Sugar is one of the most controversial topics I’ve come across. Some people claim that it is more addictive than heroin, some claim that is completely harmless when consumed in moderation. Some people swap brown sugar or honey for table sugar thinking that is a healthier option. Others, will buy sugar-free products that are loaded with artificial sweeteners and/or sugar alcohols. I think is safe to say that sugar is a complicated topic. In an effort to bring some light into the sugar controversy and help you make good decisions for your health, I’m going to be writing a series of post about sugar. Today, we will start with the basics: what is sugar?
Not a simple answer.
First, I have to give you a quick lesson on carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are made of building blocks called monosaccharides. There are 3 types of monosaccharides: glucose, fructose and galactose. Glucose is the main energy source for living cells. When anybody talks about blood sugar, they are referring to glucose. Fructose is found in fruit, honey and high fructose corn syrup. Every time you eat fresh fruit, you are eating fructose. Galactose is found in milk and dairy products, galactose combines with glucose to form lactose. What most of us associate with sugar is sucrose, the common table sugar. Sucrose is a combination of one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose.
The source matters
I’m sure by now you realize that sugar (in one form or another) is naturally occurring in many food products. Dairy, fruit and grains all have sugar. Naturally occurring sugar is not bad when consumed in moderate quantities. When you eat an apple, you are consuming more than just fructose, you are also eating fiber, minerals and vitamins that are beneficial for your body. The same thing goes with non-starchy carbs such as sweet potatoes and broccoli. Even though eventually they will be digested into glucose, they provide your body with fiber to fill you up and keep you satisfied for longer, thus avoiding over eating.
The problem then is not with naturally occurring sugar but with added sugar. Added sugar provides no value to food, it just adds extra calories. Many products that aren’t considered sweet, such as tomato sauce or ketchup, have large quantities of added sugar. Foods we think of as healthy, like granola and yogurt, may also be manufactured with extra sugar. It is important to know what names manufacturers give to sugar so you can be aware of how much extra sugar you consume on a daily basis. Here are some names that you can find in an ingredients list:
- Brown sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt sugar
- Raw sugar
- Sugar molecules ending in “ose” (dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose)
Know before you buy
Next time that you go grocery shopping, check the ingredients of the products you buy. If you see any of the listed names early on the ingredients list, then you know that sugar is one of the main ingredients used. What’s more, now that you know more about naturally occurring sugar, you can switch your treats to fruit instead of items that have added sugar. For example, have fresh fruit for dessert instead of cookies. The fruit will give you more nutrients, fiber and minerals than the cookie and it will satisfy your desire for something sweet.
At Celebration CrossFit we are committed to your health and happiness. I know the sugar enigma is very hard to navigate. If you have any questions about how to read and understand nutrition labels and ingredient lists, or how to substitute sugary products for healthier options. Talk to any of the coaches, we’d be happy to help.
by coach Keren