The Sugar Industry and Sour grapes about Sugar
Candy and dessert might bring up some sweet memories, but the effects of sugar can leave us feeling, well, bitter.
The sugar industry is pretty evil in my mind.
In the old days, the Sugar Research Foundation would
lie insist that sugar had no unique role in promoting obesity, diabetes or heart disease… even though numerous studies by independent researchers have concluded otherwise.
A report published in November of 2017 in the journal PLOS Biology goes into detail on these
lies shenanigans. Documents show that in 1968 a trade group known today as the Sugar Association (the then Sugar Research Foundation), funded an animal research project and never published the results.
This is quite common – studies with negative results often get buried. But what the New York Times revealed was that in this case, the study, carried out to shed light on the connection between sugar and heart health, pointex to a mechanism by which sugar might promote not only heart disease but also bladder cancer. When this research came to light, the industry group ended the study.
So, we went for years thinking sugar was not really bad for us, fast forward…
And here we are.
How Much Sugar is Too Much?
It’s official! It’s almost 2020 and organizations and governments are (finally) declaring a maximum amount of daily sugar intake.
While this is a step forward, there are still a few problems. One – they don’t all agree with each other. And, two, I don’t necessarily agree with them either.
We all know sugar is NOT a health food. It isn’t full of nutrition, and excess consumption is not associated with great health.
The problem is that sugar is everywhere. It’s naturally occurring. It’s also added to just about every processed food there is.
And this “added sugar” is a factor in many chronic diseases we see today. Sugar is inflammatory. Too much is associated with weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and cavities. Too much sugar is a huge health risk, no matter how you look at it.
So let’s talk about how much sugar is “too much.”
Added sugar vs. naturally occurring sugar. What do some of the officials say?
Before we talk about the “official” numbers (and why I don’t agree with them), you need to know the difference between “added” sugar and “naturally occurring” sugar.
Fruit and other healthy whole foods contain sugar. They also contain water, fiber, vitamins, minerals, and other phytochemicals. They are good for you. Eating fruits and vegetables is a well-proven way to reduce your risks of many chronic diseases.
“Added sugars,” on the other hand, are concerning. In 2013, the American Heart Association calculated that about 25,000 deaths per year were due to sweetened beverages. “Added sugars” are also in baked goods, candies, soups, sauces and other processed foods. You can find sugar on the ingredient list as many names, often ending in “-ose.” These include glucose, fructose, sucrose, etc.
So, “Total sugars” = “Naturally occurring sugars” + “Added sugars.”
The “official” change is the new Nutrition Facts tables. You may remember that in Canada and the USA, they declare the amount of sugar, but don’t give it a %DV (% daily value); this means, they’ve never had a “benchmark” maximum daily value to use. They haven’t declared how much is too much. Now, both countries are implementing a %DV for sugar.
On food labels, to make it even more confusing, you might see added sugars on the labels of some single ingredient, natural sweeteners, like honey.
The “added sugars” in the honey are not added TO the honey, they are naturally IN the honey. But since the government sees these as being ADDED to your food, and not occurring in your food, like it would be with fruit, the label has them listed this way.
In Canada, the %DV is based on 100 g/day of total sugar. Unfortunately, this number is large because it includes both naturally occurring and added sugars. The %DV is in-line with the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation’s recommendations of no more than 90 g of total sugars per day.
In 2008, the average daily total sugar intake in the USA was 76.7 grams per day; this is less than these two benchmarks. Yet, it doesn’t seem that people are getting healthier.
I’d argue that 90 or 100 g per day total sugar is still too high.
It could send you on a blood sugar rollercoaster, with highs and drops.
In the USA, the labels are changing too. They are not declaring “total” sugars but will differentiate between naturally occurring and added sugars. They have decided on a maximum of 50 g of “added” sugars each day. Unfortunately, this is still more than the American Heart Association’s recommended maximum of 24 g/day added sugar for women, and 36 g/day added sugar for men.
What is a better daily sugar goal?
While these official numbers are a step in the right direction, they’re not what I would recommend.
For one thing, I’d ditch as many processed foods as possible, regardless of their sugar content. There are a ton of studies that show that processed foods are bad for your health. Period.
I wouldn’t recommend eating your “daily value” of sugar from sweetened processed foods. I don’t recommend even 50 g of “added” sugar per day. Get your sugar from whole, unprocessed fruits and other food first.
