In simple terms, it’s a sweet crystalline substance obtained from various plants, such as sugarcane and sugar beet, consisting essentially of sucrose, and used as a sweetener in food and drinks.
The term ‘sugar’ can be used to describe all types of carbohydrates, including Glucose (found in grains and vegetables), Fructose (fruit and honey, also the sweetest tasting sugar), Lactose (the carbohydrate in dairy products also known as Milk Sugar), and Sucrose (known as table sugar).
TYPES OF SUGAR – NATURAL / PROCESSED
Natural sugars are mainly sugars in the form of fructose and lactose – present in fruits, vegetables, milk and milk products, cheese, paneer, etc.
Processed sugar is the sugar which gets externally added to help in increasing the shelf life and taste. The chemical composition of it is such that when consumed, it gets converted more into ‘fat’ than ‘energy’. These are the sugars commonly found in aerated drinks, packaged foods and other such processed food and drink items.
An essential point to keep in mind is that whatever food and drink we consume on a daily basis eventually gets absorbed by the human body in the form of sugar, either as Fat or as Energy.
Natural sugars should form part of our daily eating habits, as they are the most potent source of antioxidants, vitamins and minerals for the body.
On the other hand – aerated drinks, jams, ice creams, chocolates, cakes and many other processed food and drink items contain a very high fat content, which mainly comes from the processed sugars added to these foods. Not only do these foods provide no health benefit, but are detrimental to our overall health in the long run, if consumed on a daily basis. Their intake should be kept very limited.
HONEY OR TABLE SUGAR?
Honey contains minerals, nutrients, vitamins, acids and natural sugar, which table sugar or any artificial sweetener does not have. Honey is both sweeter and denser than table sugar, and hence we end up requiring a lesser amount to use. Honey is also a natural sweetener, and hence a much healthier option to eat.
Raw organic honey, although slightly more expensive than regular honey, is your healthiest option. However, raw honey should not be given to infants.
BROWN vs WHITE
One of the most important points to note here is the difference between White and Brown Sugar – interestingly, there is none! As far as calorie content is concerned, the difference is very negligible. There is, however, a difference in the taste and many people prefer either of them for that purpose.
TABLE SUGAR vs ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
There are five artificial sweeteners that are approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), and these are: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. Along with these, one natural low-calorie sweetener, stevia, is also approved.
However, research into artificial sweeteners still has a long way to go, and current studies suggest that while these may have lower calorific value than regular table sugar, they could be stimulating the appetite further, and therefore may be playing a role in weight gain and obesity.
Being a nutrition and diet consultant, my personal motto is “Eat in moderation, live in immoderation.”
The fact is that our body needs sugar for energy. When we consume sugar, it gets converted to glucose, which provides energy and is good for the proper functioning of the brain.
For example, people who may suffer from low blood pressure, are advised to carry sugar cubes with them at all times, for an emergency.
It is also, without a doubt, a mood enhancer – we all know the feeling of biting into a piece of dark chocolate or indulging in a really good cake!
But where to draw the line, is the big question. The real problematic concern pertains to ‘added sugar’ in our dietary patterns.
As per W.H.O. guidelines, this is recommended at just 5-6 teaspoons a day, which is approximately 30gms total. We all know it’s quite easy to go over this limit – especially with the amount of tea/coffee that we keep having throughout the day-at times socially and all kinds of sugar-sweetened beverages like aerated drinks, fruity beverages, energy and vitamin water drinks etc. Most of these are sweetened with High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and that has been leading to some of the most dangerous public health problems like poor immune systems, dental problems, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and various other lifestyle and chronic ailments.
In the nutshell, eating ‘added sugar’ in moderate amounts, natural sugar sources like fruits, vegetables, low and non-fat dairy. Eating more of raw and fresh organic food rather than processed items is healthier and the body needs it as well. And of course, for doing this, go ahead and reward yourself every now and then with a good piece of cake!
Certified Diabetes Educator from Project Hope and International Diabetes Federation
She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.