Sugar. In the health fanatic’s world, this can be the forbidden “s” word, and for good reason as most people consume significantly more sugar than the body requires.
Overconsumption of sugar leads to a variety of health issues, but do all sugars have the same impact?
Are they all created equal? Did you even realize there were so many types of sugar?
It is important to be able to recognize each of these names on food labels so let’s take a look at where these sugars originate and how they can impact the body.
- Beet sugar
Accounting for over 20% of the world’s sugar, this sugar is typically made from the evaporated and boiled liquid that is extracted from sliced beets. Genetically modified beets are most commonly used as the source of beet sugar, so be aware of this.
- Brown sugar
Common brown sugar is white refined sugar, typically from sugarcane, that has had the extracted molasses re-added to it after the sugar extraction process. Light brown sugar has had less added molasses and dark brown has had more.
- Cane sugar
This sugar is the crystals that result from chopping, heating and evaporating sugarcane. White refined sugar and brown sugar are two categories made using cane sugar, but the cane juice from cane sugar is usually more colorful and flavorful.
This type of sugar has been shown to have a significant impact on blood pressure (raising it), cholesterol and insulin resistance, even though it is often touted as a better alternative.
- Caster Sugar
Caster sugar is the same as white refined sugar that has been even more finely granulated. It is often used in baking products and mixed drinks.
- Date sugar
This sugar made from dates is not useful for liquids as it will not dissolve. While it is less processed than other sugars, it still remains very high in sugar content.
- Demerara sugar
Sugar cane is pressed and steamed to result in this large crystal sugar. It is pale brown and usually comes from a region in Guyana where the sugarcane grows in rich, volcanic soil. It has more nutrients than refined sugar, but has a very small amount of proteins and vitamins.
This is the sugar that is traditionally found in fruits including apples, dates, grapes, etc. This sounds great at first, but the fructose that is found in products that are not fruits is not extracted from fruit—it is created either in a lab by treating glucose with enzymes or is extracted from corn syrup.
When fructose is processed by the body, it can only be done so in the liver. When a large amount of concentrated fructose is consumed and hits the liver, it stresses the liver severely enough that it is almost entirely converted to fat.
This amount also increases the triglycerides blood levels leading to an increased risk of heart disease; the amount of uric acid is also increased. Keep in mind that consuming fructose from fruit is not the same as consuming it in liquid or crystal form like what is in baked goods, sodas, etc.
Fruits contain many other nutrients that are very beneficial to the body and can off-set the impact of the small amount of fructose on the liver.
First, glucose is essential to the human body. It is important to have glucose in order for the body’s cells to function properly, but it is very easy to eat way too much, especially with our modern Western diet.
Glucose travels in the blood (known as blood sugar) and is kept in check through the body’s production of insulin. Glucose is found in almost all carbohydrates.
- Jaggery (palm sugar, gur)
Jaggery is a sugar that has many different names throughout the world. It is typically made from the heated, reduced sap of the sugar palm or palmyra palm.
Commonly found in East Indian markets, jaggery comes in the forms of blocks, bricks, cups or spreadable pastes. It is comprised of sucrose, invert sugars (sucrose that has been broken down into fructose and glucose), moisture and insoluble matter.
- Muscovado (Barbados) sugar
Available in light and dark varieties, this sugar is made by pressing and slightly cooking sugarcane and is often used as a replacement for brown sugar and in teas and coffee.
It is less processed than turbinado and demerara sugars but still contains very few nutrients and five grams of carbohydrates per teaspoon.
- Raw sugar
Truly raw, unrefined sugar is not something one will find in the United States as it is illegal to sell. Those that are labeled as “raw” have gone through about half of the usual refining process in order to remove dirt, insect fragments and other particles.
Examples of these “raw” sugars are demerara, muscovado and turbinado sugars.
This granular sugar is made from the juice of organically grown sugarcane, and the process does not involve the use of chemical additives.
- Turbinado sugar
One of the “raw” sugars available on the market, turbinado sugar is similar to demerara sugar but consists of smaller crystals.
- White refined sugar (granulated sugar, table sugar, sucrose)
White refined sugar is derived from both sugarcane and sugar beets. This is the most commonly used form of sugar and has typically been bleached with sulfur dioxide. Sucrose, the chemical name, consists of half fructose and half glucose. This sugar comes in a variety of granulations, in addition to the typical granulated sugar.