Second, you don’t even need to max out your daily sugar intake. I promise! Try to reduce your sugar intake below these “official” amounts for an even better goal.
Tips to reduce your sugar intake
Adding sugar isn’t good to do habitually. But I think conscious use of sweetener can be a part of a healthy life.
Even though I usually tell people to get rid of sugar, and live without it for a while, I do not believe that you can never again have a sweetener in your cupboard. We need to make good food taste good, the science of flavour and taste is part of the alchemy of food!
But sugar-sugar, once you are free of it – is yours to decide about. Take it or leave it. Fake sugars and substitutes are not necessarily better.
Once free of the habit and unconsciousness of it – you can choose what you would like to do with a free and clear mind.
To paraphrase Socrates says in “The way of the peaceful warrior”, everything has its price and its pleasure – so choose consciously – avoid unconscious rituals. That’s what I do.
How I treat sugar – what I do
Balance. No extremes are necessary for my family, we have no problem having sugar in the house. And, every other types of sweetener.
What type of sweetener you use should vary based on your needs, wants and circumstances. For this reason I keep many types of sweetener in my house. Even … white sugar!
Some would struggle if it is within reach. But consciously adding a little sweetener to homemade lemonade or plain yogurt or even using it to round out a sauce or dressing seems reasonable to me.
You choose for you – I don’t happen to have an addictive tendency, and I do not use much sweetener.
Some people have food addiction and cannot have anything within sight, but I think once your body and mind are balanced and happy you can say yes or no as you wish!!
Here are some of my most popular recommendations to reduce your sugar intake, so you don’t get too much:
- Never consume any packaged good with more than 10 g of totals sugars per serving.
- Reduce (or eliminate) sugar-sweetened beverages; this includes pop/soda, sweetened coffee/tea, sports drinks, etc. Instead, have fruit-infused water. Or try drinking your coffee/tea “black” as a digestive bitter or with a touch of cinnamon or vanilla instead.
- Reduce (or eliminate) your bought desserts and baked goods and bake your own instead. You can easily reduce the sugar in a recipe by half. Or try my delicious (no added sugar) dessert recipe below.
- Instead of a granola bar (or other sugary snack), try fruit, a handful of nuts, or veggies with hummus. These are easy grab-and-go snacks if you prepare them in a “to-go” container the night before.
Comparing the sugars and sweeteners – which is best? When to use what?
Let me introduce some sweeteners, and break down some ideas of when to use what.
Natural or artificial
Highly or minimally processed
High in glucose – cause blood sugar spikes that stress the body
Easy or difficult on YOUR digestion
High in fructose – hard on liver and long term health
Contains fibers, prebiotics or nutrients or is nutritionally empty
Is made in a way that feels offensive or not – environmentally, etc
Compatible with your way of eating
Contains antioxidants or minerals
Proven safe or not
- Effects on weight and blood sugar
HOW DO WE JUDGE?
This image, from Diet Doctor, breaks down the carb content, and blood sugar spiking effects of some common brands and types of sugar.
It really just look at #11 – effects on weight and blood sugar.
According to this image High Fructose Corn Syrup aka Glucose Fructose, is the same as honey.
Although I can see that dates are worse than xylitol for someone strictly watching carbs, I will prefer a natural, unprocessed item when possible.
I would argue that honey, which is #1 – Natural, and #2 – Minimally processed, and #9 – contains antioxidants, and #10 – proven safe, would be MUCH BETTER THAN glucose-fructose, even though it may be equally bad for weight and blood sugar (there is also some research showing that honey is good for diabetes, or for gut health, but that is another debate.
I also understand from this chart that Erythritol and Stevia are much better than Xylitol is for people on keto, but for most people, the small difference in carbs is not enough to matter, if you prefer xylitol to erythritol or stevia.
I hope that helps understand my thoughts.
TYPES OF SWEETENERS
Sweeteners fall into the categories of products used nearly unprocessed like honey, dried stevia leaf or the syrups made from unrefined saps, boiled to concentrate their sweetness (agave, maple syrup), or products that start from juices but are more highly refined – like the products I list under sucrose or corn sugars. But there are many other considerations.
A is for agave, which helps us deal with the topic of fructose right away.
Agave syrup, aka agave nectar, is hard on the body long-term because of it’s fructose.
Because agave syrup is sold in the organic aisle, or because it has a low glycemic index, many people equate this (and other fructose-based sweeteners) with being diabetic friendly or healthier to consume than sweetners that are half glucose.
