We all know that too much sugar isn't good for our waistline, but what affect does it have on our health?
And if you need a sugar hit, what is the better decision? Here are a few guidelines to follow about the different kinds of sugar.
Do: Understand what sugar is
The term sugar can be used to refer to all types of cabohydrates, including glucose (found in grains and vegetables), fructose (in fruit and honey-also the sweetest tasting sugar), lactose (the carbohydrate in dairy products), and sucrose (cane or table sugar). Basically any carbohyrate or sugar, whether it's good or bad, will end with the letters 'ose'.
Do: Avoid the 'bad' sugars
There are two so-called 'bad' sugars: sucrose, also known as cane sugar; and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). These are highly processed, refined super sweet sugars added to many commercial foods to enhance their flavour. Foods which contain sucrose include jams, cereals, baked goods, confectionery, soft drinks, ice cream and flavoured yogurt.
HCFS is hardly used in Australia, compared to cane sugar, which is cheaper and more readily available. The truth is HCFS and cane sugar is the same thing-they both contain fructose and gluose. Cane sugar is 50 per cent gluose and 50 per cent fructose. High-fructose corn syrup is about 55 per cent fructose and 45 per cent glucose. When reading food labels, other ingredients to look for are corn syrup, fruit sugar, levulose, D-fructofuranose, D-arabino-hexulose – all indications the product contains fructose.
Do: Know there are two sources of fructose
While our brain, muscles and organs use glucose for energy, our liver does all the tough work metabolising fructose. Know that there are two forms of fructose: unrefined and refined (which includes HFCS). The former is a natural source, found in fruit and sweet tasting vegetables. Then there's refined fructose, found in products such as canned food and tables sauces. Research suggests that a continuous supply of refined fructose can lead to excess fat in the liver. This fatty lining is called non-alcoholc fatty liver disease, since it looks just like the liver of those who consume high amounts of alcohol.
Don't: Cut out unrefined sources of fructose
Fructose, the unprocessed kind, is naturally found in fruit and vegetables. These nutritious sources are packaged exactly how we should consume fructose: in small unrefined amounts and with fibre. Before modern day food processing the average amount of fructose consumed from fruit and vegetables was around 15 grams per day (or 3 teaspoons of sugar). Now we can drink more than double that amount in one large glass of fruit juice.
Don't: be tricked. Fructose is not glucose
Your body processes glucose and frucose in many ways. Almost every cell in the body can break down glucose for energy, yet it is the liver that works hard to break down fructose. Not only that, fructose does not subdue our hunger hormone ghrelin, whereas glucose does. Which means your brain doesn't register your stomach is full after a meal high in refined fructose. You're often left feeling unsatisfied and craving more sweets – which is, in part, one of the main reasons why excess consumption leads to weight gain.
Don't: Skip on fibre
In nature wherever you find fructose you'll find fibre and there is a reason for this. Sugar is primarily absorbed in the intestines, delivered into the blood stream and sent to the liver. When you consume sugar with fibre, it's slowly released into the body, and into the blood stream, leaving you feeling fuller for longer and less likely to overindulge.
Processed foods are high in sugar and low in fibre to extend shelf life. It is believed back in the hunting-and-gathering days humans consumed 100-300 grams of fibre per day. Today the average daily diet provides as little as 12 grams of fibre. Foods which are high in fibre include fresh fruit and vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains like rolled oats and legumes.
Your favourite sweet treat can be enjoyed in moderation, but this seems to be the problem. Our serving sizes of sugary foods, especially beverages, have more than doubled over the last century. Soft drinks were originally served in 200ml bottles. Today a standed soft drink comes in a 600ml size – which means you're also ingesting around 16 teaspoons of sugar. If you go for the bigger 650ml size of soft drink, fruit juice or store bought smoothie, you can add about 18 teaspoons of sugar to your calorie count.
Remember: the key to consuming sugar is moderation and awareness. Know what you're eating and enjoy a balanced diet containing whole pieces of fruit, lots of seasonal vegetables, sufficient serves of protein, vital fatty acids and limit the processed sugary foods as much as possible.
Four things to remember about sugar
- All sugars are equal in calories. However, fructose the sweetest of sugars.
- Refined fructose is added to a large number of foods we eat every day, from canned fruit to tomato sauce.
- The best sugars are those in their most natural state: fructose from fruit, with the added benefit of fibre, glucose from whole grains and vegetables and lactose from dairy products.
- Foods that should be avoided are those containing refined or added sugars, and especially sucrose or high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).