Every day we hear a new warning about the little white granules we love to hate. Whatever the way it’s said, it’s all much of a muchness. From apricots to ice cream. Fructose to Glucose. Sugar is bad. So surely all those great sugar free products must be super good for me right?!
Is sugar our enemy?
By UK Government law, all companies must list the sugars contained within a product on the food packaging label (it’s also interesting to note that ingredients must be listed in order of weight, meaning if sugar is first; that’s the main ingredient. Scary.). The loop hole, however, is that there’s no specifics as to how the sugar has to be identified. And given that there are over 61 different technial names for our sweet friend, it’s rather upsettingly easy to decieve us.
Initially there will be names you’ll recognise, like your golden syrup or honey, but in most cases you probably won’t. As a good rule of thumb, look for anything ending in ‘ose’ ie glucose, sucrose, dextrose, maltose, high fructose corn-syrup, the list goes on. And then on top of that you have words like ‘ethyl maltol’ and ‘diastatic malt’. Essentially, if you don’t know what it is; it’s probably sugar.
The next disguise sugar is great at wearing is ‘natural sugar’. This little guy loves to hide in things like yoghurt as ‘natural raspberry flavour’. Remember our pal high fructose corn-syrup? Well he’s allowed to be considered, a natural sugar. He derives from corn, which if I’m not mistaken, is a natural product. That clear, sticky, sweet, syrupy mess that is 100% refined, is technically 100% natural. So that ‘natural’ raspberry flavour in your yoghurt, that came from corn. Feel dumb yet? Don’t worry, so do the rest of us.
The term ‘refined sugar’ refers to the process of withdrawing impurites of sugar until left with pure white crystals. This is done through various crushing, heating, pressing and something called centrifugal force which sounds exiciting but is just a fancy term for spinning really fast. This makes the table sugar we’re all far too familiar with.
The most natural form of sugar around is raw sugar. ‘Raw’ seems to be the new desirable food feature, but best avoided in things like chicken, as a heads up. Although described as ‘most natural’, when it comes down to it, processed sugar essentially all comes from the same place; either sugarcane or sugarbeet. The difference of raw sugar is that it’s the least processed form available, aside from sucking on a sugar cane stick. It’s this reason that gives raw sugar it’s darker colour as it contains molasses or impurities, it’s what also gives it that delicious caramelly hint. This is not to be confused with brown sugar, which is refined white sugar, mixed with molasses syrup, then dried out again. (This seems like a waste of time to me.)
True ‘unrefined’ sugars are found in things like fruit. Along side fructose, fruit also contains longer chains of carbohydrates which bring along with them vitamins, fiber, minerals and water which aid in metabolism. As fructose is broken down in the liver (as opposed to glucose being broken down in the stomach) it doesn’t produce an insulin spike in your blood levels, ergo no reciprocal crash in energy. This blood sugar spike can also be caused by sugar replacement sweetners or ‘sucralose’. Sweetners provoke your liver’s insulin response, to the same extent of white sugar, which is very important for anyone who suffers with diabetes or insulin resistance, so always check the labels of products branded ‘sugar free’. The only sweetner with studies proving no effect on insulin level is Stevia, which is extracted from the leaves of plants and comes in the form of a white powder. As human experience tell us, we don’t seem to do too well with mysterious white powdered substances that we don’t completely understand, so personally, I wouldn’t trust it.
Here’s the real kicker. All sugar, in all forms, contains the same calorific value. Raw or refined, fructose or glucose, gram for gram it makes no difference. The difference comes from how our bodies proccess them. In general, fructose is broken down more steadily than glucose and has more nutritional value regarding fibre and vitamins, so when opting for an afternoon snack, a banana wins over a brownie. When it comes to refined vs raw sugar, other than being slightly more hipster, there’s really no nutritional benefit of choosing raw over refined. Sorry guys. That being said, regarding the manufacturing process; refined sugar takes far less energy to produce, so it wins over white table sugar due to having less impact on our good friend, the environment.
So there you have it folks. The source of sugar is far more important than the sugar itself.
Remember who the real enemy is.