Do not be fooled.
It is fructose that Dr. Robert Lustig lectures on and on about, blaming it almost entirely for the rise in cardiometabolic and endocrine health issues amongst younger generations.
Agave comes from the sap of the agave plant, an enormous and hard to handle spiny desert succulent most famous for making Mexican mezcal, and in the case of the blue agave plant, for making a famous form of mezcal known as Tequila.
Agave sap has always been consumed traditionally, but now is highly processed with heat and enzymes to remove the fiber and turn the natural fructans into fructose for use as a concentrated sweetener.
For this reason, the resulting agave syrup is high in fructose, in fact it is almost entirely fructose.
Fructans can be good and bad – they feed the gut bacteria, with can disturb some people, but it can be a good thing too.
Fructose however is an easily misunderstood sweetener. Fructose seems to spike insulin less in the short term and if it is sourced from agave, or fruit, the source seems natural and healthy.
Fructose can wreak havoc on the liver and our metabolic processes.
Fructose, when it is too high, can lead to fatty liver, metabolic syndrome, and increased insulin resistance, all the way into full blown type II Diabetes.
For this reason, do not buy agave syrup at the store.
If it is in a treat made or given to you, or a minor ingredient in a cocktail or something you want to buy, consume it. But do not make it a habit or think it is healthy.
Allulose is a new sugar substitute, but unlike many of those out there, it is a natural one. It is not as sweet as sucrose. Time will tell the whole story, but for now, all we have is the marketing hype and it seems that it tastes and acts like sugar, has one tenth of the calories and few adverse outcomes.
It occurs naturally in certain foods like figs and maple syrup but is not metabolized in the body the same way. It is almost completely excreted, and as a result it apparently does not affect blood glucose levels. Because of this, I do wonder about the digestive effects.
I have not tried it, but most things that are not digested cause distress like gas, bloating and abdominal issues. In the case of some sugar alcohols, sometimes extremely so.
I would not try it for the first time prior to an important presentation, for example. I think it would it would be best to try this sweetener at a time when you may have some privacy.
Allulose is touted as having the same mouth feel and browning capabilities, but we do not know the long term effects of its use. If you try a food with allulose and like it, great.
Unless you are diabetic, however, I wouldn’t aim to consume it.
Avoid saccharin, acesulfame (almost always what is in your protein powder, sometimes as acesulfame-potassium), aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. They are FDA-approved, but not necessarily safe, artificial sweeteners.
One concern is that people who use artificial sweeteners may fool themselves thinking that they are healthier. However, how the human body and brain respond to these sweeteners is very complex.
Some of these may qualify as neurotoxic, or brain-damaging, and I therefore I do not recommend any of these. Luckily they are not in the delicious whole foods you focus on eating.
These products, and products like stevia, can change the way we taste food because a minuscule amount produces a sweet taste.
They are way more potent than table sugar, or even glucose-fructose/high-fructose corn syrup, without comparable calories.
Some health practitioners suggest that this confuses the body, which then goes looking for the “rest of the food”. Also, overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes,” suggests sugar expert Dr. David Ludwig.
BEET SUGAR – see sucrose
BROWN RICE SYRUP
Products that include brown rice syrup could be eaten on occasion, you could even keep some in the cupboard (it is very stable) but it isn’t a great everyday choice to use in large amounts because it is very high in glucose.
It is from a natural food source – cooked brown rice, processed with enzymes – so that is great – it is not highly processed.
Brown rice syrup can be organic and found in the healthy food aisle, because of this – but it has an extremely high glycemic index of 98, meaning it will spike blood sugar much more than table sugar will.
It is the opposite of agave syrup. Instead of all fructose, is it almost all glucose. While all living cells and every cell in your body can metabolize glucose, too much is going to affect blood sugar and thus mental health and cardiometabolic health.
The body will produce glucose times of stress from other materials, like proteins or stress hormones, to make sure we always have enough, so we do not “need” to get any.
Brown rice may also have arsenic, as will its syrup, although likely not enough for concern for most people, unless you know you have high levels in your body.
It is extremely thick and sticky, and I hate how hard it is to use because of that, personally, although if you needed a VERY thick syrup for something, it would be a good choice.
