Healthy Sugar: Is There Such a Thing?

sxc.hu: silviogs

Most people are trying to cut back their sugar intake, but it’s not easy. I know, I’ve got an extremely sweet tooth!

Granted, sugar can have a place in a healthy diet, but you may want to reduce your intake a bit, so what’s the secret?

I’ve found that focusing on eating healthy, whole foods most of the time, helps me avoid eating too much. I think the 80/20 rule works prety well. If you follow that, you’ll probably find you’re also avoiding unhealthy amounts of sugar.

So, let’s take a closer look at this beloved substance…

Dietary sugar comes in 3 forms, these are:

  • Monosaccharides: simple sugars (glucose and fructose found in fruit and honey, etc.)
  • Disaccharides: complex sugars (sucrose, lactose and maltose found in table sugar, milk and beer)
  • Polysaccharides: complex sugars (starches from plant sources found in grains, legumes and vegetables)

When you eat sugar, your body breaks it down into glucose, and eventually energy for your body to use.

Glucose is the body’s preferred source of fuel, and hence why carbohydrate foods are important in the diet, despite what low-carb activists will tell you.

Much of the hype surrounding carbohydrates (sugars), has led people to believe carbs are completely evil. But in truth, they are not fattening at all — although what you put on them is often questionable!

The problem comes when your portions are too large. But, this is the same with any food, what the body doesn’t need will be converted to fat and stored.

Granted, not all carbs are created equal. So, if you sit around all day munching on Twinkies (think refined sugars), you probably are fat, or very soon will be!

Also, if your diet is really high in refined sugar, you are probably missing out on important nutrients, which you would be getting from a diet rich in fruits, vegetable and wholegrains, etc.

So, are you eating too much sugar?

It’s good to remember that sugar isn’t just contained in the foods you’ve added it to. Many foods and drinks contain sugar — in quite high proportions —which you may not have realised.

Here are a few to look out for:

  • Breakfast cereals and muesli
  • Granola bars
  • Bread
  • Special coffees, such as mocha
  • Bottled iced tea
  • Ketchup, salad dressing and other condiments
  • Peanut butter
  • Canned foods, such as baked beans
  • Alcohol

If you’re unsure what to look for, check your food label per 100g. If it states 10g of sugar, or more, per 100g, that’s a lot. A small amount of sugar would be 2g of sugar, or less, per 100g.

Sugar is often “hiding” in your food, so check labels for terms such as:

  • White sugar
  • Brown sugar
  • Icing sugar
  • Demerara sugar
  • Invert sugar
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Molasses
  • Demerara sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Cane juice
  • Fruit juice concentrates, for example apple and pear
  • Names ending in “ose” such as dextrose, fructose, glucose, lactose, maltose and sucrose

Here’s another article on 50 names for sugar.

Artificial Sweeteners

I’m not a big fan of artificial sweeteners, and I certainly prefer to steer clear of them wherever possible. Particularly when I was pregnant, I tried to avoid artificial sweetener totally.

I also think that if you’re trying to cut sugar from your diet, replacing it with sweeteners only adds to your sweet addiction.

Personally, I believe it’s better to wean yourself from liking the taste of super sweet foods, by gradually reducing your consumption, rather than replacing with something equally as, if not more, sweet.

Here are some of the artificial sweeteners and a few of their brand names to look out for:

  • Saccharin — Sweet ‘N Low
  • Stevia — Truvia
  • Acesulfame Potassium — Sweet One
  • Aspartame — Equal
  • Sucralose — Splenda
  • Neotame
  • Sugar alcohols — sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol

As I said above, it’s better to try to kick your sweet addiction.

But, if you really must have something sweet perhaps agave nectar would be an option (I’d say avoid eating in excess as we’re unsure yet if it has any specific health effects). Another option is brown rice syrup or unsweetened applesauce, where suitable.

Do you try to avoid sugar? What advice would you give for those seeking healthy sugar options?

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About Melanie
Melanie is a Registered Dietitian who started Dietriffic in March 2007. Her aim is to make good health attainable and sustainable, without guilt and torture, making her approach popular with those who desire a level-headed approach to good health. Have you got your copy of her free book yet?


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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Healthy Weight Loss Diet February 19, 2010 at 12:30 am

Aww sugar! I find that as long as I eat lots of fruit everyday it really does satiate my sweet tooth.

It’s amazing what sugar (as well as salt) is in..pretty much everything you eat.

From personal experience, if you find you can’t go a day without chocolate or sweets I would simply go cold turkey. I wouldn’t even treat yourself as such until you have completely gotten yourself out of your addiction to it. I used to eat chocolate everyday and when I went a little while without I would go crazy and get angry. I would even go out at night specfically for chocolate if I hate to. It took 3 days but after those 3 days of abstaining I started to feel normal again. I definitely think that eating plenty of fruits and getting lots of dark leafy greens has been my turnaround point. I can go in store, see chocolate and not even crave it anymore but I doubt that would have been possible without eating more whole foods.
.-= Healthy Weight Loss Diet´s last blog ..Healthy Weight Loss Diets =-.

Reply

Melanie February 22, 2010 at 9:27 am

That’s a great tip. I think going cold turkey would definitely be helpful for some people. And I agree, replacing sugar with healthy whole foods is key. Thanks for your input! :-)

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Carla | Green and Chic February 19, 2010 at 12:59 am

I try to avoid sugars due to the fact I have insulin resistance. That includes high GI fruits such as bananas and grapes. Rarely, I may use agave or Yucon syrup which has a lower glycemic index. All in all, my diet is very sugar free.
.-= Carla | Green and Chic´s last blog ..Giveaway: EcoSMART Home Pest Control =-.