- Coarse sugar: large crystals, normally used for decorating baked goods
- Superfine sugar: finer than regular granulated sugar; dissolves almost instantly; often used in drinks
- Confectioners’ sugar: crushed granulated sugar; often contains some added cornstarch to prevent clumping
- Barley malt syrup
This sweet syrup is created through slow-cooking dried barley grain sprouts. It is a common ingredient in malt beers, cereals and candy bars. Despite being half as sweet as white sugar, barley malt syrup has a high glycemic index rating causing the blood sugar to spike similarly to white sugar.
- Carob syrup
This syrup is used frequently in cakes, cookies, and often as a chocolate substitute. Carob fruit has wonderfully beneficial proteins and nutrients that are removed once the fruit is processed down into the syrup.
- High fructose corn syrup
One of the most commonly recognized, unhealthy sugars, corn syrup is used most commonly in fast food, sodas and cookies. This syrup is generally made from GMO corn by processing the starches in corn into sugar, and just one tablespoon contains 16 grams of carbohydrates. The removal of any particles results in light corn syrup while dark corn syrup has added caramel coloring and a stronger flavor.
Honey is certainly a unique sweetener. For ages, it has been praised as an incredible food, and rightly so. Nature’s sweetener has been found to contain antioxidants and was even used as a source of payment in ancient Rome. Made by bees from flower nectar, honey has magnificent properties, but must still be managed carefully as it is still very sweet and full of calories.
The flavor and color of honey depends on the source of the nectar, and typically, the darker the honey, the stronger the flavor. In addition to being sold in a liquid version, honey may be found in the following ways:
- Comb honey: liquid honey that is sold in the edible, chewy comb
- Chunk-style honey: liquid honey with bits of honeycomb in it
- Whipped honey/honey butter/creamed honey: honey that has been processed in such a way to give it a spreadable, smooth consistency
While honey is a naturally sweet product that is used as a better alternative to refined sugar, it is not one that can be given to children under 12 months old. Infants under one year do not have digestive systems that are mature enough to handle the spores in honey that can cause infant botulism.
Children older than 12 months and adults are not impacted by these spores.
- Malt syrup/malt extract
Malt syrup is a natural sweetener that is less sweet than honey and has an earthy flavor, but it is very high in carbohydrates and will cause the blood sugar to spike. It is created from ground corn and sprouted barley.
- Maple syrup
When sap is collected from the sugar-maple tree, boiled down and evaporated, maple syrup is the result. The process for this is very time-consuming, making pure maple syrup an expensive sweetener.
With very few nutrients and consisting of mostly sucrose, this sweetener should be used sparingly. There are several grades for maple syrup that correlate with their specific qualities.
- Grade AA (also called Fancy): light amber with a mild flavor
- Grade A: available in medium and dark amber with a mellow, delicate maple flavor
- Grade B: dark, full-bodied, strong maple flavor
- Grade C: the darkest maple syrup with a molasses-like flavor
Molasses is a byproduct of extracting sugar crystals from cane sugar and is high in iron and calcium. The downside of molasses is that it can have a laxative effect and can trigger allergies and asthma attacks.
This is usually the result of molasses with high sulfur content.
Molasses with high sulfur content has been made from green, immature sugar cane and treated with sulfur during the sugar extraction process. Unsulfured molasses is available and is made from the juice of sun-ripened sugarcane. It is a lighter molasses and is not as strong in flavor.
In addition to sulfured and unsulfured molasses, there are three categories of molasses based on their flavors and color:
- Light: the result of the first boiling of the sugar syrup
- Dark: the result of the second boiling of the sugar syrup
- Blackstrap: the result of the third boiling of the sugar syrup; the strongest, most bitter flavor
- Rice syrup
Sprouted barley and cooked brown rice are fermented in order to convert the starches to sugar. Rice syrup is a slow energy-releasing sugar, is not as sweet as sugar and is typically found in pies, cakes and granola bars.
- Sorghum molasses/sorghum syrup
Sorgum is a sweetener similar to molasses that is found in cereal, muffins, alcoholic beverages and cakes. While it consists of a high level of dietary fiber, it is also high in calories and carbohydrates.