BROWN SUGAR – See sucrose
CANE SUGAR – see sucrose
COCONUT PALM SUGAR, COCONUT SAP
The coconut palm flower can produce a sweet sap, which can be collected and moisture evaporated out to concentrate it. It is not overly refined, which is nice, but you may have heard that collecting the coconut flowers can kill the tree and is harmful to the economy and environment when over-consumed.
Luckily this isn’t true. Coconut sugar is the most environmentally friendly sugar out there! Coconut palms produce more sugar per acre than sugar cane (50-75% more) while at the same time using less than 20% of the soil nutrients and water for that high level of production.
The trees, after producing coconuts for 50 years, then move to making sugar. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the World Bank reports that coconut palm sweeteners are the single most sustainable sweetener in the world!
Coconut sap is nice eaten or consumed like syrup or liquid sweetener, but is often dried for export into coconut sugar which has less weight.
Coconut sugar. Made by crystallizing the sap, is the colour of light brown sugar but much more crumbly than sticky – firm and dry.
It does not get all stuck together in the cupboard the way brown sugar does. It is hard and shiny enough that it makes a good replacement for sanding sugar for rolling cookies, for that added sparkle.
Coconut sugar has almost as much fructose and a small amount of a few more nutrients than white sugar does, and is well tolerated, while raising blood glucose somewhat less than table sugar.
It will still be blood sugar spiking, calorific and inflammatory, but it will not contain GMOs like beet sugar or use bone as a processing aid, like cane sugar, and overall I like it better than brown or white sugar for most applications.
CORN SYRUP, GLUCOSE-FRUCTOSE, HFCS
Corn syrup is a liquid sweetener made by breaking down corn starch. It comes under different names depending on how processed it is. The Lily White corn syrup at the store that is used for candy-making is corn starch that is processed to produce glucose.
If we keep going, processing it intensely and changing some of the glucose sugar into its sweeter cousin, fructose, we have glucose-fructose aka high-fructose corn syrup.
Glucose-fructose is the Canadian name for what is called high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the USA, and is mostly something you’ll find already in store-bought beverages or liquid products like barbecue sauce.
Like sugar/sucrose, it combines two simple sugars, glucose and fructose, at about 50% each. Glucose and fructose look similar but have completely different effects on your body.
Glucose is an important molecule vital to all living cells and every cell in your body can metabolize glucose. The body will produce it in times of stress from other materials, like proteins or stress hormones, to make sure we always have enough. It occurs naturally in small amounts in healthy fruits and vegetables, like corn.
Ironically many people would NEVER again buy corn syrup to make candy, knowing these syrups are GMO – but consume glucose-fructose regularly in products.
Corn based sweeteners are a potential issue for some people because corn is high in lectins that are not always tolerated with diminished or dysregulated gut bacteria.
Highly processed sugars like these are also off limits on Paleo and AIP, GAPS, Anti-Candida, low-lectin, anti-inflammatory, Whole 30, and natural or ancestral diets.
DEMERARA, MUSCOVADO, TURBINADO – see sucrose
Honey is produced from flower nectar. It is often 100% natural, but produced by insects, normally bees. As such, it may or may not be acceptable to those identifying as vegan. Honey is a single ingredient sweet product that never spoils due to its naturally occurring antibacterial properties.
Honey contains about 20% water. It will vary in flavour, viscosity, colour and sweetness depending on the flowers that produced it, and the way it is processed, but it will contain some antioxidants and generally have slightly better cardiometabolic effects than sugar.
Darker thicker honey has been shown to be richer in antimicrobial compounds overall.
Because honey has a high fructose content, it may not suit people on a low FODMAP diet or those with fatty liver disease. Some honey will be similar in sweetness to sugar, other 2 times, other honey 3 times sweeter than sugar by volume. Because of this, it can spike blood sugar and be difficult to replace sugar with honey.
A good rule is to remember that honey will give an earthier flavour and completely different texture and rise to baked goods, and be at least twice as sweet. You’ll need to reduce liquid in any recipe, and likely add a pinch of baking soda to balance honey’s natural acidity.
Supporting local honey producers supports your local ecology and visiting them can be an educational time. This honey might be cold extracted, or chemical free, or made from certain type of flowers, like wildflowers, or may be a monofloral type, made only from alfalfa, or blueberry flowers, and as such may have a unique colour, aroma, flavour and so on.
Although it has been said that local honey can contain pollen from local plants, and therefore offer some innoculation against allergies to those plants, the effects may be minimal if the bees only visited certain flowers, and not the flowers and trees which are more commonly what people are allergic to.