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Melanie February 22, 2010 at 9:28 am

Hi Carla,
Did you find going sugar free difficult to begin with?

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Tim February 19, 2010 at 12:11 pm

I find the below mal effects of sugar on teeth, skin and mind very interesting and I actually believe them from personal experience:
• Your teeth are badly affected by a high sugar diet and the harmful bacteria attached to sugar. UK and America are the two largest sugar consumers and they have the worst dental problems in the world.
• Too much sugar in your diet may damage your skin and cause premature aging and wrinkles.
• New research suggests that a diet full of sugars may cause different levels of mental problems, due to rapid chemical changes within the body. Low insulin production and high blood sugar levels in the bloodstream causes a confused mental state and an unsound mind.
http://www.glycemic-index.org/low-sugar-diet.html
.-= Tim´s last blog ..Feb 17, High Protein Diet Plan =-.

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yoda February 19, 2010 at 4:50 pm

Pure stevia may help actually curb cravings for sweets because it provides the very nutrients the body needs in order to do so (when we crave sweets, it may be that we are deficient in certain nutrients–stevia provides 100 different nutrients). However, Truvia is not a pure stevia product, actually it’s really not a stevia product at all. It’s 99.1% erythritol, which they get from sugar in corn of which is 30% GMOs. 9/10 of 1% is Rebiana and masking agent. Rebiana is not even in any part of the stevia plant, nor is it found in nature. It is produced by the action of chemicals like ethanol and methanol and stringent alcohols on stevia glycosides.
Fyi, one stevia product that is rather pure is SweetLeaf brand of stevia. I do stay away from aspartame, splenda, and saccharin. Why someone would want to ingest these chemicals is beyond me.

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Melanie February 22, 2010 at 9:37 am

Hi Yoda,
Can you purchase pure stevia in a health food store? I will have to look into that.

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Julie January 9, 2013 at 3:45 am

I don’t think there is anything wrong with pure natural sweeteners, such as pure honey, stevia, or agave nectar. I have cut all refined sugar from my diet, and have stopped getting sugar cravings, I still eat “sweets” such as dried figs and some naturally sweet things, but don’t crave them like I used to crave sugar. What concerned me most about refined sugar was it’s addictive qualities, and rapid blood sugar fluctuations. I think everything naturally occurring in moderation is fine to eat including fats (which actually help you absorb some vitamins).

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Melanie February 7, 2013 at 10:50 pm

Thanks for your comments Julie. I wish we weren’t so afraid of fats, too. I regularly have small amounts of butter, olive oil, coconut oil, nuts and seeds, all wonderfully healthy!

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Cathy in NZ February 20, 2010 at 4:22 am

i also realise there is a lot of ‘salt’ and ‘sugar’ in many products but because it might not be the complete ‘taste bud’ issue we don’t notice….

i sometimes need to a big sweet something if I haven’t been taking a daily ”dose’ of something sweet – not sweet from what might be ingredients but what my TASTE buds need!
.-= Cathy in NZ´s last blog ..Entertainment of a different type! =-.

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yoda February 23, 2010 at 12:08 am

Melanie,
They do have stevia extracts at health food stores. Most do add maltodextrin, dextrose, or sugar alcohols to it, a few that I know of like Truvia in high concentrations. Just make sure you check the ingredients. I mentioned SweetLeaf before. It is a pretty pure stevia extract because no sugar alcohols or forms of sugar is added and they extract using only pure water during the entire process, whereas other use ethanol, methanol, alcohols during processing. You can also get SweetLeaf at health food stores, and prehaps even at your local grocer probably in the natural foods section, depending on the chain. Of course, you can always get it online at http://www.sweetleaf.com It also has 0 calories, 0 arbs, and a 0 glycemic index, which are natural properties from the stevia leaf. Good luck!

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yoda February 23, 2010 at 12:10 am

I’ve heard you can also get the stevia plant and grow it yourself! That’s pretty pure I’d say!

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Melanie February 24, 2010 at 6:31 pm

Hi Yoda,
Thanks for the info, I’ll definitely look into it a bit more :-)

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Alma February 25, 2010 at 2:22 pm

Victoria Beckham once confessed in an interview that her fabulous figure is a result of the Traditional Japanese Diet “I eat really healthy, I love Japanese food, lots of fish, any sort of fish, any sort of vegetable, lots of fruit, that kind of thing”.
After experiencing Japanese Food myself for years (living in Tokyo) I can tell you I fully understand how the Japanese live longer and look younger on the Japanese food.
Many westerners (me included) lose a lot of weight eating according to Traditional Japanese Diet – making no effort at all.
People in Japan don’t like sugary desserts.
The Japanese desserts have a very subtle sweet taste, which comes from pounded rice (mochi) and sweet bean paste, mashed sweet potatoes and chestnuts. These may sound a bit dull to the western ear but believe me – the Japanese desserts are addicting!!

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Melanie February 26, 2010 at 11:01 am

That’s interesting. I’ve also heard that the Japanese say, “eat until you’re 80 percent full.” Is that true?

I would love to visit some time, I’m sure it is an amazing country.

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Liz January 22, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I think it’s best to read labels and know exactly what you’re eating. Foods that are ‘sugar-free’ aren’t necessarily free of sugar.

“Sugar Free”: Less than 0.5 g sugars per reference amount and per labeled serving (or for meals and main dishes, less than 0.5 g per labeled serving)

Found some more information about food labels regarding sugar.

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Gluten free dessert September 11, 2013 at 8:51 pm

• Cornstarch – a refined starch that comes from corn.
However, a number of studies also pointed out that
immoderate consuming of fructose would lead to metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance.
4 Healthy Additions to Your Favorite Cookie Recipe.

Reply

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