Everywhere I look people seem to be taking about sugar. Every second celebrity chef, journalist and even the guy who sold me my car is preaching about the damage that different kinds of sugar have on our health, and why we should all be quitting “the sweet stuff”.
A large systematic review and meta-analysis that looked into the effect of sugar and body weight actually found that sugar, including fructose, was not ‘fattening’ when compared to other foods. However when eaten in excess most forms of sugar, especially that in soft drinks, were found to promote weight gain and body fatness.
So why is everyone hating on sugar? Why has the World Health Organisation recommended that sugar only make up less than five precent of total energy intake? Essentially it’s because sugar increases the energy density of food, and as we all know, the more kilojoules you eat, and the less you expend, the more weight you will gain.
So what is sugar? – A quick chemistry lesson
The term “sugar” generally refers to sweet-tasting carbohydrates with the chemical formula Cn(H2O)n. To put it simply, there are two types of simple carbohydrates that make up what we know as sugar today; monosaccharides and disaccharides.
Monosaccharides are the simplest form of sugar, made up of one molecule. This can come in the form of glucose, fructose or galactose and cannot be broken down further by the body. It is important to note that glucose is one of the most important sources of energy in the body, powering almost every single cell!
Disaccharides on the other hand, are sugars made up of two molecules (di = 2), combing two different sugars together into a packaged deal. These sugars can’t be absorbed into the blood in their package, and have to be broken down into the individual monosaccharides before they can be absorbed. The best known disaccharides are sucrose, lactose and maltose, which are combinations of the aforementioned monosaccarides.
Traditionally the white sugar that we keep in our cupboards is derived from sugar cane or the root of the sugar bean plant, and is actually sucrose (made from the monosaccharides glucose and fructose). However these days different sugars are coming from all over the place – think coconut sugar, agave syrup, high fructose corn syrup… the list goes on.
The sugar index
Did you know there are now over 50 different names for sugar? With the plethora of names it is no wonder that everyone is so confused. Today I will try and expose the many different ways in which sugar is now labelled. But remember, regardless of its name, colour or price it is still sugar!
So, here is my fool-proof guide to sugar and all its different names.
Agave nectar – A sugar syrup derived from the Agave plant with a very high fructose content. Agave has become very popular in recent years due to being low GI, but it actually contains more fructose than table sugar!
Brown rice syrup – A sugar syrup derived from brown rice that is basically 100% glucose.
Brown sugar – Simply a refined white sugar with molasses added to it.
Coconut sugar – An increasingly popular type of sugar that is derived from the sap of the coconut plant. Although it is believed that coconut sugar contains some minerals such as Iron, Zinc, Calcium and Potassium, it still contains the same amount of sugar and kilojoules as regular sugar.
Demerara sugar – Similar in colour and flavour to brown sugar, Demerara is a partially refined sugar that has a natural caramel-like flavour
Dextrose – A form of glucose derived from starch that is most commonly used in commercial baking.
Fructose – A simple sugar commonly found in fruit that also makes up part of sucrose. Although the fructose in fruit is digested that same way as the fructose in processed foods, fruit also contains a range of vitamins and minerals that are not found processed foods!
Fruit juice concentrate – A concentrated fruit mixture made from the crystals left after the liquid is evaporated from fresh fruit juice. This has longer shelf life than fresh juice and can be diluted to produce juice when needed.
Galactose – a sugar that is not as sweet as sucrose and is commonly found in dairy products, sugar beets and natural and synthetic gums. It can also be produced by the body.
Glucose – The simplest form of sugar that is used by the body to produce energy.
Glucose syrup – A sugar syrup made from corn (maize) starch and is most commonly used to make confectionary products sweeter, softer and add texture.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – A cheap and highly processed sugar made from corn-starch that is commonly found in processed foods. Although it is not allowed to be manufactured in Australia, it is commonly found in products in imported from around the world.
Invert sugar – A mixture of glucose and fructose that is sweeter than table sugar.
Lactose – A naturally occurring low GI form of sugar found in milk and dairy products. Lactose requires an enzyme called lactase to be absorbed by the body. People with a lactose intolerance can’t absorb these sugars because they lack or fail to produce lactase. If you are worries about the sugar content of milk and diary products, don’t stress. There is growing research that low-fat dairy products may reduce risk of type 2 diabetes and that components such as whey, calcium, vitamin D, fatty acids and/or lactose may actually aid sugar metabolism!
Maltodextrin – A type of sugar commonly used as an additive in products such as confectionary and soft drink.
Muscovado or Barbados sugar – Similar to Demerara sugar, Muscovado is a partially refined to unrefined brown sugar with a high molasses content.
Rice Malt Syrup – A sweetener produced from rice starch.
Turbinado sugar – A partially refined sugar that has a natural caramel-like flavour, similar to that of brown sugar.
So as you can see there are many ways in which sugar can be labelled. Although sugar can be safely consumed in moderation, it is important to remember that excess energy in any form, whether that be from sugar, fat or protein will cause weight gain.
Are there any types of sugar that you want to know more about and aren’t in the list above? Share them in the comments bellow!
If you would like more information on sugar, please see an Accredited Practicing Dietitian.