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Are all Sugars really "Sugar"?

March 17, 2015 2 min read

Sugar is defined as a sweet crystalline substance obtained from various plants, especially sugar cane and sugar beet, consisting essentially of sucrose, and used as a sweetener in food and drink. However, there is a ongoing debate if all sugars are created equal. In recent years the increase use of high-fructose corn syrup has exploded onto the market.  In addition, we are now seeing the increased use of sugar alcohols, sucralose,  and fructose.  Obviously each of these sugars are different, with their chemical structure being different as well.  What we need to understand is that since the structures are different, our bodies must metabolize them differently as well.  So, which is better? I will break down three different types of sugar and let you be the judge!

1) Plain old fashioned table sugar: Glucose, or blood sugar, is the base of nearly all sugars produced worldwide. Combine glucose with monosaccharide fructose and Sucrose is created.  Sucrose is the name for our table sugar that is derived from sugar cane. This sugar, due to the immediate insulin spike that it causes, is the leading cause of diabetes and many metabolic disorders.

2) High Fructose Corn Syrup: There are two distinct chemical differences between sugar and HFCS; the first being that fructose and glucose are not chemically bound in the substance as they are in table sugar.  The second is the fructose to glucose  ratio in HFCS.  It comes in many different ratios but all contain a higher concentration of fructose to glucose.  Regular table sugar maintains a 50:50 ratio. This is important because excess fructose may not cause a direct insulin spike like glucose, but it does cause an indirect complication by stimulating fat synthesis and blood triglycerides, this causes a double insulin spike from the glucose portion and causes the fat storage from the excess fructose.

3) Sugar alcohols: Sugar alcohols, also know as polyols, are ingredients used as sweeteners and bulking agents. They occur naturally in foods and come from plant products such as fruits and berries. As a sugar substitute, they provide fewer calories (about a half to one-third less calories) than regular sugar. This is because they are converted to glucose more slowly, require little or no insulin to be metabolized and don't cause sudden increases in blood sugar. This makes them popular among individuals with diabetes. Most likely you are already consuming them although not knowingly.  They go by: Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol, Lactitol, Maltitol.

The downside are the side effects: Some report bloating and diarrhea when sugar alcohols are consumed in excessive amounts. There is also some evidence that sugar alcohols, much like fructose (natural fruit sugar) in fruit and fruit juice can cause a "laxative effect."

The take home from this should be that no, all sugars are not created equal. It is best to consume sugar in moderation and be aware of the types of sugar you are putting into your body as they may be the cause of those nagging problems you are having and you didn't even know you were consuming them!


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