In the past several decades, sugar has taken on near criminal status among dietitians and weight loss gurus. However, it is almost impossible to eat at all without consuming some sugar. Nearly every food we eat contains some form of sugar, so knowing what types of sugar there are, the means utilized to refine various types, and the potential impact each can have on an individual’s health are all essential in determining daily sugar intake.
From cupcakes to pies to iced coffee drinks, sugar is found in many foods and is almost impossible to avoid. Emotional or psychological dependence on sugary foods and drinks, also known as sugar addiction, is a very real cause for concern among health officials in America. Processed foods and refined grains create additional sugar in the body once the body metabolizes the food. Sugar in moderation is not harmful; however, many overdo it. A recent study suggests Americans eat far too much sugar. To be specific, approximately 75% of Americans eat excess amounts of sugar, many of whom could be classified as having a sugar addiction. Sugar consumption can create a short-term high and a spark of energy in the body. Some studies have suggested that sugar is as addictive as Cocaine. People often enjoy the dopamine release that sugar brings. But due to the addictive nature of sugar, long-term health effects like obesity and diabetes are a risk of sugar overindulgence. Similar to other compulsions or behavioral addictions, sugar addiction is a special risk for people with low moods, anxiety, and stress.
Different Types of Sugar
Nearly all foods contain sugar, however there are a number of different types of sugar. Their classifications and how they affect an individual’s health are part of defining daily sugar intake. Those various types of sugar can be classified as monosaccharide, which are simple sugars, or disaccharide, which are compound or complex sugars.
Monosaccharide sugar includes fructose and glucose. In general, except for honey, monosaccharide sugars are found in the juice and sap of plants and are a product of photosynthesis. The two variations differ slightly.
- Fructose occurs naturally in fruits, some root vegetables, honey, and sugar cane. It is the sweetest of the varieties and is typically used to make high-fructose syrups.
- Glucose or dextrose also occurs in fruits and plants. Most carbohydrates that are consumed are converted into glucose during digestion.
Disaccharide sugar or complex sugar can be classified into three different types. Those types include:
- Lactose is a naturally occurring sugar found in milk.
- Maltose is a derivative of the germination of grains, most notably barley, which is converted into malt.
- Sucrose occurs in the stems of sugar cane and the roots of sugar beets. A molecule of sucrose is formed through the combination of a molecule of glucose and a molecule of fructose.
What is Refined Sugar?
Though raw sugar can be consumed, the sugar refining process has the main objectives of removing molasses and other unwanted tastes from sugar to the point of purity. Raw sugar is typically transported in bulk either domestically or internationally to processing plants where it goes through several stages of refining.
Before raw sugar is shipped for refining, it has to be extracted from either sugar cane or sugar beets. There are four steps to the process of extracting raw sugar from these plants:
- Milled. Sugar beets and sugar cane go through slightly different milling processes, but the end result is essentially the same, which is the extraction of the juice from the plants.
- Clarified. Milk of lime and carbon dioxide are added to the juice in order to extract non-sugar plant materials such as wax, gum or fat.
- Concentrated. Low temperature boiling to prevent caramelization helps to extract excess water from the clarified juice.
- Crystallized. Water is evaporated from the juice in a vacuum chamber where crystals begin to form. After passing from the evaporation chamber, the crystals are spun and dried further to create crystallized raw sugar.
The crystallized, raw sugar is what is typically shipped to the refining plants. At these plants, sugar undergoes further refining or purification in order to remove any molasses tastes or other impurities.
The Refining or Purification Process
The raw, crystallized sugar goes through a process of seven steps before being packaged. Those steps include:
- Affination is the process in which a warm water and sugar mixture is added to the raw sugar in order to loosen the molasses surrounding the crystals. The process creates what is called sugar magma.
- Separation of the molasses film is accomplished by spinning the magma in a centrifuge to separate it from the crystals. The molasses is then sold separately or reserved for later use in processing.
- Clarification includes washing dissolving and filtering the crystals in order to further remove molasses and other impurities.
- Evaporation is used to rid the sugar of some of its water content after further carbon filters remove even more impurities and create a concentrated white syrup.
- Crystallization is accomplished by seeding sugar crystals into the syrup mixture and then evaporating the remaining water.
- Dehydration comes from spinning the sugar crystals in high-speed centrifuges while drying all of the moisture remaining on the surface of the crystals.
- Separation of the crystals from coarse to fine is the final step in refining sugar for packaging.
After separating the various sizes of crystals, various processes create the different forms in which sugar is sold. It is finely ground to produce powdered sugar, confectioners’ sugar or brown sugar. For brown sugar, varying amounts of molasses are added back into the refined, powdered sugar in order to obtain the desired color, consistency and flavor of brown sugar.
Why is Sugar Bad for You?
