The good, bad and ugly sugars…

box of Christmas cookies

Recent research shows that added sugars to common foodstuffs are the main sources of sugar our bodies intake.

Due to heightened risks of diabetes, cancer, heart disease, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends strongly that we all reduce our daily intake of sugar to just 5% of our total calorie intake which is around 7 teaspoons per day.

We are not just talking of sugar in tea, coffee and fizzy pop but added sugars to foods, these are not all the same type of sugar but vary greatly, some are not sugar at all like sweeteners. Any extra sugar added to our food is known and classified as being ‘free sugars’, these types of added sugar are not necessarily healthy for you but give a feeling of wellbeing and energy with the onset of the ‘sugar rush’, this can make them addictive.

We are conditioned throughout our lives to see and taste that sugary taste with associated pleasures, from having candy as a child for being well behaved, having some cake at a celebration to having a ‘sweet’ or pudding after dinner.

The free sugars are quickly absorbed into our bloodstreams and give pleasure with an associated energy boost, we like this and look forward to it, unfortunately, once the energy is depleted we then get a ‘sugar crash’ which in turn makes us want more sugar.

The cycle continues.

With all these added excess free sugars, they are not necessary and do not lead to a healthy or balanced diet, they should be controlled some. This is not such an easy task at times as the food manufacturers do not need to list individual sugars but actually the whole overall content, some foods have more than one type of sugar (or sweetener) included.

When we think of ‘sugar’ we often look to the refined white table sugar, this is not actually the case but is used as a wider term sweet-tasting and energy-dense carbohydrates.

Table sugar is a disaccharide, this is a molecule compound composed of two monosaccharides being glucose and fructose (one water molecule is removed during processing), it is refined from a number of plants that contain differing sugars, these natural sugars are produced during photosynthesis and then stored in the plants as sucrose, this is then refined to produce the white stuff we are all used to, if you are interested, the molecular formula is:

(2R,3R,4S,5S,6R)-2-[(2S,3S,4S,5R)-3,4-dihydroxy-2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)oxolan-2-yl]oxy-6-(hydroxymethyl)oxane-3,4,5-triol

On food packaging sugars are listed differently (if not just as ‘sugar/sugars’):
Agave nectar

  • Corn syrup
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Golden syrup
  • Honey
  • Hydrolysed starch
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Molasses
  • Rice malt syrup
  • Sucrose

By looking at the nutrition label, you can tell if the product has a low or high sugar content: If above 25g (per 100g) it has a high sugar level, if below 5g (per 100g), the sugar level is low and so it is definitely worth looking over your weekly shop to see if you can cut down on sugars (these can be particularly high in processed foods).

It can take some time to get used to the taste of foods with less sugar but it is possible, once this has been achieved you will enjoy natural sugars more than ever and be healthier overall to boot.