Sugar is such a hot topic in the nutritional health world and with reason! From doctors saying that sugar is the worse drug out there, to others saying that sugar isn't the real enemy, it can all leave us very confused.
During my one-year health coaching certification journey with the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, I learned a lot about sugar from numerous sources/doctors/speakers and I am going to share all of the knowledge I have gained about this tricky food with you. Warning: this will be a long post, but you will not be disappointed!
First of all...
WHAT IS SUGAR?
Sugars are carbohydrates, composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Sugars come in a variety of forms, but can be distinguished easily (at least on paper) by their chemical structure. The main structures are monosaccharides, disaccharides, and polysaccharides.
STRUCTURES OF SUGAR
- MONOSACCHARIDES are simple sugars and include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose, and galactose.
- DISACCHARIDES are also simple sugars and occur as a result of two monosaccharides combining. They include sucrose, lactose, and maltose. (EX: Cane - or granulated - sugar is a disaccharide in the form of sucrose)
- POLYSACCHARIDES are commonly known as complex carbohydrates (complex sugars). They are a combination of several monosaccharides and include starch and glycogen. (EX: Bread (white or whole grain) is a polysaccharide in the form of starch)
Off paper, sugars are not as easily distinguished. They all have very different effects on the body despite having a similar appearance, and they are found in our foods with confusing names like ethyl maltol, dextran, molasses, and maltodextrin, to name a few. No wonder we are all so confused about sugar.
Simple sugars (monosaccharides and disaccharides) are the most basic form of sugar and are easy to digest. When you consume a food containing simple sugar, or a combination of simple sugars such as sucrose or high fructose corn syrup, your body must first break them down into the most basic components –> glucose and fructose.
- Sucrose (table sugar, granulated cane, or beet sugar): 50% Fructose + 50% Glucose
- High fructose corn syrup: 55% Fructose + 45% Glucose
GLUCOSE VS. FRUCTOSE
- GLUCOSE: The body’s primary source of energy. The body breaks down carbohydrates into glucose and uses the product for energy. Glucose can also be created from protein or fat by the liver and kidneys.
- FRUCTOSE: Naturally occurs in many plants. Fructose is found in whole foods like fruits and vegetables, and it can also be consumed in the form of honey, molasses, and maple syrup. In more processed forms, it can be consumed as agave nectar and crystalline fructose.
When fructose is combined with glucose, it forms sucrose and high fructose corn syrup.
METABOLISM OF GLUCOSE AND FRUCTOSE IN THE BODY
Let's take a look at how differently glucose and fructose react and digest in our bodies:
As seen above, glucose is much better welcomed by the body then fructose. When it comes to sweeteners like agave and honey, I want you to keep in mind their glucose vs fructose ratios.
- Agave is 90% fructose - 1 tablespoon of agave = 60 calories
- Table sugar is 50% fructose - 1 tablespoon of table sugar = 48 calories
- Honey is 45% fructose - 1 tablespoon of honey = 64 calories
- Maple syrup is 45% fructose - 1 tablespoon of maple syrup = 54 calories
- Dates are 33% fructose - 1 date = 20 calories
Opting for sweeteners that have na equal ratio of fructose to glucose or higher glucose levels (honey, maple syrup, dates) are all a better option then those with a higher percentage of fructose (agave and table sugar).
Next time you want to sweeten a baking recipe, smoothie, or your morning oatmeal, ditch the bottled sweetener and opt for fruits like dates, bananas, or apple sauce.
THE SUGAR SHAKEDOWN
When fructose is consumed moderately in the form of fruits and vegetables, most people can break it down easily. A modest amount of fresh fruit and sugar-rich vegetables (ex: carrots and sweet potatoes) as part of a balanced diet isn’t the problem – it’s the added sugars that we need to watch. These include any sugars or sweeteners added to your foods and beverages during processing or preparation.
Many sweeteners are chemically altered to contain concentrated amounts of fructose, and despite heavy processing are marketed as “natural.” Increasing global sugar consumption paired with a trend of excess overall caloric intake is a recipe for obesity and chronic disease.
Try lowering your sugar intake by reducing the amount of processed food you eat and incorporating more whole foods with naturally occurring sugars (fresh fruits and vegetables).
HOW MUCH SUGAR ARE YOU CONSUMING?
Surveys completed by the USDA show that sugar consumption has increased almost annually since 1982. Sources of sugar include cane sugar, beet sugar, corn syrup, and corn sugar to name a few. The cause of this increase is related to added sugars within a wide variety of popular soft drinks and processed junk foods.
Soda consumption has increased dramatically since earlier decades with major soft drink corporations raking in billions of dollars every year. It’s estimated that approximately 33% of added sugar intake is solely from soft drink consumption. Ads for different soda brands are commonly seen in magazines, on billboards, on TV, and in movies. What these beverage corporations don’t advertise is that soft drinks have been shown to increase the risk of obesity, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, cancer, and other diseases! Grosssssss!
So, just HOW MUCH SUGAR IS TOO MUCH?
According to the 2015 World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines, too much sugar is defined as more than 10% of an individual’s total daily calorie intake.
What does that mean exactly? For the average person consuming 2,000 calories per day, 10% of the total calories would mean 50 grams of sugar or 12.5 teaspoons.
IS THIS YOU?
It has been shown that the average working mom is consuming about 48 teaspoons of sugar a day, while the "healthy" eater is consuming about 23.9 teaspoons of sugar a day. And remember, the recommended amount is 12.5 teaspoons a day!!!
I don't want to make you go crazy and start calculating your sugar intake on the daily. Actually, I don't want you to try to consume 12.5 teaspoons or less of sugar a day. However, I do want you to eliminate the processed sugar from your diet!!!
I have 3 big recommendations for you:
- Sweeten your food at home with fresh fruit like dates and bananas.
- Eat more fruits and sweet vegetables to naturally and nutritiously satisfy your sweet tooth (Ex: grapes, strawberries, watermelon, carrots, onions, beets, winter squash, sweet potatoes, yams, turnips, parsnips)
- Skip the processed food (and if you so eat it, look for foods with no added sugar or sweetened naturally with real foods like fruits and vegetables)
Here is a good and bad example of 2 granola bars:
This Fiber One bar below contain sugars in the form of: corn syrup, sugar, sugarcane fiber, fructose, and malt extract (+ a very long list of unrecognizable ingredients).
This Larabar, on the other hand, only has only one sugar source in its bar: dates.
You may notice that the Fiber One bar has 7g of sugar while the Larabar has 22g. At first you might be drawn to the Fiber One bar; however, all of its sweetness is coming from the wrong places, plus its long ingredient list (25 to be exact) is not at all ideal. It is much healthier to go for the Larabar that is sweetened with a fruit and it has only 5 ingredients that we all recognize and love!
Now that you have all of this info, what can you tell me in the comments below about your current sugar intake? Where are you getting most of your sugars from? Is it mostly from processed sugars or from fruits and vegetables?
Is there something on this topic I did not cover and you would like to learn more about?
And let me know what you guys are struggling with that you would like to get more info from me, or any healthy and plant based recipe requests.
Thank you for stopping by!