Sugar: Are All Kinds Created Equal?

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How Much Sugar Should We Eat?

On average, Americans eat more than 20 teaspoons of added sugars per day, twice what the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends.

A report released in 2006 by the World Health Organization (WHO) urges people to limit their daily consumption of free (added) sugars to less than 10 percent of their total energy intake. This recommendation adds up to approximately 12 teaspoons (48 grams) of added (free) sugar a day based on an average 2000-calorie diet.

Today, leading American health experts want the FDA to set a maximum recommended daily intake (Daily Value) for added (free) sugars even lower, to 8-10 teaspoons (32-40 grams).

How Much Sugar Do You Eat?

I wanted to give you an idea how much sugar some common foods contain.

Remember, at 15 calories/4g of sugar per teaspoon, it’s recommended to have 8-10 teaspoons (32-40 grams) daily for a 2,000 calorie diet. Knock that down to 6-8 teaspoons for a 1,500 calorie diet (what many women eat).

Low fat, fruit-flavored yogurt, 6 oz.  7 teaspoons
Ketchup, 2 TB  2 teaspoons
Pancake syrup, 1⁄4 cup  8 teaspoons
Orange Juice/Apple Juice, 8 oz.  5.5 teaspoons
Soda (Coke, Sprite, etc.), 20 oz.  16 teaspoons
Soda Large Movie Size, 44 oz.  37 teaspoons
Snapple, Lemon Iced Tea, 16 oz.  11.5 teaspoons
Balance/Power Bar  4.75 teaspoons
Frozen Yogurt, 1 cup  8.5 teaspoons
McDonald’s Vanilla Shake, 21 oz.  24 teaspoons

(These amounts may vary depending on brands.)

Hot Tips

  1. Be aware of how much sugar is in what you are eating/drinking – READ LABELS.
  2. Fooducate’s app can help- it reads any label and tells you what’s in there!
  3. Say no to sugar in your breakfast – Read my blog: Kick Sugar Out of Your Morning Kick Start

Sugar is Sugar, But Are All Kinds Created Equal?

There are different criteria to measure sugars. How do they affect blood sugar? How do they affect weight gain? How refined they are? How well they work as a baking ingredient? How good they taste? How expensive they are?

IMO, no one sugar is best option in all areas. So, it’s important to understand your body’s needs, what your priorities are, and to educate yourself on the products so you can make the best selection for you.

All sugars break down into carbohydrates in the body, meaning they will turn into fat and cause weight gain if you don’t burn them off. So, they ALL must be limited and viewed as treats – even the unrefined, low glycemic, healthier ones.

As much as I love desserts, they shouldn’t be their own food category on your daily food pyramid. If they are, you will gain weight, or maintain an unhealthy weight, and likely cause other health issues. Sugar is not the enemy, our inability to control our eating it is.

Are There Healthier Sources of Sugar?

Yes. Sugars that you don’t need to worry about:

  • Fruits (apple, blueberries, orange, pineapple, strawberries, banana, cantaloupe, etc.)
  • Most Vegetables (carrots, tomato, zucchini, broccoli, spinach, cucumber, etc.)
  • Milks (i.e., Organic cow or goat milk; no sugar added soymilk, ricemilk, coconut milk, nut milk)
Here’s how some of the most popular non-fruit and vegetable sources of sugar stack up:

OR Watch my Short Video for the Low Down!

A couple of notes on helpful terms:

  1. A whole food is a food that has been refined or processed as little as possible and is eaten in its natural state, like whole grains such as brown rice, fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, fresh beans and legumes.
  2. The Glycemic Index is a numerical Index that ranks carbohydrates based on their rate of glycemic response (i.e. their conversion to glucose within the human body). Glycemic Index uses a scale of 0 to 100, with higher values given to foods that cause the most rapid rise in blood sugar. Pure glucose serves as a reference point, and is given a Glycemic Index (GI) of 100.)

