Sugar: Good, bad or just misunderstood?

When doing my research for this blog one thing became very apparent – for every argument against sugar there was an equal and opposite argument for. So when I came across this quote, I thought to myself the answer lies somewhere here:

“We actually need sugar; it’s our body’s preferred fuel,” says Dr David Katz, Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center. “We just eat too damn much of it.”

The average woman can comfortably ingest and burn about 6 teaspoons per day, while it’s about 9
teaspoons per day for the average man. That is approximately a little less than is in a can of soft drink. Any more than that and you’re headed for trouble. The average American consumes, consciously or not, about 28 teaspoons per day. I figure we Australians are about the same on the global obesity scale, so putting two and two together I came up with the conclusion that we probably eat about the same amount of sugar.

Because it’s so cheap sugar has found it’s way into almost every processed food imaginable, from biscuits to yoghurt to sauces and salad dressings; and everything we drink such as sports drinks, soft drinks and fruit juices.

Without going into a deep scientific explanation of what sugar is exactly, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and table sugar (sucrose) is made up of two smaller sugar molecules – glucose and fructose. Glucose is good, needed by the body for energy, and fructose, according to some scientists, is the devil! But as always, there are others who are a bit kinder than that.

But haven’t we heard all this before?

I remember when we were told oat bran was the best thing for us so it was put into everything. Then we were told all types of fats were the devil so everything became low or no-fat. It’s since been revealed that some fats are good, and our diest actually need to be 25-30% good fats! Then it was carbs that were the devil, but now some carbs are good, while some are bad. Is anyone as confused as I am? And what is the next nugget of golden advice going to be for us all?

So if sugar is now the devil, what should we look out for? Companies have become quite tricky at hiding sugar in the ingredients list. We’ve become more educated when it comes to food labels, with ingredients listed from the largest amount in a particular product to the lowest. However companies are now breaking up sugar as a whole into several different types thus pushing them all further towards the end of the ingredients list. Tricky buggers!

So here are a few names you should look out for in an ingredients list that all mean the same thing – sugar.

Dextrose, fructose, honey, invert sugar, raw sugar, malt syrup, sucrose, xylose, molasses, corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, evaporated cane juice, crystal-line fructose, barley malt, beet sugar, caramel, laevulose, D-fructofuranose, D-arabino-hexulose…basically anything that ends in -ose is sugar.

Now my head hurts. What should we eat that tastes sweet but won’t hurt us?

It might surprise you that a lot of what we’ve been told to eat as a replacement is actually not that great for you either. Sugar in the raw is no better than normal sugar. For example, a recent trend was to use agave nectar, but it turns out that’s even worse. It’s main constituent, fructose, gets held up in the liver more than any other type of sugar. Some natural sweeteners like honey have trace nutrients, but they’re all the same as sugar in terms of calories, if not more!

Here’s a list:

Granulated Sugar: 1 cup = 720 calories
Science Says: Composed of 50% glucose, 50% fructose, this pure white sugar has been processed so has few minerals and antioxidants.

Agave Nectar: 1 cup = 960 calories
Science Says: Agave contains up to 90% fructose — the most of any of the sweeteners mentioned here.

Honey: 1 cup = 960 calories
Science Says: Delivers slightly more fructose than glucose. Honey’s antioxidant quantity varies greatly based on type; buckwheat honey typically delivers the most.

Molasses: 1 cup = 960 calories
Science Says: About 50% each glucose and fructose, dark molasses has the highest antioxidant levels of all sweeteners (per serving, similar to levels in nuts and berries). Molasses is the crushed up plant material with or without some of the sugars removed. It has some nutrients, but not really a significant amount. Its real value is its characteristic taste and a mild antioxidant quality that can delay the spoilage of food to which it is added.

Turbinado (Raw Sugar): 1 cup = 720 calories
Science Says: 50% fructose and 50% glucose, the brown colour comes from small amounts of molasses that haven’t been stripped out. Turbinado sugar is raw sugar washed just enough to meet filth tolerance laws, but might still have impurities.

Maple Syrup: 1 cup = 800 calories
Science Says: About 50-50 glucose and fructose (depending on grade), it contains small amounts of polyphenols—antioxidants that help quell inflammation.

Date Sugar: 1 cup = 480 calories
Science Says: Made from ground dates, it delivers all the nutrients in dates, including potassium and calcium—and is similar in antioxidants to molasses.

Brown Rice Syrup: 1 cup = 1,200 calories
Science Says: This sweetener made news in 2012 when researchers detected high levels of the carcinogen arsenic in products made with it. That can’t be good!

Corn Syrup: 1 cup = 960 calories
Science Says: Not to be confused with high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup contains less fructose and isn’t as processed as HFCS.

Coconut Sugar: 1 cup = 720 calories
Science Says: Made from coconut nectar, it’s low on the glycemic index. But because it’s so new, there’s very limited research available.

Cane Syrup (also called golden, refinery or refiner’s syrup): 1 cup = 960 calories
Science Says: Made from boiled-down sugarcane, cane syrup is about 50/50 fructose and glucose.

For me the answer is simple. Enjoy sweets but do so in moderation. The problem is our serving sizes have grown way out of proportion to what we actually need. For example soft drinks used to come in 200ml bottles, now they come in 600ml bottles that contain 16 teaspoons of sugar.

At Hot Choccy we use both sugar and Stevia in our products, however we will continue to monitor this and possibly make changes in the not to distant future. We promote a balanced life philosophy where we try and keep as fit and healthy as possible, but enjoy something occasionally that just tastes great. After all, what’s the point of being healthy if you can’t enjoy yourself and be naughty once in a while!

So enjoy a balanced diet containing fruit, vegetables, protein, essential fatty acids, and yes, a limited amount of sugary treats.

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