Friday, October 15, 2010

Sugar, not so sweet after all

A spoonful of sugar…
Carbs have been given a bad rep these last few decades (think Dr Atkins and his revolution) but what about actual sugar? When we say sugar, we usually mean sucrose (aka table sugar) but the term is also used to refer to simple carbohydrates and refined sugars in general.

You can find simple carbs naturally in milk (lactose) and fruit (fructose) but it’s the refined sugars (in cake, biscuits, lollies, fast food, soft drinks) that you should be worried about, and they’re sometimes hidden in places you would least expect them.

So when did sugar become such a problem?

A very modern romance
We have always consumed carbs but the quantities have changed. In the early 19th century, the average Australian ate roughly 2kg of sugar in a year, mainly from honey and ripe fruit. Fast-forward 200 years and that figure has risen to 50kg – that’s almost a kilo of sugar a week! It’s no wonder our generation is struggling with so many sugar-related health issues.

Sugar, white death
In the right quantities, carbs are an invaluable source of energy. But what does sugar do to our body when we consume it in excess? According to Nancy Appleton (author of Lick the sugar habit), there are 124 ways in which too much sugar can damage our health. Among these are: accelerated ageing (sugar consumption causes an instant free radical surge), loss of skin elasticity (sugar changes the structure of collagen), candidiasis (sugar feeds bad bacteria), reduced immune function, high triglycerides, fatty liver, obesity, metabolic syndrome, weight gain, diabetes, tooth decay, energy spikes, mood swings, hyperactivity, depression and even cancer.

We’ve established that too much sugar is bad for you but of the sugar we do consume, some types are worse than others. Refined sugar is the one to avoid – according to ayurvedic medicine, it’s a ‘dead food’ (processed and of little nutritional or health value). From the moment it enters the body, its destructive path commences. It steals other nutrients (chromium, zinc, calcium and vits B and C) to enable its metabolism without providing any valuable nutrients itself.

The good, the bad and the ugly
Sugar has many disguises and can easily sneak into foods unnoticed – when you’re scouring through food labels, check the ingredients list for the words ‘syrup’, ‘sweetener’ or anything ending in ‘ose’. But how can we separate the sweet from the not-so-sweet sugars? To help you make the distinction, we’ve broken them down into three categories:

The good (or not-so-bad)

The bad
The ugly
Beet sugar
Artificial sweetener
Barbados sugar
Brown sugar
Corn syrup
Barley malt syrup
Cane sugar
Corn-syrup solids
Brown rice syrup
Crystalline fructose
Date sugar
Castor sugar
Fructose (refined)
Evaporated cane juice
HFCS (see below)
Fruit-juice concentrate
High-fructose corn syrup
Maple syrup
Ethyl maltol
Refiner's syrup
Muscovado sugar
Palm sugar
Golden sugar/syrup
Yellow sugar
Raw honey
Granulated sugar

Sorghum syrup
Icing sugar
Invert sugar
Malt syrup

Powdered sugar

Turbinado sugar
Raw sugar

Table sugar


Keep your eyes peeled and steer clear of the bad and the ugly; when it comes to the good guys, they may not be bad but they’re not good for you in large quantities either – don’t forget to stay within the limit! The recommended daily allowance (maximum intake) of sugar is 25 grams for women and 37.5 grams for men.

Don’t even get us started on artificial sweeteners. There are differing views on these bad boys but they definitely fall in the ugly category as far as we’re concerned.

In part two of our sugar blog, we give you the lowdown on sugar alternatives and some handy tips on reducing your sugar intake. Stay tuned.

Cabot, S and Jasinka, M 2005 The Ultimate Detox, WHAS, Camden
Marber, I and Edgson, V 2004,The Food Doctor – Healing foods for mind and body, Collins & Brown, London
Gillespie, D and
Helm, A

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