Organic Unrefined White Cane Sugar
Affects to Blood Sugar: High
Affects to Weight Gain: High if overeaten
Baking Friendly: High
The easiest sugar to substitute for refined white sugar in recipes.
Taste: Very Sweet
Cost: Medium
Refined: Some processing
If you choose to use organic unrefined cane sugar and make your own sweet treats with it, eliminate processed and refined sugars completely (no soda, candy bars, etc.) and limit your daily intake sugar intake, organic cane sugar is not likely to cause Type II Diabetes or weight gain in the large majority of people as long as you are eating an overall balanced diet.

Organic Unrefined Brown Sugar; Sucanat; or Turbinado Sugar
Affects to Blood Sugar: High
Affects to Weight Gain: High if overeaten
Baking Friendly: High
The easiest sugar to substitute for refined brown sugar in recipes.
Taste: Deeper sweetness than cane sugar – because of molasses flavor
Cost: Medium
Refined: Some processing
Organic unrefined brown sugar is unprocessed sugar with the molasses left on the sugar cane. My comment about how much to eat is the same as above for organic unrefined white cane sugar. Both should be limited because of their high affect on blood sugar and weight, as well as their ability to cause the body to crave more sugar if eaten in large quantities. But in small, limited amounts, in a balanced diet, a little organic unrefined brown sugar should not cause major nutritional problems.

Date Sugar and Sweeteners Derived from Fruit
Affects to Blood Sugar: High
Affects to Weight Gain: High if overeaten
Baking Friendly: Medium High
Taste: Sweet, not sugary, but flavor holds up well in baking
Date sugar is a very sweet dry sugar that is not refined or highly processed, so in terms of taste and baking qualities, it’s great to substitute for brown sugar in a recipe. It is, however, high on the glycemic index and will affect blood sugar just like other sugars. So, know your body and what is best for it.
Cost: Medium High
Refined: Minimal processing
Vendors I Like: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, small organic health markets often carry good brands

Agave Syrup
Affects to Blood Sugar: Low Glycemic
Affects to Weight Gain: High if overeaten
Baking Friendly: Medium High
Taste: Nice sweetness that stands up well in baking
Agave is gluten-free and vegan and has a great sweet flavor making it easy to substitute in recipes, but it’s a liquid  so if you are trying to substitute for a dry sugar, like cane sugar or refined white sugar, you need to make sure that you increase your dry ingredients. Otherwise, your baked good will come out dense and tacky. I find that baked goods made with low glycemic syrups do come out a little heavier – but I have learned some tricks for that I can share with you.
Cost: Medium
Refined: Depends on the brand
Make sure you buy a brand NOT highly heated and refined. As long as you do, agave is considered a whole food by some. Others who are more strict with the definition will say that any processing excludes agave as a whole food. Bottom line: read labels and know your brand. A highly refined agave syrup will affect your blood sugar more quickly and removes any health or nutritional value agave could bring to your table.
Vendors I Like: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s – I trust the brands they sell and they tend to have good prices for bulk size, i.e Madhava or Sweet Cactus Farms.

Maple Syrup
Affects to Blood Sugar: Low Glycemic
Affects to Weight Gain: High if overeaten
Baking Friendly: Medium High
Taste: Sweet, distinct flavor
Maple syrup has a distinct flavor – some people like it and some don’t. Used in the right amounts, that distinct flavor can be masked so that you just access the sweetness of the syrup. Like agave, it’s a liquid so if you are trying to substitute for a dry sugar you need to make sure that you increase your dry ingredients.
Cost: Medium High
Refined: Whole food
Vendors I Like: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s – I trust the brands they sell and they tend to have good prices for bulk sizes.

Pure Maple Sugar
Affects to Blood Sugar: Low Glycemic
Affects to Weight Gain: High if overeaten
Baking Friendly: High
Taste: Sweet, distinct flavor
Made from 100% from maple syrup, maple sugar crystals still have the sweetness of maple syrup and are low glycemic because they are maple syrup in crystal form, and are a GREAT option when you need a dry low glycemic index, unrefined sugar in a recipe.
Cost: High
Refined: Minimal Processing
Maple syrup is considered a whole food, but there is some processing required to crystalize the syrup into a sugar. Again, this is where knowing your vendor and brand are key. As with the processing of agave syrup, as long as the heating does not exceed certain temperatures, the integrity of the food is preserved – there are vendors who take this very seriously and provide quality foods with minimal heating and processing.
Vendors I Like: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/

