Not All Sugars Are Created Equal
The average diet contains far too much sugar, according to osteopathic physician and natural health care practitioner Dr. Joseph Mercola. Sugar naturally occurs in many foods and is added, in one form or another, to most processed foods, making it to difficult to avoid. Excess sugar consumption can lead to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, premature aging, and other health issues.
Sugar exists in many forms: According to Ann Louise Gittleman, author of Get the Sugar Out, sugar can appear on food packaging under more than 30 different names. Some forms have less adverse side effects than others. Familiarize yourself with some of the different names of sugar, and always read labels on processed foods. While some forms of sugar are necessary to supply energy to the body, others should be avoided.
Glucose is a simple sugar that is used by every cell in the body for energy. Glucose is vital to brain function, enhances memory, stimulates calcium absorption, and increases cellular communication. Though glucose is necessary for energy and optimal brain function, too much glucose can damage cells or lead to obesity and diabetes.
Sources of glucose
All carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, but simple carbohydrates and processed foods — such as potatoes, rice, white bread, and baked goods — are converted more quickly into glucose, causing a spike in blood sugar. This puts strain on the pancreas, which must produce more insulin to compensate for the elevated blood sugar levels.
Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in vegetables, beans, nuts, and whole grains, cause a more gradual rise in blood sugar. Glucose is also found in fruits such as grapes, bananas, cherries, strawberries, and mangoes. Milk, yogurt, and some protein are converted into glucose, as is a small amount of fat from foods like butter, salad dressings, and avocado.
Ideally, strive to keep your blood sugar levels consistent throughout the day to keep your energy level constant. According to Dr. Mercola, the brain functions best when you have about 25 grams of glucose in your bloodstream, which is about the amount found in one banana.
Sucrose, also known as saccharose, is found in plain table sugar, maple syrup, or molasses. Sucrose is made up of half glucose and half fructose. Sucrose, which is often derived from cane sugar or beet sugar, acts like a parasite, leaching vitamins and minerals from the body.
Dextrose, which comes from the hydrolysis of cornstarch, is present in many processed foods. Like sucrose, dextrose depletes the body of valuable vitamins and minerals.
Raw sugar, Turbinado sugar, or natural sugar, though often considered to be more natural and healthier than white sugar due to limited processing, has the same effect on the body as sucrose.
Fructose is naturally found in fruits, where it is accompanied by the necessary enzymes, vitamins, and minerals that allow the human body to use it for nourishment. Processed fructose, however, robs the body of nutrients. Fructose is used as a sweetener in many processed foods and is about 20 times sweeter than table sugar. Though fructose does not raise blood sugar levels significantly, it does raise triglyceride levels and has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome.
For more about fructose, read The Dangers of High-Fructose Corn Syrup.
Though you may think honey is safer because it is a natural product, honey actually contains the most calories of all sugars and decays teeth faster than table sugar. The naturally existing enzymes and nutrients are usually destroyed in the manufacturing process, when honey is heated to give it a clear appearance. Commercial honey often contains pesticides .
Sorbitol and Mannitol
Sorbitol and mannitol are sugar alcohols that are not as sweet as sucrose and are commonly used to mask the unpleasant aftertaste of other sweeteners. Though sugar alcohols reportedly to not contribute to tooth decay, they may contribute to the growth of bacteria in the mouth and have been linked to intestinal problems and diarrhea.
Also a sugar alcohol, xylitol is about as sweet as sucrose but is absorbed more slowly and does not contribute to high blood sugar levels. Xylitol is extracted from corn fiber, birch, and fruit such as raspberries and plums. Though it can also result in bloating, diarrhea, and gas, the effects from xylitol are less severe than those from sorbitol or mannitol. Because xylitol is metabolized differently than sucrose, it may be an acceptable sugar substitute for diabetics and hypoglycemics. Mouth bacteria does not feed on xylitol as they do on other sugar alcohols.
The Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives has determined xylitol to be acceptable for human consumption.