Whenever I need sugar in my cooking or baking, I always try to use other substitutes like honey or brown sugar, thinking these are healthier alternatives. It never occurred to me that this may not be the case.
While it’s a known fact that sugar is really bad for our health, it’s when you cook at home that you see how much sugar is in the foods we consume every day. Do you remember how much sugar you put in the sticky spare ribs or Victoria sponge cake last time?
Now I’m going to find out if any of the alternatives I use is actually healthier.
What is natural sugar?
Sugar comes from sugar cane, and it’s basically sucrose, a molecule made up of 2 simple sugars in equal proportions – glucose and fructose.
All sugars contain the same molecules, either singly or in combinations. Glucose, fructose and sucrose are found in fruit and vegetables, lactose is found in dairy, and maltose is found in germinating grains.
Good or bad sugar?
Good sugar is the sugar that is naturally derived and present in fruits, vegetables, dairy, and grains. When eating these foods, you don’t necessarily consume as much sugar because you feel fuller faster from all the other nutrients contained in the foods.
On the other hand, bad sugar is the sugar that is added during processing, manufacturing or preparation. It has no nutritional value, hence easier to consume in larger quantities. Some examples are honey, maple syrup, and the sugar contained in soft drinks or sugary beverages.
Did you raise an eyebrow at the examples? Well, I certainly did, and this led to more research.
All these substitutes are called free sugars. They contain varying proportions of fructose and glucose. In fact, brown sugar is just white sugar with added molasses for colour and flavour. It adds no extra nutrients per serving.
Artificial sweeteners such as Stevia, which is derived naturally from a plant, is termed ‘healthy’ because it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels or cause tooth decay. However, it’s still sugar and requires limiting.
Tips for sugar intake?
Intake of free sugar or added sugar has been linked with an increased risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain cancers. Whether it’s white or brown sugar, honey or maple syrup that you’re taking, you are still at risk.
Overall, there is no such thing as healthy sugar. All sugars are simply that, sugars. The only tip is to reduce the quantity taken regardless of source.
The World Health Organisation has recommends that, at most, only 10% of calories we consume daily are added sugars. This amount is about 50g for an average adult, and just a little over that is found in a can of soft drink.
For daily consumption of added sugars, the American Heart Association advises no more than 100 calories for women and no more than 150 calories for men.
Remember, sugar is often hidden in names like sucrose, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup or artificial sweeteners. They aren’t healthier than natural sugar as they are all free sugar or added sugar, hence your intake of these should be limited.
Next time, don’t forget to check the label when you see anything that claims to be ‘sugar-free’. You might be surprised!