Coconut Nectar
Affects to Blood Sugar: Low Glycemic
Affects to Weight Gain: High if overeaten
Baking Friendly: Medium
Taste: Mild sweetness
This syrup is a gluten-free, vegan low glycemic sweetener made from pure coconut tree sap. It’s not as sweet as maple or agave syrup, but sweeter than brown rice syrup and high in protein, as coconut is. It can be a great option in certain recipes to mix with other sugars or syrups to cut the sweetness. It also can work as a mild sweetener in sauces, marinades, drinks, etc., especially if you are sensitive to sugar and really want to change your palette in an effort to get used to things tasting less sweet.
Cost: High
Refined: Whole food
Vendors I Like: Coconut Secret

Raw Coconut Sap Crystals
Affects to Blood Sugar: Low Glycemic
Affects to Weight Gain: High if overeaten
Baking Friendly: Medium
Taste: Mild sweetness, less sweet than the syrup (to me)
Cost: High
These crystals work great texture wise – much like a sucanat or date sugar, but  they are not very sweet. This is great for those of you who have toned and re-educated your palettes (which I FULLY support) away from that horrible taste of refined sugar. Even for me, I do find that I need to combine them with another sweetener. On the plus side, they are cutting the overall sugar of the recipe and helping your palette recalibrate!
Refined: Minimal processing
Good vendors control the temperature and process small batches to remove excess moisture only, thereby controlling the glucose level, maintain the integrity of the amino acids, and minerals in the food when forming the crystals.
Vendors I Like: Coconut Secret

Honey
Affects to Blood Sugar: Debated to be low glycemic, tends to be low glycemic if RAW
Affects to Weight Gain: High if overeaten
Baking Friendly: Medium
Taste: Sweet, distinct flavor
Like maple syrup, honey has a distinct taste that some like and others don’t. It also has a thick texture which I find makes baked goods more dense as opposed to maple or agave syrup. Personally, I prefer honey in recipes that require small amounts of sweetener or in sauces and marinades.
Cost: Medium Low
Refined: Whole food
Vendors I Like: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, but there are lots out there.

Brown Rice Syrup
Affects to Blood Sugar: Low Glycemic
Affects to Weight Gain: Medium
Baking Friendly: Medium Low
Taste: Very Mild Sweetness
Brown rice syrup is the sweetener of choice in macrobiotic cooking – where they literally use no sugar at all. Cooked brown rice gets together with barley malt enzymes and the very mild sweetness comes from complex carbohydrates. They take a couple hours to digest, so very blood sugar level friendly, but traditional baked goods tend to turn gummy and not as sweet as most people would like them. I find brown rice syrup works well in foods like granola bars, custards, sauces and marinades – recipes that call for smaller amounts of liquid sweeteners in general.
Cost: Medium
Refined: Whole food
Vendors I Like: Sweet Cloud, Rice Nectar. I’m not a huge fan of brown rice syrup and don’t use it much. I’d rather limit my use and intake of other sweeteners.

Stevia
Affects to Blood Sugar: Very Low Glycemic
Affects to Weight Gain: Low
Baking Friendly: Low
Taste: Very Sweet – 3x that of sugar.
To me, Stevia tastes almost unnaturally sweet, even though it’s completely natural, one of the most natural sweeteners coming from a plant. And when you bake with it, that odd chemical taste doesn’t go away. 🙁
Cost: Medium
Refined: Whole food
Vendors I Like: Not a huge fan. Personally, I’d rather limit my intake of other sweeteners and use the ones that work and taste better.

Sources of Sugars to Avoid:

  • Refined, processed sugars, whether white, brown, or “raw”
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Man-made, non-food sweeteners, like Nutrasweet (Equal), Saccharin (Sweet-n-Low), Sucralose (Splenda) and any food and drink items containing these products

If you have any questions email me at angela@nourishmentconnection.com

Sources:
http://www.worldhealth.net/news/sugar-sweetened-beverages-linked-high-blood-pressu/
Diet Nutrition and the Prevention of Chronic Diseases; TRS916

http://nutritiondata.self.com/topics/glycemic-index
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