With more evidence emerging that our sugar intakes are too high and it’s causing us harm, there is lots of talk of “sugar free” substitutes and recipes on the market. Lately, I’ve been seeing recipes and statements about foods “sugar free” when really, what it is is a different type of sugar. Here we look at some of the different sugars and sweeteners that are out there and what’s sugar and what’s not.
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Glucose: the sugar we have in our blood. Our cells use glucose as their primary source of energy. Dextrose which is derived from corn, is chemically the same as glucose.
Fructose: is the primary sugar found in fruit. Fructose has a low glycemic index and is sweeter in taste than glucose. Some evidence suggests that a high intake of fructose is associated with increased weight gain and metabolic problems. In fruit and vegetables, fructose doesn’t pose an issue as it comes with nutrients and fibre. Minimise added fructose intake.
Dextrose: biochemically the same as glucose, but it’s derived from corn.
Sucrose: table sugar. It’s made up of identical amounts of glucose and fructose which are chemically bound together. This bond is quickly broken during digestion in the small intestine, leaving free glucose and fructose.
High Fructose Corn Syrup: this has had a lot of negative press, but the fact is that it’s not all that different from table sugar in terms of its ratio of glucose and fructose. High fructose corn syrup isn’t really that high in fructose – it contains about 45% glucose and 55% fructose, but while sucrose contains these two chemically linked together, in HFCS they are separated. HFCS should be limited in the diet in the same respect as any other sugar. The other issue with HFCS is that if it comes from the USA, it’s most likely genetically modified to resist herbicides and/or insects.
Agave Nectar: has much higher concentrations of fructose than either sucrose or HSFC. Because of it’s high fructose content, it’s definitely not a healthy alternative to sugar.
Palm sugar: is minimally processed, making it popular among those who like to avoid processed foods. But it’s still sugar and should be used in moderation
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Sweet but not sugar[/typography]
Birch Sugar (Xylitol) is a relative of sugar – a sugar alcohol. It has almost the same sweetness as sucrose, but only 2/3 of the calories. Consumption of xylitol can cause gastrointestinal issues such as bloating and flatulence, and excess consumption can have a laxative effect.
Stevia is a herb that is 300 times sweeter than sugar. It contains no calories and has no effect on blood glucose levels. Stevia has a slightly bitter, licorice after taste meaning it’s taste isn’t the same as sugar. Manufactures of stevia have been researching ways to mask the bitter aftertaste of stevia, but the issue with this that it loses its “natural” status.
Artificial sweeteners: there is much controversy around artificial sweeteners. You can read some of the science around it here. I believe that at current levels of consumption, they are probably safe, but many choose to avoid them for more natural alternatives (me included). It will be interesting to see what new research shows on their safety.
Stay tuned for part 2…