HONEY – MANUKA
Manuka honey is a single, or monofloral, honey from the nectar of the manuka flower from New Zealand. This is a darker thicker honey than most, and has been shown to be richer in antimicrobial compounds, some which are very unique.
Manuka honey has been reported to not have the same effects on blood sugar/ insulin, Candida yeast, or other digestive and metabolic functions like even SIBO, as other caloric sweeteners, but …
…I haven’t seen the science that confirms it, so I cannot suggest to my diabetic or yeast-overgrown friends to consume it without caution – yet.
I would use it as a sweetener if I had gut issues, as much as I could afford to do so, over sugar, syrups, sugar alcohols or molasses.
HONEY – PASTEURIZED
This honey will stay liquidy more easily than regular creamed honey, and is easy to pour – but thin light honey like this has been shown to have fewer antimicrobial compounds than others.
Pasteurized honey will not likely contain all the beneficial enzymes that would be present in an unpasteurized honey and may contain elevated levels of HMF, a compound that is not good for health.
Pasteurized honey will often be mass produced and as such the quality can be affected by the way the bees are fed. They may subsist on glucose-fructose aka High fructose corn syrup and this comes through and makes the honey of poorer quality, so this honey is not very healthy.
HONEY – RAW
This honey will more likely be thick and contain pieces of wax or pollen granules.
No honey is truly raw, except for comb honey, unless it is specially-made cold-extracted honey, because to say it is raw would mean it is not heated, or at the very least is heated no higher than the normal temperature within the hive.
This is not possible unless you are eating comb honey, which is a fun experience, but not that common (you do end up eating some of the comb, which is a bit like eating wax).
Not really a sweetener, more of a binder, filler and starchy carbohydrate.
Maple syrup is made by boiling the sap of maple trees until it concentrates, a natural minimally processed source – so that is great – it is not highly processed.
While maple syrup contains many calories and nearly (⅔) as much sucrose as regular sugar, it also has two dozen antioxidants and several minerals, and a slightly lower glycemic index. In larger amounts (such ¼ or more at a time) maple syrup provides a decent source of zinc and manganese.
The Grades of maple syrup refer to the colour. The darker colour syrup is from later in the season, and has a more robust flavour, so if you want to have more maple flavour, use Grade B. For less noticeable maple flavour, select Grade A.
Do use maple syrup in small amounts and enjoy it as a sparingly applied alternative to sugar or other types of syrup, such as agave or “fake” pancake syrup.
Maple sugar is dried, crystallized maple syrup with the moisture removed. As it requires an extra step and is more concentrated, it also costs more, although for people who live in the Southern hemisphere, it may have less transportation costs added to it, since it is easier to ship.
As a byproduct of the sugar making process, you get molasses, and there are many levels, colours and such, many more than most of us know.
http://<a href=”https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Figure-Preparation-of-different-types-of-molasses-namely-unclarified-test-high-test_fig1_312957853″><img src=”https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Rahi_Jain/publication/312957853/figure/fig1/AS:493240597127170@1494609130891/Figure-Preparation-of-different-types-of-molasses-namely-unclarified-test-high-test.png” alt=”Figure . Preparation of different types of molasses, namely unclarified test, high test, syrup-off, refinery final, and A, B, and C molasses.”/></a>
The first extraction of molasses is called Fancy Grade, and as they get darker, all the way to Blackstrap, they get thicker, more viscous, denser, and with a much more minerally taste, almost bitter. In the middle, you get British treacle.
Some health nuts like Blackstrap molasses for its iron content. It does have a decent amount of iron, and I would say it is great for baking, because I love the flavour it gives to ginger molasses biscotti.
However, while it certainly is great for a deep molasses flavour, you cannot substitute one type of molasses for another due to differences in moisture, acidity and flavour.
If you are serving folks from the southern US, you should know that traditionally, the darker molasses were not considered fit for people, nor for recipes, and they were given only to livestock in their feed.
Fancy molasses are the first molasses pressed out during the production of sugar, and they are very popular in sauces, especially southern barbecue, in corn bread and in cookies such as gingersnaps.
This thick light sweet liquid is also served on pancakes. Not to be confused with Blackstrap molasses, this stuff doesn’t have any nutrition at all and is much sweeter.
