Sugar Is Sugar By Any Other Name

(DougCookRD.com) Sugar_Via TsujiSugar is the new fat, or maybe it’s the new sodium since fat took a harder beating a couple of decades earlier than sodium did. If you haven’t been tuned in, sugar is being blamed for everything from heart disease, to cancer, to diabetes, weight gain, dementia, and even homicide in some circles [especially those that suggest sugar is as ‘addictive’ as cocaine – see my post on this topic here].

There’s no denying that our current consumption is a little out of control; according to Statistics Canada, an adult’s average intake of added/free sugars [not including the stuff that’s naturally found in food] is about 53 g, or 12 1/2 teaspoons per day. This might not sound like a whole lot but that works out to almost 20 kg [44 pounds] per year; even higher in adolescent boys.

The good news is, consumption of added sugar in Canada has been stable or modestly declining over the past 30 years.

There’s also no denying the mounting evidence that excessive sugar consumption has been implicated in a host of chronic degenerative diseases; that’s not in dispute. What is however, is the idea that some forms of refined/extracted sugar are healthier than others.

The many faces of sugar

When we talk about the added/free sugars in the food supply, we’re really talking about glucose and fructose; both of which can come from various sources: sucrose or table sugar, syrups, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, and fruit juice concentrates and the like. These make up the bulk of the sources of added sugars.

Sugar goes by several different names, some more obvious than others so reading ingredient lists is helpful. A small example of the different aliases of sugar include:

  • agave
  • barley malt
  • brown rice syrupHoneycomb_bionicgrrrl
  • coconut sugar
  • corn sugar
  • dextran
  • dextrose
  • fruit juice
  • glucose
  • fructose
  • fruit juice
  • glucose-fructose
  • glucose solids
  • invert sugar
  • maltose
  • maltodextrin
  • molasses
  • turbinado
  • yellow sugar

They all provide carbohydrate in the form of sugar(s) and all provide about 16 calories per 5 ml, or 1 teaspoon. While it is possible to detect differences in other nutrients among the different sources, i.e. white vs. brown vs. honey, those differences are what’s called ‘nutritionally insignificant‘; the amounts are too small to be a source of nutrition and  positively affect human health.

Anyone who says honey is an important source of B vitamins, for example, is gonna have to put their money where their mouth is. Of course anyone who asks for evidence to back up such assertions is seen as a bully, i.e. me or is faced with ‘be nice’ because after all, to make anyone feel uncomfortable by asking for proof, which can’t be given, is just mean.

What AM I thinking?

Coconut, and palm, and organic. Oh my!

The idea that one type of sugar is healthier than another is not new. If you’re old enough, you’ll remember that brown sugar, honey and turbinado, sugar where the darlings of the anti white-death table sugar movement. Nowadays there’s no shortage of alternatives like agave, raw cane, coconut, coconut palm, yacon syrup and more, not including the added way to filter your selection, organic vs. conventional. Talk about over-complicating things.

While it’s true that sugars can vary in flavour, texture, sweetness and coarseness based on the source and degree of refinement, this only changes their cooking properties but makes no difference on the total amount of calories, carbohydrate or nutritional value with the exception of molasses. Molasses is used as a sweetener as it’s the goo that’s extracted from sugar cane during refinement to make white sugar. Molasses will have a decent amount of potassium, some calcium, magnesium, and a whiff of vitamin B3 & B6.

And that’s OK

I for one prefer honey over white sugar on top of my fruit and yogurt bowl or brown sugar instead of honey in my oatmeal because I think they taste better with those foods; it’s irrelevant that there’s no nutritional difference because I’m not adding them for nutrition but rather to enhance the natural flavours of the other foods.

You’ll never get the nutrients you need from sugar(s); to think otherwise is just plain silly. To try would require eating larger amounts which would defeat the purpose. We’re trying to reduce our consumption of sugar; remember?

Photo credit [Flickr, Creative Commons]: Via Tsuji, bionicgrrrl

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