Looking for sugar on food labels goes beyond looking for anything ending with the letters “ose” (e.g. sucrose, glucose). There are many ways sugar can be written on food labels: glucose-fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fruit juice concentrates, malt and rice syrup.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
A commonly added sugar in processed foods, high fructose corn syrup is created by chemically changing it to have more fructose, causing it to be sweeter. High fructose corn syrup is sometimes deceivingly called “glucose-fructose” on food labels. Most commonly found in soda pop, it is also in fruit drinks, candied fruits, canned fruits, dairy desserts, flavoured yogurts, cereals, baked goods and jellies.
Eating foods that contain high fructose corn syrup may cause digestive discomfort, as its altered structure is hard for the body to digest. According to Dieticians of Canada, high fructose corn syrup containing foods are high in calories and could lead to weight gain. Studies raise concerns about this sugar affecting risk factors for liver, diabetes and heart disease.
It may also affect brain cells. Researchers at the University of California in 2012, trained rats to successfully navigate a maze, then replaced their water with 15 per cent fructose syrup (soda is typically 12 per cent). After six weeks of the fructose syrup, the rats were slower to complete the maze. Furthermore, when the rat’s brains were dissected the researchers discovered the sugar disrupted synapses (relay chemical messages), affecting the ability of the brain to form memories.
What about Complex Carbohydrates?
Sugar also comes in more complicated structures we call complex carbohydrates. Plants use complex sugar structures called starch to store energy. Fiber is an even more complicated sugar structure. Soluble fiber, found in fruits and some vegetables, dissolves in water forming a gummy-paste that slows the digestion of food and can prevent blood sugar spikes. Insoluble fiber found in the husks of grains and peels of fruit, promotes regularity in the digestive system.
Sweeteners and Other Tricky Foods
Artificial sweeteners are commonly used in processed foods to increase sweetness while keeping calories low. Saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, saccharin are examples of artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners are thought by the general public as a good choice for weight loss. However, according to an animal study published in 2013 issue of Appetite, both saccharin and aspartame induced greater weight gain than sucrose. It is thought that artificial sweeteners may interfere with the body’s ability to properly balance energy intake.
Natural Sugar Alternatives
Organic agave nectar is extracted from agave plants using low heat and no chemicals. A sweet natural alternative, agave nectar that is about 1.5 times sweeter than sugar due to its high concentration of fructose. Since it is so sweet you can use less. Agave nectar causes less of a blood sugar spike (lower glycemic number) than sugar.
From the sap of coconut trees, palm sugar has gained popularity from preliminary reports out of the Philippines suggesting it has a lower glycemic index than sugar. Similar to brown sugar, everyday consumers find it easy to convert to using instead of sugar. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, palm sugar is one of the most sustainable sweeteners.
Also known as cane sugar or raw sugar, turbinado sugar is a less processed, higher moisture product from sugar cane. With a few less calories than sugar it could be considered a slightly healthier choice.
Stevia is an herb that is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia does not have any calories, and thus no glycemic effect making it suitable for diabetics. Used as a sweetener for centuries in South American and Japan, it makes up 41 per cent of the global sweetener market.
You may already be familiar with xylitol as it is a common ingredient in chewing gum. This is because xylitol has a natural ability to prevent the growth of bacteria and thus prevent the development of dental cavities. Xylitol is naturally found in fibrous fruits and other plants.
The Many Ways to Write ‘Sugar’:
• agave nectar
• brown sugar
• cane juice
• corn sweetener
• cane juice (crystalized, evaporated)
• date sugar
• fruit juice concentrates
• high-fructose corn syrup
• raw sugar
• sweetened carob powder
• syrup (cane, corn, golden, malt, maple, rice)