This is a common question nowadays. Are there any effects of sugar on your health?
Is it only white sugar? Or do we have to include also sweeteners, brown sugar, maple syrup, demerara, xylitol, stevia?
Well, let’s start this post from the beginning.
What is sugar and how is it produced?
The so-called sugar is in reality sucrose. Sucrose is a 2 molecules chemical compound (disaccharide) which is formed from 2 other simple sugars which are fructose and glucose. 100 grams of sucrose containers almost 400 kcal (392 to be exact) so it is intensively caloric giving to the body an instant source of energy which goes almost directly in the bloodstream causing a peak on insulin levels.
There are 2 main sources to produce sugar as we know. Sugar beet and Saccahrum officinarum, commonly know as sugarcane.
On the contrary of what people think it is not true that brown sugar comes from sugarcane and white one from other sources. It is only different steps in the process of transformation that gives sugar different shades of brown and different taste.
But why is so important to understand the effects of sugar on your health?
The reason is simple. Sugar is a source of empty calories. This means that it gives a huge amount of calories without bringing with it any other important nutrient that can be usefully utilized by your body. This increases the possibilities to develop cardiovascular diseases and diabetes.
Sugar is in some term considered a “cancer” of modern days. It has a good taste to which our palates had adjusted throughout the years, like salt, and when we remove gives us a sense of dissatisfaction.
But the problem is not properly addressed. Why? Because the real problem is not the added sugar, the one we add to our home-made coffees, teas, or even cakes. Even if we don’t add sugar ourselves we are continuously eating sugar, without knowing. All processed food and drinks are packed with added sugar. We know because is written (by law) on the labels, but we just don’t notice. In a later article, I will explain how labels work and how to avoid junk food, but now let’s focus on sugar.
How is this possible?
If we consider a single sugar sachet we are talking about 4 grams circa of sugar. To round off let’s say we are taking 16 calories with this sachet. Meaning if I add a single teaspoon or sachet of sugar in my coffee I am taking the 16 calories that come with it. If we look it in this way there is nothing to worry about as 16 calories are ridiculous if we compare it to the daily calories an individual needs.
Have a look at the table below to understand what I mean. You will understand that the spoon of sugar you add to your coffee is insignificant compared to the sugar you unknowingly consume every day. I also included the reference in sachets number
|FOOD/DRINK||QUANTITY||SUGAR CONTENT||SACHET NUMBER|
|Coca Cola Can||330 ml||35||9|
|Mars Bar (1)||50 grams||45||7|
|Fanta Bottle||500 ml||59||15|
|Schweppes Tonic Water||250 ml||22.5||5.5|
|Milkshake Mc Donald (Strawberry)||350 ml||79||20|
Now, do you agree with me? It is scaring, isn’t it?
But now a question arises. Is there any difference among the various types of sugars?
As I was discussing before, there are plenty of options around. But are there really any differences? For the moment let’s split into 2 groups. Artificial Sweeteners and Natural Sweeteners. We will define artificial those molecules which were not existing in nature, but were created in a lab, while natural will be the ones existing already (so I will include in this list fructose, stevia etc.)
The most used artificial sweeteners are: Acesulfame Potassium, Aspartame, Cyclamate, Sucralose
How to choose?
Usually, the main difference between natural and artificial sweeteners is that the artificial ones are specifically created to reduce or eliminate the number of calories needed. There is are many studies on artificial sweeteners trying to prove if these substances have or not any cancerogenic effects on our bodies, but at now there is no proof of this. That said I personally advise to use always natural sweeteners which are completely natural and have been deeply studied throughout the years. Now let’s have a look at the different type of sugars and sweeteners in details
- SUCROSE: Maybe the most uses and known type of sugar. Can be obtained from sugarcane or sugar beet. It is usually white or in different shades of brown depending on the molasse content. It is believed that the browner it is the less is processed, but this is not necessarily true. Most producers extend the production until the very last step, and then in a second moment add the extracted molasse in a certain percentage to obtain the different types (brown, demerara, muscovado etc.). It provides 392 calories per 100 grams of products and its use it is linked to caries, cardiovascular diseases, obesity and it is thought to be the main factor in developing type 2 diabetes. Sucrose is a disaccharide which means its molecule it is composed of 2 different compounds (Fructose and Glucose)
- FRUCTOSE: is the so-called sugar from fruit. And it is very true. It is a monosaccharide naturally present in fruit. Being a simpler compound, as it is a single molecule, it gets absorbed faster in your body even if it has a slower absorption than sucrose. The problem is it can’t be stored in muscles like sucrose, but only in your liver. It provides 362 calories per 100 grams. The morning is the best time of the day to consume it as it is immediately used to produce glycogen. It is linked to caries, cardiovascular diseases. Recent studies seem to confirm that it hasn’t bad effects on people with diabetes, but studies are still ongoing.
- XYLITOL: It is a sugar alcohol. 100 grams gives about 243 calories. It is extracted from hardwood or corncobs and then hydrolyzed. In excessive quantities can cause gastrointestinal discomfort, flatulence or diarrhoea. It is known to have good properties to prevent cavities, even more than fluoride. Being less caloric can be used as an alternative to prevent obesity.
- MANNITOL: It is naturally found in algae, plane tree and fungi. It is usually obtained by hydrogenation of fructose for industrial purposes or extracted with ethanol and methanol as a natural extraction. Provides circa 237 calories per 100 grams. It is not a very powerful sweetener so it is commonly used together with sorbitol
I won’t tell anything about artificial sweeteners. I sincerely don’t suggest their use. Even if Aspartame and Acesulfame Potassium have been cleared of the accusation of being cancerogenic, I always suggest and prefer the natural way.
What about Stevia?
In the Natural Sweeteners category, a place of honour goes to Stevia. This sweetener is naturally obtained from a plant called Stevia rebaudiana and the main difference between Stevia and all other natural sweeteners is that it does not contain any calories. The sweet taste comes from active ingredients like Stevioside and Rebaudioside A which in their state have not nutritional power and still have a sweetener power around 250 more intense than normal sucrose. Stevia is my personal choice when I need to add a sweet taste to my food, drink or recipes.
Then what do I suggest as the best to use? Well, the best sugar is the one you don’t use. Sweet taste is something artificial that we created. Honey, the first known sweetener, is something completely natural, but until 100 years ago was used very wisely. Now we tend to idolize the sweet taste and we don’t understand how our generation is a slave to sugar. I want to highlight the video below. Is a TED TALK from Jamie Oliver, the famous British chef. I think will open your eyes more than I did wit this article.
I am only left to say, Eat well, Live Well an Smile (and I add reduce sugar)! 🙂