Natural sugar is in nearly all of the plant foods humans consume, but not all of it is bad for you. Though the refining process gets rid of impurities, it also gets rid of the nutrients and minerals that were present in the raw sugar that was extracted from the plants. In essence, sugar is stripped of all of its nutritional value through processing, thus adding empty calories to an individual’s diet. Besides those empty calories, sugar foods cause other forms of damage such as:
- Induces inflammation and oxidative stress, which cause damage to vital organs like the heart.
- Impairs proper immune function and white blood cell production necessary to fight infection.
- Fuels the growth of cancer cells.
- Disrupts the transfer of amino acids to muscles, which decreases the amount of energy your body gains from proteins.
- Decreases leptin production, which is necessary for appetite control.
- Increases insulin resistance, which results in the development of Type II diabetes.
- Those empty calories along with the disruption of amino acid transfer decreased leptin production and insulin resistance leads to obesity and work against any hope of obtaining significant weight loss.
How Many Grams of Sugar Per Day?
There is a big difference between the natural sugar that is consumed from fruits, vegetables, dairy products and grains versus refined sugar or added sugar, most commonly listed as high-fructose corn syrup. It is necessary to make that differentiation when it comes to the daily recommended sugar consumption.
The recommended daily sugar intake for added sugar or refined sugar, according to the American Heart Association, is:
- 150 calories daily for men, which converts to 36 grams or 9 teaspoons.
- 100 calories daily for women, which converts to 20 grams or 6 teaspoons.
A bottled soda typically contains about 140 calories, and your average-sized candy bar from a vending machine contains about 120 calories of processed or added sugar. A young, healthy individual can burn off those calories easily enough, but the greater point is that they do not serve any necessary, physiological benefit where your health is concerned and tend to do more harm than good. Moreover, excessive intake of added sugar could lead to different illnesses including periodontal disease.
Though high-sugar fruits, vegetables, dairy products, and grains should be limited to a certain degree, the nutritional benefits of consuming those whole foods tend to help balance our some of the harmful side-effects of sugar. Consequently, replacing refined sugar and added sugar with food-based alternatives is the better option when it comes to recommended daily sugar intake.
Adopt a Low Sugar Diet
There are various ways to lower sugar intake and maintain a low sugar diet. Regardless of how they are accomplished, there are two objectives involved in the process. To begin with, an individual will need to get rid of or drastically limit a number of foods, food types, and beverages. On the heels of that aspect of the process, various foods, food types and beverages should be sought out as sweet alternatives. Here is a closer look at how to accomplish these objectives.
What Types of Foods to Limit
Along with any serious dietary changes, there are foods that should be eliminated entirely as well as foods that should be consumed in limited quantities. Here is a list of those foods to limit or dump from your diet:
- Processed and packaged foods even frozen “diet” or “lite” foods tend to have added sugar.
- Avoid canned sauces (pasta sauce) and dressings (salad dressings and dips).
- Canned and bottled soft drinks and juices, even the frozen concentrate juice.
- Flavored yogurt tends to have added sugar as does processed cheese, including cottage cheese.
- Avoid mixed alcoholic drinks, which often have a flavored syrup of some sort on their list of ingredients.
- Limit the consumption of crackers, white bread, cookies, cakes, and pies, even if they are homemade, because they are made with refined sugar.
There are alternatives to loading up on sugar, most of those alternatives involve the consumption of whole foods rather than any form of processed foods. Here is a list of some of the sweet alternatives to too much sugar.
- Whole vegetables contain less fructose and sucrose than whole fruits, so a larger portion of these can be consumed daily, especially since the vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients are essential to your health.
- Whole fruits contain sucrose and fructose, but they also include potassium, vitamin C, folate and a number of antioxidants, but eat them whole or drink the freshly extracted juice to get their best benefits.
- Milk products contain lactose, but they also contain calcium, protein, vitamins, and minerals that the body needs. Consuming these foods in the least processed form possible is the best way to get those nutrients with the least amount of sugar. Those who are lactose intolerant need to limit milk products significantly if not avoid them entirely.
- Grains also contain a number of necessary nutrients but contain glucose, which can cause a great number of health issues for some individuals. Choosing whole grains over processed grains is the better option to avoid both the sugar content and glucose sensitivity issues. Opt for brown rice and oatmeal or low glucose grains rather than products with wheat and corn.
- Make dressings and sauces at home from whole fruits, vegetables, herbs and dairy products.
- Make use of alternative sweeteners like raw honey, raw maple syrup, Xylitol or stevia.
- If chocolate is a craving go for dark chocolate with 70% or more cocoa in the ratio of ingredients.
Sugar has gotten a bad reputation for good reason. The empty calories from refined or added sugar serve absolutely no useful purpose when it comes to health and wellness, but cause a great deal of damage instead. Natural sources of sugar still contain some calories, but those calories come along with other nutrients the body needs. Better health can be obtained through the elimination or limitation of useless sugar as well as regulating, in varying degrees of moderation, the consumption of whole foods that contain various amounts of sugar.