- 1 The Impossible Guide to Sugar
- 1.1 Sugar Index
- 1.2 What Is Sugar?
- 1.3 Types of Sugar
- 1.4 Types of Sweeteners
- 1.5 High Fructose Corn Syrup
- 1.6 Effects of Sugar
- 1.7 Health Benefits of Sugar
- 1.8 Sugar Prevalance
- 1.9 Sugar Addiction
- 1.10 Sugar: The Verdict
- 1.11 Sugar Videos
- 1.12 Sources
The Impossible Guide to Sugar
Everything you’ve ever wanted to know about sugar. Here we go.
- What Is Sugar?
- Types of Sugar
- Types of Sweeteners
- High Fructose Corn Syrup
- Effects of Sugar
- Health Benefits of Sugar
- Sugar Prevalence
- Sugar Addiction
- Sugar: The Verdict
- Sugar Videos
What Is Sugar?
Sugar is a generic name for the class of sweet-flavored substances. Sugars are carbohydrates derived from different sources. These sources determine the composition of the sugars and what they’re like. The commonly referenced sugars are glucose, fructose, and sucrose.
Types of Sugar
Monosaccharides are simple sugars with the general formula of C6H12O6.
Glucose is sort of the building block of carbohydrates. It’s a simple sugar that often combines with other sugars to create compound sugars. Glucose is instant energy. It can be used by your body’s cells immediately or stored in your muscles and liver for use at a later time.
Also known as “fruit sugar”, this is the type of sugar you find naturally occurring in – you guessed it – fruit.
You won’t run into this much. It’s a component in lactose (milk sugar). It’s less sweet than glucose.
Disaccharides are two monosaccharide molecules that have bonded together, minus one molecule of water (C12H22O11). These are commonly referred to as compound sugars.
Sucrose is made up of a 1:1 ratio of fructose and glucose. It’s commonly known as table sugar and is often found in sugar cane and sugar beets.
Maltose is made up of two glucose molecules. It’s generally not as sweet as glucose but is treated in the same way as glucose by your body. It’s usually formed by the germination of grains (specifically barley).
Lactose – also known as milk sugar – is formed by galactose and glucose. It breaks down lactase. The inability of some adults to break down lactose is the reason why many are “lactose intolerant.”
Types of Sweeteners
- Table sugar
- Fruit sugar (fructose)
- Maple syrup
- Agave nectar
- Palm sugar
- Raw honey
- Coconut sugar
High Fructose Corn Syrup
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is produced from starch but manufacturers convert the glucose into fructose. It’s generally blended at a 55% fructose: 45% glucose ratio (approximately).
HFCS comes with a whole bunch of problems. It’s made out of corn and contains fructose. It doesn’t make you feel as full as glucose does (which means you’re more likely to overeat it). It’s also likely to increase the amount of processed food you eat and it reduces the amount of nutrient-rich foods you eat. There’s also evidence that HFCS contains mercury (see this Washing Post article). Yum!
Unfortunately, HFCS is in a ton of foods and there is ton of money to be made in keeping it in those foods. Not surprisingly, there have been a lot of press coverage, ads, and “informational” sites about how HFCS is just the same as sugar and how it’s “part of a healthy diet.” Bullsh*t.
Here’s one of these commercials:
Well, sugar is not just sugar. There are a ton of differences between the different types of sugar and your body can tell the difference between them. This ad was made by Sweet Surprise. Not surprisingly, Sweet Surprise is run by Corn Refiners Association who – you guessed it – may have a small interest in making sure that HFCS remains an integral part of the American diet. Please only visit this site if you’re reading it for entertainment. Most of it is highly processed PR talk.
Effects of Sugar
So, what does sugar do?
- It leads to insulin resistance.
- It can cause type 2 diabetes.
- It can cause weight gain.
- It causes inflammation in the body.
- It’s been linked to cancer.
It’s even possible that sugar suppresses the immune system (see this article for more information on that).
Some would even go so far as to call sugar poison (see here). I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it’s definitely safe to assume that we’d all be better off if we didn’t suck down the spoonfuls of sugar that most people do on a regular basis.
Health Benefits of Sugar
None. Seriously, ctrl+f the Wikipedia sugar page for “benefits” and you won’t find anything.
The real tough thing about sugar is that it’s in everything and you probably don’t realize. Even when you think you’re eating healthily, you’re probably still consuming some sugar. Look:
- Chobani yogurt – (up to) 21g
- Naked Juice Drink – 64g (per bottle!)
- Orange juice – 21g
You can see this visually at Sugar Stacks. On this site, they stack up cubes of sugar to show the actual amount of sugar contained in various foods, beverages, and snacks. It’s eye-opening when you realize just how much sugar you can pack into everyday snacks.
Read your food labels and understand which kinds of and how much sugar is added to the foods you’re eating. If it’s pre-packaged, there’s a good chance it might contain sugar.
Sugar also elicits a response from both serotonin and dopamine, just as many addictive drugs do. In fact, studies have shown that the brain images of people who overeater are very similar to the brain images of drug addicts. In fact, obese individuals have been shown to have the same dopamine gene markers as alcoholics and drug addicts (see Wikipedia for more on this).
Sugar: The Verdict
Sugars are tough, mostly because they taste so dang good.
They’re certainly not good for you and, whatever any “pro-health” organizations say, they’re speaking relatively (some sugar is better than other sugar). True, not all sugar is created equal, but that doesn’t mean that some sugars are good for you. Some propaganda will aim to convince you that real sugar is better than high fructose corn syrup (Captain Obvious reporting), but that propaganda will then try to use that to imply that this means sugar is good for you. That’s not true either.
Sugar basically comes on a scale of badness. If you do choose to eat sugars, consume them in moderation (in moderation probably means even less than you’re thinking). Do your best to choose natural sugars over processed ones, but don’t be tricked into thinking natural sugars are good for you.
Of course, if you don’t do moderation very well, you can just do your best to avoid sugar completely. Besides the obvious flavoring benefits, there’s little reason to keep them in your diet.
Sugar: The Bitter Truth
Sugar: The Bitter Truth (Short Version)
My ‘I Quit Sugar’ features on 60 Minutes
Is Sugar Toxic? – CBS
- Sugar Stacks
- Is Sugar Toxic? – The New York Times
- The Definitive Guide to Sugar – Mark’s Daily Apple
- The Definitive Guide to Insulin, Blood Sugar & Type 2 Diabetes (and you’ll understand it) – Mark’s Daily Apple
- Dear Mark: Sugar as Immune Suppressant – Mark’s Daily Apple
- Sugar – Wikipedia
- Avena, NM (2008). Evidence for Sugar Addiction: Behavioral and Neurochemical Effects of Intermittent Excessive Intake. Neuroscience Biobehavioral Rev. Retrieved on February 20, 2012.
- Sugar Addiction – Wikipedia
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