MONK FRUIT (LO HAN GUO)
This fruit has been eaten for its pulp and dried for an extract that is perhaps 100, or maybe nearly 300 times sweeter than sugar, depending which source you trust.
Although this gourd-like fruits has been used in Chinese cuisine and medicine for hundreds of years, and was grown by Buddhists monks, where it got its English name, it was only commercialized in the 1990s when a method for producing a sweetener from the dried fruit was developed by Proctor & Gamble.
The resulting product has a lower carb count and calorie density than white sugar or other sweeteners, and it has grown in popularity with the rise of the ketogenic lifestyle.
Because it is so intensely sweet, somewhat the way that stevia is, it is often cut with other less sweet products. One very popular combination is called Lokanto, and it is a combo with erythritol.
PANCAKE SYRUP – See Sucrose
The sugar we discuss below as White Sugar and Brown sugar is SUCROSE. It comes from juice extracted from sugar beets and sugarcane, as they naturally have a high amount of sugar.
The regular sugar you buy in the store more than half the time originates from these beets so you’ve very likely had beet sugar. Cheap to make, beet sugar is everywhere, although the source is not always labelled.
Sugar beets are pale, engineered beets that are broader, heavier and more parsnip or turnip-looking than their better-known purple-red cousins. Developed and grown for the sole purpose of producing juice that is used as a source of sugar crystals, beet sugar is made by slicing and juicing them.
Then they are purified and heated to make a concentrated sugar liquid. It is put in a centrifuge, the crystals separate from the liquid, which is then spray dried and the sugar crystals used to make granulated sugar. First they produce raw sugar with a clear brown colour, which is further refined by clarification using chemicals to bleach the color.
Sugar should be labelled, since beet sugar is suitable for those sensitive to cane sugar, and unlike cane sugar, for vegans too.
GOLDEN SUGAR, LIGHT BROWN SUGAR, DARK BROWN SUGAR
All are White Sugar, but with their molasses intact. If you need brown sugar you can just blend molasses and white sugar and voila! How much molasses is left in them, and not stripped out will determine the depth of the colour and the strength of their flavour, and it will also affect the texture and moisture content.
Dark brown sugar will have a lot more of a rich and bittersweet taste compared to the milder Light Brown Sugar, and will therefore be more commonly used in barbecue sauces, dark brownies and gingerbread recipes, whereas blondies, and light cookies will request light brown sugar.
DEMERARA, JAGGERY, MUSCOVADO, PANELA or RAPADURA, SUCANAT, TURBINADO
These are raw or less processed sucrose sugars that have not had all their molasses washed off, unlike regular white sugar.
Jaggery, panela, rapadura and piloncillo are all dried, non-centrifuged cane sugar juice that is not ground, while the others are ground.
You can use them all in recipes in place of the other. If you have brown sugar or golden sugar you can use that instead, but the darker the sugar, the food will be and it will be moister.
Turbinado tend to have large crystals and to be a bit dry and crunchy compared to demarerra, which is more sticky. Turbinado crystals do not dissolve very well. Despite this, they are mostly added to drinks. Muscovado sugar is just a similar kind of British brown sugar.
Sucanat is a tan coloured cane sugar that undergoes less processing than regular cane sugar and retains more flavour and colour from its higher natural molasses content.
Panela (Spanish) or Rapadura (Portuguese) or Piloncillo (Central America) are large blocks formed of natural sugars, processed much less than traditional sugar, and with molasses remaining, although the colour and amount of processing varies.
They all have more flavour and less exposure to processing chemicals than white sugar, and are vegan friendly.
Cane sugar sounds fancy but it just means sugar. The sugar we discuss below as White Sugar comes from juice extracted from sugar beets and sugarcane, as they naturally have a high amount of sugar: The juice is filtered, boiled and dried or crystallized.
Cane sugar is produced using a similar method to beet sugar but sometimes processed using bone char, an ingredient made by charring the bones of animals. Bone char helps bleach and filter white sugar. For this reason, white sugar should be labelled, as this cane sugar is not often acceptable to vegans.
For cane sugar, the sugar liquid is put in a centrifuge, and the crystals separate from the liquid to produce raw sugar with a clear brown colour, which is further refined by clarification using chemicals to bleach the color.
The more they take the colour out, the more natural molasses content is removed. When it is fully removed, you have the highly processed white sugar/cane sugar for products, or for the granulated sugar you buy at the grocery store. When some molasses is added back, you get other sugars in varying shades from light brown to very dark brown, and as a byproduct of the sugar making process, you get molasses.
