Sugar and Other Natural Sweeteners
Our genes provide us with taste receptors. These allow us to locate and eat foods that are high in calories, and to avoid foods that are generally harmful. Sweetness allows our body to know there is a source of energy, that is likely safe to eat. Regardless of whether it makes us fat, lethargic, or kills us early. Our genes and taste buds only focus on getting as much energy as possible to live and escape or fight. Our genes don’t know to turn off the hunt for energy when we are overweight, injured, or tired. In fact, often those scenarios cause our body to go into overdrive, to want MORE calories, especially those from carbohydrates and sweet foods as they generally help us get and store more energy for emergencies. So what provides sweetness?
Simple sugars: The Basics
There are three main types of simple sugars in most of our households and grocery stores today.
Fructose (those often found in fruits and vegetables), and while energy packed are the not best form for our body. Often now, we eat a detrimental quantity because of fruit juices, fruit associated refined products that are supposed to be good for us.
Glucose (the main form your body converts from most carbohydrates), the type that provides our explosive power, and generally the most limiting factor when doing intense workouts. It provides the energy to fight or flee, but gets burned quickly.
Sucrose (often called table sugar, and usually comes from sugarcane, or sugar beets). Refined to generally be more sweet, and not very healthy. Our body can more easily convert sucrose into glucose, yet many processed food products are very overloaded to give better “taste”.
Generally, other than some minute textural differences your tongue can’t distinguish between these sugars. Where they are found and where they are used are the major differences.
Other Sweeteners : Artificial, All-Natural, and Others
As a preface to this section, it needs to be said that every sweetener we consume in this section is heavily processed, despite its source. Their long-term healthfulness of one or another is often disputed. It cannot be denied that their use can dramatically lower the caloric intake of some diets, especially those that were previously dense in other sugars/sweeteners. This list is mostly for informative information, and not to say do or don’t. It is your choice, but we recommend cutting down and or limiting ANY product that is heavily processed.
1. Sugar alcohols Organic compounds under many names, some of which can be found naturally but many are produced industrially by refining sugars. They are usually white powdery substances that are often combined with other artificial sweeteners to give it more bulk since sugar alcohols are not nearly as sweet as other produced sweeteners. They are not calorie free, but often have a much lower calorie/carb signature than sucrose. There are many names/types. The most common Xylitol (62%), Erythritol (7%), Maltitol (58%), Sorbitol(108%). (% of calories to reach the same sweetness as sucrose). Typically sugar alcohols have much less or no effect on blood sugar levels, which is why they are often marketed and added to many foods despite their caloric content.
2. Aspartame – First synthesized 1965. It is 180-200 times sweeter than sucrose. Aspartame is made with aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It is not calorie free, but since used quantities is 200x less than sugar, the typical caloric contribution is usually considered to be negligible.
3.Sucralose – Discovered in 1976. A majority ingested is not broken down by the body. 350-1000 times sweeter than sucrose. Synthesis happens through chlorination of sucrose by replacing 3 atoms with chlorine atoms.
4.Stevia – Individual compounds isolated in 1931. 150 times the sweetness of sugar. Stevia plant leaves are dried then compounds are extracted and refined into separate more sweet components. It has a negligible effect on blood sugar.
5. Saccharin – 300-400 times as sweet as sucrose. Has a metallic aftertaste in larger quantities. Patented in 1884. To make this, methyl anthranilate successively reacts with nitrous acid, sulfur dioxide, chlorine, and then ammonia to yield saccharin.
6. Acesulfame Potassium. It was discovered in 1967. 200 times sweeter than sucrose. Often combined with other sweeteners for a synergistic effect that makes less overall needed. Not digested in the GI tract. Made by combining acetoacetic acid and potassium to make the stable crystalline sweetener.
Many of these artificial sweeteners are marketed in a granulated form to be used in a similar manner as table sugar (in coffee, cooking, etc) but are often only made that way by combining with maltodextrin or dextrose. Maltodextrin can be used as a thickener and is a very quickly absorbed carbohydrate with a higher glycemic index than table sugar (raises your blood sugar faster than sugar). Dextrose is chemically similar to glucose and in all but the name has the same effect on the body. In either case anything with the “-ose” on the end is a chemical classifier stating that it is comes from carbohydrates. Because these artificial sweeteners serving size is so small (usually a tablespoon) that the caloric content tends to be between 2-4 calories, it can be labeled as “Zero” in the United states (anything under 5 calories).
Despite many of these artificial sweeteners being no calorie or low calorie, they can elicit, in some people a cephalic insulin response. This means because your body tastes the sweetness, it expects carbs. This causes it to release a flood of insulin to contribute to insulin resistance and also cause your body to try and store calories or prevent calories being released from fat cells. In the short term, or rarely used this will not significantly contribute to any problems. In the long term, or with chronic use, it could cause more fatigue, and cause you to lose less weight. If you notice this happening, you should use less or stop using artificial sweeteners.
Other caloric dense sweeteners (not a complete list)
Many sweeteners will have varying levels of glycemic index (or comparison to “glucose” or blood sugar in “effect”), but often that means it is just harder to digest, not that it is better or worse for you. Fructose in very small doses is not a health risk, but many times a higher dosage (through refined sweeteners), it can become very bad and cause many problems despite a “lower” glycemic index. This number is just a relation table to how your blood sugar will change in comparison to standard glucose. All sweeteners we eat or drink are likely processed. Some are processed much more than others.
Honey – Gathered from bee hives. Contains both fructose and glucose, often pasteurized to kill off yeast cells to prevent fermentation. Best options, raw and unfiltered Manuka honey.
Maple syrup – gathered from maple sap. Mostly sucrose, with a small amount of fructose and glucose from the cooking process. There are often imitation or other products produced with other syrups, including corn.
Coconut sugar – sap from the blossoms of the coconut tree, boiled to remove most water, until it’s in a crystallized or block form. It is mostly sucrose, with a little fructose and glucose.
Agave syrup – made from the agave plant. Is mostly fructose and some glucose. Highly misleading in its healthful benefits because its high fructose content can lead to several health issues.
Beet sugar – cut into strips and diffused with water to extract a beet juice, boiled and evaporated to make crystals out of the raw juice. Mostly sucrose. If a package doesn’t say “cane sugar” it is probably beet sugar.
Brown rice syrup – cooked rice starch using enzymes to break it down, and drain off the liquid which is heated and evaporated. Mostly maltose which breaks down into glucose in the human body.
Date sugar – made from dry dates, like most refined fruit products, it is mostly fructose.
Turbinado sugar – “raw sugar” Made from partially evaporated sugar cane juice, which is spun to drain off most of the molasses. This is a precursor, and most turbinado sugar will be further processed to make Table sugar, mostly sucrose.
Corn syrup – made from the starch of corn, consisting of mostly maltose (which breaks down into glucose in the human body). High fructose corn syrup is processed to convert further breaking down the maltose into glucose and converting the glucose into fructose for more sweetness and easier handling.
It is biological to love sweet food. We all want it, and it is made worse over time when we grow accustomed to the level of sweetness and we hunt for something more. Even many fruits now are grown for their sugar quantity. Remember moderation, and try and steer clear from those super-processed foods.
Do you still use sugar? What kind?