By now you probably know that sugar is something you can always do with less of.
Maybe you’re checking the ingredient labels on your favorite packaged foods. That’s smart.
Beware: processed foods can be far from forthcoming with the actual ingredient.
Just because SUGAR isn’t at the top of the list, and it likely won’t be, doesn’t mean whatever food or beverage you’re perusing isn’t packed with it. Sugar comes in many different forms and varying levels of unhealthy.
You may be surprised to find massive amounts of it in foods specifically labeled as “healthy” or “low-fat” or “sugar-free” like yogurt or energy bars.
Sometimes, it will be listed by three of its names as the fifth, sixth and seventh ingredients. Don’t let this throw you off. Combined, those slightly different forms of sugar may outweigh all of the ingredients listed before it.
The less added sugar you are consuming (new labels list added sugar), the better product is for your body. By being aware of sugar’s most common forms and names, you will be much better armed at working out the good from the bad.
Here are some of sugar’s aliases, complete with distinguishing characteristics:
- Sugar, Sucrose, Cane Sugar, Cane Juice Crystals, Beet Sugar: This is basically plain white sugar, also called table sugar. White sugar is a product of sugar cane or sugar beets. In its original, or “raw,” state, it is less toxic and better able to be used by your body. But most white sugar has been genetically modified and is linked to a wide range of autoimmune diseases and health conditions.
- High-fructose Corn Syrup, Corn Sugar, Corn Sweetener, Glucose-fructose: These pseudonyms of sugar are even worse for you. The sugar molecule found in corn is broken down into its separate parts, glucose, and fructose. Absorbing fructose like this causes obesity, blood sugar problems, and promotes diabetes, cancer and heart disease to name only a few.
- Brown Sugar, Confectioners’ Sugar, Glucose Solids: These are also all forms of processed sugar. Brown sugar also contains molasses. Confectioners’ Sugar contains corn starch.
- Agave Nectar, Xylitol, Maltitol: Although these are often marketed as healthy alternatives to regular sugar, there is some controversy about these two. Agave nectar, like corn syrup, is almost entirely made of fructose which has shown itself to be the most dangerous part of sugar. Xylitol + Maltitol are naturally-occurring sugar alcohols, often promoted as a sweet sugar-substitute. However, it’s hard for your body to digest, causing unpleasant problems like gas, and it’s often highly processed, making it unnatural and toxic long term.
Processed sugar, in all of its forms, provides absolutely nothing good for you, and can be detrimental to your health. It is basically empty calories with a whole range of unwanted side effects.
The following natural sweeteners, on the other hand, are a great sugar alternative that will satisfy your sweet tooth and your body’s needs.
(It’s important to remember though, that sugar should only be consumed in moderation. Your body only needs and responds to minuscule amounts of even the most natural of sugars.)
- Honey: Honey is not only satisfyingly sweet and completely natural (especially if it’s labeled “raw”), it’s even good for you in small amounts. It contains amino acids, electrolytes, antioxidants and antimicrobial compounds. 1 to 2 tablespoons of honey per day is a good amount. It works well for sweetening tea and oatmeal as well as baked goods, although it may take some trial and error to get amounts right.
- Maple Syrup: Maple syrup also works well for general sweetening, baking, making granola bars, etc. It does have a strong, though pleasant, flavor, which may limit what you choose to use it in.
- Stevia: Stevia is a sweetener extracted from the leaves of a flowering plant, meaning it is not “sugar” at all and contains no calories. Because of this fact, it is an especially good choice for people struggling with blood sugar or weight issues.
The first stevia extract was somewhat disliked because of a bitter, licorice-like aftertaste, but that has been dealt with in newer brands like SweetLeaf and Truvia. Remember that with Stevia, a little goes a long way.
- Coconut Sugar + Coconut Palm Sugar: Coconut sugar is a natural substitute for sugar, as you can use it cup for a cup; that is a cup of regular sugar can be replaced with a cup of coconut sugar (but I usually use only half of the required amount in a recipe). Its low glycemic level means it is not nearly as likely as white sugar to cause sugar highs and lows, and coconut sugar is packed with healthy minerals.
- Dried Fruit, Fruit Jams, Pineapple Juice and Banana Puree: Dried fruits like dates, raisins, and cranberries are great sweetener choices for protein bars, pies, and desserts. Not only are they completely natural and tasty, they provide essential dietary elements like fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Real fruit jams, with no added sugar, will add flavor as well as sweetness to any spread. Pineapple juice is often used as an additional sweetener in all-fruit jams, and can also be used on its own with practice. Bananas are a naturally sweet fruit, and one may be all you need to sweeten up a fruit smoothie.
- Processed sugar and manufacturers who fill their goods with it, can be tricky. Just remember to give ingredient labels a double check, and don’t let sugar sneak into your diet under unsuspectingly.