Commercial brands like Aunt Jamima are a mix of sugar, water, preservatives, colour, thickening gums and salt.
Sugar means the whole family of granular kinds, from the coarse and sometimes coloured decorator’s sugar, and sanding sugar, which are large enough to add unmeltable sparkle to cookies rolled in them, to their finer-grind siblings berry sugar (aka superfine sugar or caster sugar) and confectioner’s sugar (aka icing sugar or powdered sugar). Regular White Sugar is also known as table sugar from the good old days when people would have a bowl of sugar on the table to put on their food.
All are the same thing, just ground more or less fine. Sometimes, confectioners’ or powdered sugar contains additives, like corn starch, to keep it from clumping. You can make your own powdered sugar without grains, by simply grinding down table sugar in the coffee grinder.
All of these are forms of sucrose, and come from spray-dried sugarcane or sugarbeet juice that have had all their natural molasses content removed. Sugar has a dark history tied to slavery in Africa, colonization of the Caribbean and the rise of the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom, alongside caffeinated beverages.
Regular white sugar is one of the top 3 things that most health practitioners will recommend cutting out to reduce overall inflammation and help them to find out what is wrong. However, there are some reasons why you may choose not to throw it away.
Known by the moniker “white death” and other nick-names, white sugar, or sucrose, is a mixture of glucose and fructose molecules, which is arguably a healthier balance of sugars for the body than pure fructose.
That said, it is highly inflammatory, and often addictive, and should be eliminated by anyone with body pains, dementia, tooth decay or nutrient deficits. It contains no nutrients, and is the preferred fuel of many microorganisms, including many pathogens – so is bad for those trying to fight bacterial or fungal overgrowths.
So why would you ever use this? The way it holds moisture in baked goods, carmelizes when heated, and softens frozen desserts must be taken into consideration when trying to reduce it or replace it in recipes successfully.
I keep it on hand because if my grandmother comes by, I know that this is the only thing that will do. She will not take a substitute, and I would never risk causing digestive upset by offering her a substitute. White sugar is also an ideal source of fuel to start cultures like yeast for bread or beer, or SCOBYs for kombucha making.
A lot of commercial “sugar free” or “diabetic friendly” products contain sugar alcohols. They have fewer carbohydrates and calories than the same amount of sugar and raise blood sugar less because they are not absorbed, but this can cause digestive distress.
Although they can be sourced from natural sources like fruit, they are highly processed. They contain no alcohol. Some examples include sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, xylitol, isomalt, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates.
If you underestimate the power of sugar alcohols to cause diarrhea or digestive problems, please read the reviews for these sugar free candies.
This is a sugar alcohol, found naturally in some fruit but produced commercially through extensive refinement. It is a highly processed but naturally-sourced sugar substitute that has a similar look, weight, taste and sweetness to sugar, which makes it easy to cook with.
Erythritol looks similar to granulated sugar and contains no alcohol, but it is a lot more expensive than sugar.
Erythritol may be used on very low carbohydrate diets such as keto and it is one of the lowest carb non-artificial sugar replacements, rarely causes gastrointestinal distress in small amounts, and does not have an aftertaste, making it very popular.
Erythritol is frequently blended with other sweetener:
- Swerve brand sweetener is erythritol and oligosaccahrides (plus flavour)
- Lokanto brand is Erythritol and Monk fruit
- Truvia, although marketed as stevia, is mostly erythritol, then stevia (plus flavour)
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that looks similar to granulated sugar and has a similar sweetness. It is a highly processed but naturally-sourced sugar substitute that is poisonous to dogs and should not be used by dog owners except with extreme care.
Xylitol is simple to bake with as it has a has a similar weight and sweetness to sugar. It is more translucent than white, and dissolves less rapidly or completely than sugar, but carmelizes a little. It is a little heavier and shinier than sugar but sweetens to a similar degree with somewhere from ⅔ the calories to 40% fewer calories.
Xylitol is extracted from birch trees and combats some bacteria, such as streptococcus. It is beneficial for teeth, unlike most sugars, which is why it is used in many sugar free gums, and even in mouthwashes and toothpastes. It may help reduce the risk of cavities and dental decay. It may also help to prevent osteoporosis, or at least it improves bone density in rats.
Xylitol doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels. However, as with other sugar alcohols, it can cause digestive side effects at high doses. It sometimes cases gastrointestinal distress and leaves an odd aftertaste.
