Sugar 101

Too much sugar in any form is too much sugar!  But let’s just clear a little confusion up… When we consider sugar alternatives, there are two important points to consider, GI and fructose.  GI is a measure of how quickly and completely a food breaks down to glucose, and therefore the potential of foods to lead to rapid blood sugar spikes, which lead to mood swings, brain fog, glucose dysfunction.  Glucose has a GI of 100.  Fructose doesn't raise blood sugar in the short term therefore has a low GI, but when consumed in high amounts it leads to insulin resistance, a long-term affect that will chronically elevate blood glucose and insulin levels.  Beware of labels!  Food companies use this term to sell more – if a food is labelled “low GI” the consumer is lead to believe it is a healthier option.  

This may not be the case at all as the sweetness is probably coming from the sweeter, and more harmful sugar, fructose. Some of the alternatives to sugar are better than others and we determine this by analysing the percentage of glucose and fructose in each.  Normal table sugar or raw cane sugar is sucrose – one molecule of each glucose and fructose joined together, so is therefore 50/50 of each – or 50% fructose.  Below is the breakdown of a few sugar alternatives. The main thing to remember is that even though some may be lower in fructose, they are all still sugars and sugar in any form should be used sparingly as we do in our Low Sugar Lifestyle Program.

Maple Syrup - Maple trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter, which is then converted to sugar and rises in the tree's sap in spring.  Maple syrup is at least 66% sucrose, which means about 30% fructose but has lovely minerals and nutrients. Rice Malt - Rice malt syrup is produced by boiling down brown rice.  It is made up of 3 sugars - glucose, maltose (2 glucose molecules joined) and maltotriose (3 glucose molecules joined).  It is broken down into 100% glucose and so has a very high GI, however contains no fructose. Natural Whole Dates - Dates are often used as a source of sweetness in healthy sweets and snacks.  This is a good choice as dates are high in fibre, and although high in sugar content, the absorption into the blood stream is slowed by the fibre. Date syrup is a sweetener made by blending, boiling down and straining medjool dates (although sometimes left unstrained retaining all the fibre and nutrients).  This is an easy to make, wholefoods syrup that can be used in place of maple syrup or honey.  However, the total sugar content of dates is over 60%, with at least 30% being fructose.

Coconut sugar - Coconut sugar is derived from the sap of the coconut plant.  Whilst its manufacturing method is very natural, it contains a small amount of fibre, a few nutrients and has a lower glycemic index (GI) than regular sugar, it is actually very high in fructose.  It contains a small amount of free fructose, but 75-80% of it is sucrose, which is half fructose.

Agave - Agave is a sugar substitute made from the same Mexican succulent that tequila is made from!  It contains roughly 90 per cent fructose – higher than sucrose!  So beware and look out for it in health food bars and chocolates.

Honey - Honey, there is no doubt the raw, natural type comes loaded with nutrients such as a prebiotic that feeds gut flora, as well as small amounts of proteins, enzymes, amino acids, minerals, trace elements, vitamins, aroma compounds and polyphenols.  However that is not the full story!  It breaks down into glucose and fructose in your body.  Whether it is raw or organic doesn’t really matter in respect to the fructose content.  Honey contains about 40% fructose which is just a little less than sucrose (our table sugar).  Its GI can vary from a low to a high GI depending on its source.

Xylitol - is a sugar alcohol that used to be derived from birch trees but is now more likely to come from corn husks.  It has a low GI and dentists like it because it doesn’t convert to acids in your mouth that cause tooth decay.  However, consumed in large amounts xylitol can cause tummy problems, bloating and gas.  It can have a laxative affect causing diarrhoea and bloating.

Stevia - an extremely sweet herbaceous plant.  The active compounds of stevia are steviol glycosides (mainly stevioside and rebaudioside), which have up to 150 times the sweetness of sugar!  Stevia can be found in either a green powder form, simply the leaves dried and ground, or a more highly refined white powder or as liquid drops.  Stevia contains no glucose or fructose, so has a negligible effect on blood sugar and no harmful effects on the liver.  It does sometimes have a slightly metallic after-taste and can’t be used in some baked goods.  This used to be our favourite alternative but see our upcoming post on Monk Fruit. When making a shift away from lots of processed sweet foods, we recommend travelling slowly when it is involving kids, and having some great easy recipes up your sleeve so its not such a radical change.  Once they begin to feel better in there body without the overload from sugar, they are more apt to join the party.   

All of our posts reflect our philosophy at A Healthy View

A whole real food perspective on food and life.  Extremes do not work but clean, whole, tasty and easy food choices can create a lifetime of good habits that lead to a lean, happy, and healthy person. 

Contact us on our website for our next Low Sugar Lifestyle program or a nutritional consult.  

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