Sugar – Understanding the Sweet element of our meals!
Sugar is an essential element of the food we take for our sustenance. Right from the birth, a baby consumes natural sugar through her mother’s milk and our relationship with it just builds on from there. Despite its important role in our existence, Sugar has now become one of the major culprits behind vastly spreading health disorders such as Diabetes, Hypertension, and even Fatty Liver Disease! And here we come to this innate question – Is Sugar good for us or bad for us? And the answer to this question is of course not as simple as Sugar has been introduced in our lives in multiple complex and hideous ways.
Natural Sugar vs Processed Sugar!
It is important to understand that there lies a huge difference between natural sugar and unnatural or processed/added/refined sugars as they have come to be known in the market. While the natural sugar is good for our body, processed sugar has multiple side effects when taken on a regular basis. To look for ourselves we should differentiate between the types of processed sugar variations present in the market today. We should either reduce or if possible totally avoid these versions and consume the natural sugar instead.
Natural sugar is present in plant based and animal based food products such as fruits, vegetables, seeds, milk, and honey. Besides natural sources, humans have advanced to introduce various processed forms of sugar that are having detrimental effects on our physical and mental well being.
Image Credit: Industrial Specialist
Processed sugars are produced by multiple chemical processing of sugarcane juice. This process involves the removal of all fibre, protein, vitamins and minerals, which is roughly 90 per cent of the whole plant. In addition, it is bleached with gaseous sulphur dioxide and passed through a filter. It is then heated to evaporate off the water content and the remaining concentrate crystallises into a bright white form that we are now familiar with.
Natural Sugar is essential to the functioning of the body!
Our bodies would stop to work legitimately if there is no sugar consumption. Naturally occurring sugars in fruits, vegetables, milk, and others such as honey are beneficial to our health.
For Example, the fruits consist of simple sugars called Fructose, ample amount of fibre, and plenty of vitamins and minerals. While, the fructose in fruits furnishes our body with immediate energy; fibre (a complex carbohydrate is assimilated slowly and released as Glucose into our bloodstream) offsets fructose’s impact, leading to long-lasting energy to the body.
Sugars in dairy products are also beneficial for our body as they furnish us with different nutrients as well. Complex sugars such as whole grains and starchy vegetables contain natural, hence healthy sugars and other essential micronutrients.
Brown Sugar is also processed sugar but has slightly better nutritional value than white sugar.
Processed Sugar has zero nutritional value and contains empty calories!
Because of the removal of the naturally occurring nutritional content, refined/processed version is described as having empty calories and is deficient of any nutritional value. In fact, it taxes the body’s vitamin and mineral reserves through its demands on digestion, detoxification and elimination. Without the naturally occurring nutrients from the original whole plant, the digestion of refined sugar leads to the formation of toxins.
In addition, refined wheat flour, which is also classified as a simple sugar, has a similar effect on digestion. Both refined sugar and refined wheat flour are known as fast or rapid burning carbohydrates or high Glycemic-Index foods. This means they are digested quickly; entering the bloodstream immediately and causing a sudden and sharp rise in blood glucose levels.
High Fructose Corn Syrup is often added to processed foods to sweeten them up. It is one of the most harmful forms of processed sugars present today.
Identification of Processed/Refined/Added Sugars in our diet
The majority of sugars in modern diet are those added to foods and drinks during their processing and preparation. To spot added sugars or sweeteners in a product, you need to look beyond the nutritional information and get down to understand and read the list of ingredients.
Some examples of what you might find in the list are:
- Anhydrous dextrose (or any word ending with ‘ose’)
- Brown sugars
- Cane crystals
- Cane sugars
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Corn syrup solids
- Crystal dextrose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Fructose sweetener
- Fruit juice Concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup or HFCS
- Liquid fructose
- Malt syrup
- Maple syrup
- Pancake syrup
- Raw sugars
- White sugars
Other types that you may commonly see on ingredient lists are fructose, lactose and maltose. Fructose is derived from fruits and vegetables; lactose is obtained from milk, and maltose is obtained from grain.
Some of the lesser known versions include carbitol, concentrated fruit juice, corn sweetener, evaporated cane juice, galactose, glucitol, glucoamine, hexitol, malted barley, malts, nectars, pentose, raisin syrup, ribose rice syrup, rice malt, rice syrup solids, and xylose.
A word of caution!
On nutrition facts labels, ingredients are listed and the list identifies whether a product contains a lot of sugar or just a small amount. Products that list the sources near the top of the ingredient list or have several types of added sugar throughout the list have high processed sugars. So, from next time make sure you check the labels and plan your diet accordingly.