Xylitol is often sold as pure xylitol.
- Xyla brand is 100% xylitol
- XyloSweet is 100% xylitol
- Sweet Natural has 100% xylitol, guaranteed sourced from Birch
This white powder is many times sweeter than sugar, which makes it a poor 1 to 1 replacement. Straight stevia is so concentrated, it is terrible for baking, or for anytime you need a large quantity of sugar – it just doesn’t contribute enough volume. It is very hard to replace sugar in baked goods with stevia, as it does not measure the same by weight nor by volume, and it does not sweeten equally, brown equally, or add an equivalent amount of moisture.
It also has an aftertaste. However, it can be a pretty good natural, digestion saving, low carb choice when a spicy beverage like chai or a savoury sauce like teriyaki needs a hint more sweetness. I like it for barbecue or asian sauces that will be heated because it doesn’t burn like many sweeteners do, and it is not so heavy that it just pools at the bottom of cold beverages, like brown rice syrup or honey can do.
Stevia is fairly high in oxalates and should be avoided in large quantities by autistics, those with vulvodynia and kidney stones, amongst others with gut health and oxalate issues. Stevia may have other properties that affect hormones or fertility. It should not be consumed by those who wish to become pregnant in the near future.
STEVIA – NATURAL DRIED LEAF
This is the leaves of the green stevia plant, which grows in Paraguay and Brazil, but picked, dried and ground. This pure green unrefined powder looks and taste way different from the blends at the coffee shop in little packets, which are almost always cut or diluted with other things.
This bittersweet powder sweetens a dish in a way that is similar to the way fish sauce adds saltiness to a dish – the main flavour it adds is sweet (or salt, in the case of fish sauce), but there are other tastes coming along for the ride, and it is definitely detectable that what was used was not pure sugar or salt. Almost everyone will know it is there, unless you use only a very little bit.
This is one reason why it is almost always flavoured, as it usually is in liquid form (mint, caramel) or cut with erythritol or maltodextrin.
Stevia is not hard to grow indoors or outdoors in a small pot the way one would grow herbs for culinary use, and it can then be added to dishes, or even cut with other sweeteners.
STEVIA – BLENDED REFINED
Stevia is so strong (hundreds of times sweeter than sugar by volume) that it is most commonly sold in blends, meaning it moves from being a natural sweetener into the category of artificial sweetener.
It is so popular that there are many different commercial brands. Most include something else, like dextrose, maltodextrin, or more, either to create a more similar proportion to sugar, or more similar sweetness level.
- Crave Stevia (Good Food for u brand) has inulin bio-fibre, then stevia
- Health Garden has Erythritol, then stevia, then flavour
- Better Stevia (NOW) is primarily rice maltodextrin, then stevia, then silica
- Truvia (Cargill) is primarily Erythritol, then stevia, then flavour
- GreatValue (Walmart) and Splenda stevia are the same as Truvia
- Stevia in the Raw uses corn maltodextrin or dextrose from corn plus stevia
SUGAR – See Sucrose
XYLITOL – See Sugar Alcohols
Yacon syrup is not well known, can be hard to find, and very expensive when you do find it, but is a good, natural and healthy choice.
It is a moderately sweet syrup harvested from the yacon plant, a tuber that looks similar to maca root, and which also grows natively in the Andes in South America. It is sometimes referred to as the “diet potato”.
It’s an all natural sweetener and a very good choice for those on a Candida (anti fungal) diet, as it does not feed yeast overgrowth. Instead, it is a source of prebiotic and digestion-helping soluble fructo-oligosaccharide, or FOS, fibers that feed bacteria.
This sweetener may cause weight loss in overweight women, and help with constipation, but some folks do react badly to FOS, and find it gives them gas, therefore it would it would be best to try this at a time when you may have some privacy.
That is my intro to Sugar and alternative sweeteners!
Personally, I use manuka honey, maple syrup, Lokanto, liquid stevia, powdered stevia, local unpastuerized honey and coconut sugar most.
Let me know in the comments your favourite sweeteners or your tips to reduce your sugar intake!
Recipe (No added sugar): Frosty
¾ cup almond milk (unsweetened)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp cocoa powder (unsweetened)
½ banana, frozen
Add everything into a blender except ice. Blend.
Add a handful of ice cubes and pulse until thick and ice is blended.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Double the recipe to share.