It’s obvious that most cakes, biscuits, sodas and ice creams are sugar saturated, however many people aren’t aware of the added sugars in ketchup, salad dressings, peanut butter and oatmeal. Packaged foods are often labelled “all natural”, “organic”, “vegan”, and “gluten-free”, therefore many people assume the foods are healthy. A seemingly healthy yogurt drink can be 6 teaspoons of sugar, which according to the World Health Organization, should be the daily limit for children. The prevalence of added sugars is frightening, but reading nutritional labels, as well as being aware of the numerous nicknames for sugar can make a world of difference for one’s well-being.
There are over 61 different names for sugar. As a rule of thumb, anything ending in “ose”, like dextrose, lactose and glucose, are all sugars. Glucose and fructose are among the most common types and are frequently found together. They vary in that glucose can be stored and used in almost any part of the body, but fructose is almost only used in the liver. This means that too much fructose consumption will be faster to cause insulin resistance, metabolic diseases, fatty liver disease, and type 2 diabetes. Here’s a list of other common sugars to look out for:
Sucrose: Also called “table sugar”, it’s the most common type of sugar. Generally, table sugar is extracted from sugar cane and sugar beets. Consists of 50% glucose and 50% fructose.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): A sugar which is artificially derived from corn starch. This well-known processed sugar can be found in soda, breads, cookies, ice creams, and nutrition bars among many other foods.
Maltodextrin: A highly processed white powder which acts as a preservative and thickener.
Artificial sweeteners have zero calories, which means that through strategic use of them it is possible to lose weight, but this doesn’t necessarily make them healthier than sugar. One such artificial sweetener is the infamous aspartame, which has been linked to 90 serious health problems including various types of cancer, headaches, seizures and epilepsy. A study revealed that patients who had 21 diet drinks per week, were twice as likely to become overweight when compared with patients who didn’t. Dr. David Ludwig from Boston Children’s Hospital says that artificial sweeteners “are far more potent than table sugar and high-fructose corn syrup. A minuscule amount produces a sweet taste comparable to that of sugar, without comparable calories. Overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes.” This means that regular use of these extremely sweet artificial sweeteners, will cause natural foods like fruits and vegetables to lose their appeal and taste bad. In this way, artificial sweeteners may prompt people to consume more highly sweetened and unwholesome foods, thus gaining weight, instead of fuelling up on fruits and vegetables which keep you full for longer.
Naturally occurring sweeteners
Lots of people believe that honey, jaggery and brown sugar are healthy alternatives to processed white sugar. However, it is crucial to remember that naturally occurring sweeteners are still sugars and they should not be overconsumed. Stick to 5 teaspoons of sugar. Let’s take a closer look at these natural sugars:
Honey: Since it’s less processed than white sugar, honey contains small amounts of amino acids, antioxidants, enzymes and vitamins. In the end, honey is mostly just sugar; Generally, honey is 30% fructose and 40% glucose, which means it has less fructose than table sugar or sucrose. Local honey can be more beneficial since it helps your body become immune to local pollen, therefore reducing allergies. Be careful to check the source of the honey, as some brands add sugar.
Jaggery: An unrefined sugar, which is made from both sugar cane and palm. India produces most of the world’s supply of jaggery. This natural sweetener has some nutrients when compared to refined sugar, but like honey it is mostly just sugar. Jaggery is generally composed of 90% sucrose and 10% of glucose and fructose.
Brown sugar: Contrary to popular belief, brown sugar is basically the same as white sugar since it contains tiny amounts of minerals. Most brown sugars are simply refined white sugar with a little coating of molasses added back on for the brown colour.
Checking nutritional labels for carbohydrates and sugar
Check the serving size: Many foods appear to have less sugar content because they are only accounting for the sugar in a small, often unrealistic, serving size.
Total carbohydrates: The total carbohydrates subtracted by the fibre content will give you the total amount of sugar. The values on these labels may be in grams, which is hard unit to visualise. To convert grams to teaspoons, simply divide by 4.
Read the ingredients: Search for hidden sugars, hiding behind nicknames. If you can’t pronounce some of the ingredients you probably shouldn’t eat them. Also look out for artificial colours which can be cancerous.
Homemade is healthiest
It’s confusing to discern which foods are healthy, let alone how to eat a balanced diet, due to modern advertisements which glorify junk food. There are many contradictions regarding nutrition and a balanced diet, but one universal truth is that added sugars can be detrimental for your health. Remember that healthy looking packaging isn’t enough. Always read the nutritional value and ingredients of processed foods! Otherwise, stay on the safe side and make your own snacks and meals at home. Home-made food will always be the healthiest, and therefore the best option.