The word “sugar” may bring to mind the familiar sweetener in the sugar bowl that you might add to your tea or coffee. That sugar is known as sucrose and is the most familiar form of sugar to home bakers. However, there are many other types of sugars that are classified per their chemical structure. Sugars can be found naturally in a large variety of fruits, vegetables and dairy. They can also be commercially produced and can be added to foods for extra sweetness, texture and other technical functions like controlling crystallization, providing a medium for the growth of yeast in baked goods, and preventing spoilage
At DayTwo, our focus is on sugar and how the same food can result in different blood glucose responses for different people.
However, sugar isn’t as simple as it sounds. When looking at a food package: How do you know if it contains sugar? How much sugar does it contain, and does it contain a small amount or a large amount?
Added sugar versus natural sugars
A nutrition information panel will usually list the amount of “Sugars” the food contains. Different laws exist in different countries about whether it is mandatory to list “Sugars” on the food label. The sugar listed is included in the Total Carbohydrate, and is made up of natural sugars (like fructose in fruit, or lactose in milk) and any added sugars.
Natural sugars have the advantage of usually coming in smaller doses, and containing a nice number of nutrients to help with their absorption.
How can you identify added sugars?
The best way to do this is to check the ingredients listed on the label. The higher up on the ingredient list, the more sugar is in the product. Sugar can appear in various forms so here are a few aliases for added sugar:
Fructose, dextrose, honey, invert sugar, raw sugar, malt syrup, rice syrup, sucrose, xylose, molasses, corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrate, high-fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, corn syrup, glucose, lactose, maltose, sucrose, evaporated cane juice, agave nectar, cane crystals, cane sugar, crystal-line fructose, barley malt, beet sugar, caramel. (Now say that three times fast.)
The other alternative is that you may notice some sugar alcohols which will not necessarily be listed as “sugar” on the nutrition label. As mentioned in a previous blog post, artificial sweeteners may not be as innocent as they seem. Sugar alcohols, or polyols are neither sugar, or alcohol, but a form of carbohydrate. A few examples of sugar alcohols include: erythritol, Glycerol (also known as glycerin or glycerine), hydrogenated starch hydrolysates, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol
After identifying the amount of sugar a product may have (natural and added), you can determine whether this is a product that is high in added sugars by comparing it to a similar naturally sugar free product. For example, you can take a strawberry yogurt and compare it with a plain yogurt, or a chocolate milk compared to plain milk. When making this comparison, make sure you are comparing the same amount of food product (e.g. amount of sugar per 100g or 50g).
At this stage, the 2015-2020 DGA recommendation is to limit intake of added sugars to less than 10% of total calories per day. Currently, the US population gets 13-17% of our calories from added sugars. However, the evidence behind this claim is hotly debated. At DayTwo, we know that while consuming a large amount of sugar is hardly beneficial to most people, the effect of simple sugar on each person’s post prandial glucose response will differ depending on their gut bacteria and other personal factors.