Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but at the end of the day sugar is sugar, however I think it’s important to clear some misconceptions that hovers around sugar. Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that our body uses for energy regardless whether it is natural, processed, organic, or raw. It is found in fruits, vegetables, dairy, desserts, sodas, salad dressings etc..Like you already don’t know, we consume way too much sugar than our body needs without even realizing it because a lot of food and beverages have sugar. I don’t want to go into details on why too much sugar is not good for us, you all know the basics – weight gain, diabetes, dental caries, yada yada yada.
Let’s break down sugar into two broad types : natural and refined sugar as both have their own place in the culinary world. Rather than bashing all sugars, I’m going to share how I feel about different sugars out there and how I incorporate them in my everyday life. Feel free to chime in and share your thoughts about sugar.
Natural sugar refers to sugars that occur naturally in foods, such as fruits, vegetables, milk while refined sugar is crystallized sugar that has gone through processing such as your table sugar.
The term ‘natural’ is abused and overused by the food industry/media/influencers since FDA has no legal definition for it, it often leaves general public confused because they automatically associate the word ‘natural’ with ‘healthy’. For example: honey, ‘nature’s sweetener’ for centuries is a natural sugar, less processed than table sugar, and has small amounts of vitamins and minerals. BUT, honey is sugar too providing about 17 grams of sugar per tablespoon. Similarly, brown sugar, molasses, turbinado sugar etc are often touted as being healthier than table sugar because they contain potassium, calcium, iron etc in trace amounts but you’d have to eat cups and cups of these sugars to actually get health benefits. Like 8.5 cups of raw sugar to get the iron in 1 cup of cooked spinach!
Table sugar is a staple in baked goods as it adds volume, taste, texture, color, and acts as a preservatives.
Besides table sugar, keep your eyes out for other sneaky names for sugar such as dried oat syrup, fruit juice concentrate, inverted sugar etc as they all sound like something good for you. How about Artificial Sweeteners/Sugar Substitutes? Once upon a time I used Splenda and Stevia with my coffee because it’s calorie-free and I thought that was the way to go..It’s a controversial topic depending upon who you ask. In my personal/professional opinion, using 1-2 artificial sweeteners with your coffee isn’t going to kill you (remember the whole cancer deal with aspartame) but it ultimately comes down to how much you are using it? I sweeten my drinks with regular sugar or honey but if you have diabetes, artificial sweetener might be a good transition if you aren’t able to cut down processed sugar. Many of you may not agree with me but I have seen many patients with diabetes do well with artificial sweeteners for their blood sugar control. It really depends on one person to another because not everyone can practice moderation with table sugar.
Which Sugar is Best for me? How much should I eat? Or Should I go Sugar-Free? These are some of the questions I get on a regular basis about the sugar so I thought I’d address here in writing.
When you say sugar, are you referring to natural sugar from fruits, vegetables, dairy OR honey, stevia? It is obviously best to stick with fruits and veggies (hello vitamins/minerals/fiber) but that doesn’t mean you should deprive yourself of brownies or cupcakes on occasion. My friend + fellow RD Alexis wrote an amazing post on “When a Brownie is the Healthiest Choice”. Also, each sugar has a place in the culinary world and sometimes it is important to use the right type of sugar to serve it’s purpose. Enjoy a cupcake with real sugar and call it a day because sometimes substituting doesn’t produce same results leaving you feeling unsatisfied.
I opt for honey in most of granola, energy bite recipes because it is dense and sweeter than table sugar so I end up using less. If I am baking a cake, or cupcake – I go for white or brown sugar depending upon what the recipe calls for. For muffins/quick breads, I like to use honey, apple sauce, yogurt to sweeten them when possible.
According to the American Heart Association, the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day for men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons) and women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons). Realistically, these are hard to stick with for most of us (on average we consume about 22 grams) because 12 oz. coke = 39 grams sugar, 1 snickers = 20 grams sugar.
Unless you are eating nothing but lbs of fruits/veggies and gallons of milk, I wouldn’t worry too much about sugar from these things. For anyone with diabetes, I’d suggest keeping an close eye with fruit consumption because sometimes blood sugar can spike up with certain fruits esp if you eat them alone.
By definition, “Sugar-Free” means less than 0.5 grams of sugar per serving on the Nutrition Facts Panel, and “contains no ingredient that is a sugar or generally understood to contain sugars. However, I have seen use the term ‘Sugar-Free” loosely on recipes where other sweeteners such as honey, date syrup etc are also being used. It’s great that slightly healthier alternatives are being used in these recipes however, sometimes I feel like as an influencer we are maybe sending a wrong message to the general public that it is healthy by using terms like “natural/sugar-free/raw etc etc”.
I wouldn’t suggest anyone to go sugar-free meaning not eating anything with sugar including natural sugar from fruits and veggies . However, if you are talking about avoiding added sugar, by all means go you! Bottom Line: Sugar has a negative connotation but let’s not forget that sugar is essential to our body as it is the main source of energy! It is best to enjoy sugar in it’s natural form like fruits/veggies and keep added sugar to minimum. Just because sugar says ‘natural’, ‘raw’, ‘organic’, it is not always healthy and our food manufacturers are very sneaky when it comes to labeling things, so be mindful of that. Like most things with nutrition, sugar debate is not black and white, so always practice moderation, mindfulness, and educate yourself on what is it that you are actually consuming.
Your thoughts/comments are highly appreciated! I’d love to hear what has worked for you or your clients..What’s your take on artificial sweeteners? Just chime in.