions such as type II diabetes, obesity, kidney, and heart damage as well as a risk of stroke and nerve damage.
Fructose, the other type of sugar, is a concentrated form of corn sugars and has a reputation of being more harmful to the body when consumed in this form because it goes to the liver for processing first.
The World Health Organisation recommends that we ingest no more than 25 grams (6 teaspoons) of sugar per day for optimum health and that would be best spread throughout the day. If you use this as a guide for quantity and then look at the best sugars listed below to consume, then you’ll be on the right track.
Types of Sugar
The most common sugar added in commercial or packaged foods is refined white sugar, from beet or cane, which is made up of a 50/50 mix of fructose and glucose. A great deal of normal sugar is not vegan as it’s refined by filtering it through animal bone char.
When we consider using sugar to add to our food or to bake with, it’s best to aim for very natural, unprocessed sugars, which retain their vitamins and minerals and ones that have a low fructose balance so they’re less harmful to our bodies. Here’s a list of sugars, starting with the best ones to use, leading to the ones that we should avoid if we can.
This sugar is made from the whole fruit of the Peruvian lucuma and is sold in powder form. It’s starchy, with fructose as well as sucrose, but with a less sweet taste and doesn’t impact blood sugar levels the way normal sugar does. Great for baking and cooking.
Also goes by other names such as Buddha fruit, or Luo Han Guo, a fruit native to China and Thailand. Sugar made from monk fruit has some fructose and glucose in it, but also contains mogrosides, which make this fruit sugar super sweet but doesn’t impact blood sugar levels. It’s more expensive than normal sugar but also around two hundred times as sweet, so only a small amount is needed.
A sugar made from the leaves of the stevia plant. It’s incredibly sweet, however does have a bitter aftertaste that some people don’t like. Unlike normal sugar, it won’t raise your blood sugar levels and cause any damage to your health in that way, so it’s a good alternative if you’re trying to go completely sugar free. Stevia is also great to cook with, be mindful that you’ll only need a really small amount as its so much more potent than normal sugar.
If you see stevia in your local shop or supermarket, check the ingredients to see that’s its pure stevia, as many brands mix in other sugars.
Natural and low in processing this sugar has a lower impact on blood sugar levels than normal sugar. It’s made from the sap of the flowers of the coconut tree, and retains many of the minerals such as magnesium and potassium. It is however still made up of nearly half fructose, so has more or less the same calories as normal sugar and still needs to be used in very small amounts.
Made from dried dates and retains the benefits of minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium and others. Again high in fructose however the minimal processing means that some fibre is retained. Again, use in moderation.
A by-product of the sugar refining process, but this sugar retains much of the many minerals that are extracted from normal sugar. Again it’s high in fructose, so only use a small amount.
Agave syrup and brown rice syrup
These syrups sound healthy and are generally labeled healthy, but really are very similar to normal sugar with either a very high fructose content and minimal benefits or just boiled down and concentrated to make them very sweet. Use in very small quantities or avoid if possible.
High fructose corn syrup
This syrup is added to many commercial food products and along with normal cane sugar should be avoided at all costs.
With all the information in the press about how bad sugar is, manufacturers have turned to artificial sweeteners to keep their products tasting nice, without the calories. Most of these sweeteners are called sugar alcohols, and normally end in ‘ol’. Examples are xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, lactitol and erythritol and so on. The body doesn’t recognize the chemical structure of these sugars and therefore does its best to flush them out of the digestive tract. In this way they are relatively calorie free (not absorbed) but it also explains why they can cause loose stools as the body adds more water to flush them out. All in all, it’s probably best to stay away from them if possible.
The remainder of artificial sweeteners are the chemical compounds such as aspartame and saccharine. There’s not enough time to go into the details of these sweeteners in this post, apart from to advise to say steer clear of them, as they are unnatural and have an adverse effect on the body.
To summarise, it’s best to cut your sugar intake to a point that you’re content with just a few teaspoons a day. This will reduce your cravings and make what sugar you do consume seem sweeter. If you’re baking a special treat then use the first three sugars listed, and try and combine them with fibre from fruits and vegetables at the same time to slow absorption. As with many rules in nutrition, keep it natural and whole and your body will thank you.