Common Sugar Substitutes
This sugar substitute is made from aspartame (meaning it pure chemicals) and is a water-soluble, white powder. Only recently approved by the FDA in 2014, this sweetener is 20,000 times sweeter than sugar.
- Acesulfame-K (acesulfame potassium)
Used in soft drinks, candy, and baked goods, Ace-K is often combined with aspartame or sucralose. It passes through the body unaltered, and is thus a non-caloric sweetener. Common names include Sunett and Sweet One.
- Agave syrup
This syrup is a highly processed pulp from a dessert-dwelling agave cactus that has an extremely high amount of fructose in it. Depending on the brand, agave syrup can be between 56-92% fructose making it a sugar alternative that is not worth consuming!
Equal, NutraSweet and AminoSweet are the most common brand names under which aspartame is sold. Multiple large-scale studies have revealed that aspartame has shown no ability to prevent weight gain or promote weight loss, despite the idea that it being a low-calorie sweetener should promote weight loss.
Aspartame is made entirely from artificial chemicals and has been shown to lead to health issues including neurological damage. One byproduct of the breakdown of aspartame is formaldehyde, making this sweetener even more dangerous.
This is a crystalized form of glucose that has been liquefied and fermented with yeast. It is often derived from genetically modified corn and does not result in the same intestinal distress that may be caused by other sugar substitutes. In some animal studies, erythritol was found to be toxic in certain amounts.
A sugar alcohol made from sucrose that is often used in hard candies and cough drops, isomalt is about half the sweetness of sugar. It is a combination of gluco-sorbitol and gluco-mannitol.
Maltitol is a sweetener that is derived from hydrogenated maltose that has been obtained from starch. Excessive intake can impact the intestines producing gas, bloating and diarrhea.
Typically extracted from seaweed and found in almost all plants, mannitol is 50-70% as sweet as sugar and is used in food manufacturing. Because it moves slowly through the intestines, it is also known to cause bloating and diarrhea.
Known most commonly as Sweet’N’Low, saccharine has been linked to bladder cancer in animal studies. It is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar.
With a sweetness that is about half that of regular sugar, sorbitol is naturally occurring in some fruits and berries. The sorbitol that is used as an artificial sweetener and a thickener in candies and sugar-free gums, however, is manufactured from corn syrup. It is known to aggravate those who suffer from irritable bowel syndrome
Stevia is currently one of the highest-praised sugar substitutes on the market today. Due to its extraction from the stevia plant, it is considered a natural alternative.
Unfortunately, by the time it is processed into the compounds used in brands like Truvia and others, it is combined with other artificial sweeteners (erythritol) and has been processed just as much.
Instead of going with these brands, go for the pure extracts.
Sucralose is praised as being “derived from sugar”, leading people to believe that it is a natural, healthy alternative to sugar. It is between 320 and 1,000 times sweeter than regular sugar. To convert sugar into sucralose, there are many steps involving chlorination, making this sweetener one that should be avoided.
This is another common sugar alcohol that is typically made from birch tree bark. It can also be found naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. Its sweetness is comparable with sugar, and it tends to have a minty flavor that has made it desirable for use in sugar-free chewing gums.
As you can see, there are so many ways that sugar and chemically-made sugar substitutes can sneak into just about every packaged food. Consuming sugars from fruits and vegetables is the only way that the human body was designed to process them efficiently.
The other nutrients tend to off-set the negative side-effects of any sugars found in produce, not to mention those sugars are usually found in significantly smaller amounts.
If you choose to use a sugar substitute, be sure to research the ways in which that alternative may impact your health specifically.
Some substitutes can irritate or exaggerate certain health conditions. Also, be sure to read all of the ingredients that are in the brands you intend to buy as some may contain extra additives that will negate any “healthy” choices.
Do watch out for most of these sugar in your foods. Some of them can seriously damage your digestive system.
If you have a weak digestive system, and suffering from digestive issues, go to the next page and learn more about the 3 tips to reverse these digestive-related issues –
About the Author:
Emma Deangela is the best selling author of The Alkaline Diet Program and 80/20 Fat Loss. She has helped over tens of thousands of men and women to lose weight and transform their health with sound nutrition advice. Learn how you can lose weight fast – How to lose weight by adding these alkaline foods.
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