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Sugar Dictionary – Healthy Sugar Alternatives

Sugar is harmful to health in many ways and with far-reaching consequences. This statement should no longer surprise anyone. But which sugar makes us sick? Does this apply to every type of sugar? Are there also sweeteners that can be consumed without harming one’s health? You can find the answers to these questions in our sugar dictionary.

Sugar – The Definition

The term sugar can mean many things. Sugar, for example, is a normal part of our body in the form of blood sugar. Sugar is also found in natural foods such as B. in fruits or cereals. These forms of sugar are generally not a problem.

However, when it comes to the sugar that the food industry makes available to us (household sugar, glucose syrup, etc.), then problems are often not far away. Because this sugar has health disadvantages. It damages the teeth, promotes a lack of vital substances, causes blood sugar fluctuations, promotes chronic inflammatory processes, disrupts the intestinal flora, promotes the development of cancer, etc., etc.

Fluctuations in blood sugar can make you sick

Fluctuations in blood sugar can be easily compensated for by the body, but only if they occur at normal levels. However, high industrial sugar consumption leads to blood sugar fluctuations that put a strain on the body. The pancreas has to release large amounts of insulin quickly so that the blood has a normal sugar concentration again as quickly as possible.

If the body is constantly confronted with sugar, the pancreas is overwhelmed and can no longer produce enough insulin. The sugar level no longer drops to its normal level and the cells become insulin resistant over time. Ultimately, this condition can lead to type 2 diabetes.

The glycemic index (GI)

How quickly and how high the blood sugar level rises after eating food is measured using a certain parameter: the glycemic index (or the glycemic load (GL). Carbohydrates are considered to be worse and unhealthier the higher their glycemic index or their glycemic load is.

Pure glucose has the highest GI of 100. White bread, for example, is between 70 and 85, and chocolate and cola at 70. While whole grain products have a GI of 40, legumes and most fruits and vegetables are even lower.

Because a low GI causes blood sugar levels to rise slowly, whole grain foods, legumes, and fruits and vegetables hardly put a strain on the pancreas. In general, food with a GI over 50 is considered worse than those under 50.

You can see from these examples that the consumption of sugar and carbohydrates has very different effects on the blood sugar level. And you can also see that the sugar from healthy foods only triggers minor blood sugar fluctuations and is therefore used to generate energy without harming your health.

Because natural sugar in fruit or grain is always present there in a natural combination with many different accompanying substances (including vitamins, minerals, and roughage). Isolated and refined forms of sugar, on the other hand, consist (almost) exclusively of sugar. Household sugar is made from sucrose, dextrose is made from glucose, fruit sugar is made from fructose, etc. These sugars no longer contain accompanying substances. They were removed during production so that only almost 100 percent pure forms of sugar are left.

What constitutes healthy sugar?

The only sugar that occurs in natural foods, i.e. in fruits, cereals, nuts, legumes, vegetables, etc., can be described as healthy sugar, are at best less harmful, but none of these sugars are actually that healthy – with a few exceptions.

Unhealthy forms of sugar

But first, let’s look at the types of sugar that cause blood sugar to skyrocket and are certainly not beneficial due to other negative health effects. These are primarily types of sugar that have been heavily processed.

This includes isolated sugar in its pure form as well as sugar syrup. Below we describe the different types of sugar.

Glucose

Glucose is a simple sugar that is sold as grape sugar or dextrose. In its natural form, it can be found in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and honey.

However, the dextrose used in numerous sweets, beverages, sports foods, etc. does not come from grapes, as its name might suggest.

Instead, it is obtained from potato, wheat, or corn starch using genetically modified microorganisms. The corn starch used also often comes from genetically modified corn.

This glucose is far from beneficial to health in any way.

Fructose

Fructose is one of the simple sugars among carbohydrates. It occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables, and honey.

The fructose used in countless finished products is of course not obtained naturally, but industrially and, like glucose, produced with the help of genetically modified microorganisms.

Fructose makes you fat

That alone would certainly be reason enough to forego finished products containing fructose. However, there are other good reasons for this.

Industrially produced fructose is converted into fat much more quickly in the body than glucose. It’s bad for the character. To make matters worse, this fructose also prevents the development of satiety, which is also a bad trait.

Both factors together make the fructose in the finished products the absolute leader among

fattening foods.

Fructose feeds cancer cells

But there is another, very important aspect that should be taken into account in this context. If this fructose allows our body to grow and thrive extremely quickly, then of course pathogenic bacteria, fungi, and cancer cells also benefit from it.

After all, they all feed on sugar and they will certainly not be able to resist the rich supply of fructose. An American study from 2010 already showed that cancer cells prefer synthetic fructose to glucose and that they thrive much better as a result.

Sucrose

Sucrose is a disaccharide made up of glucose and fructose. It is refined from sugar beet or sugar cane. What remains after processing is cane or beet sugar.

In further processing steps, different types of white sugar are produced from this:

  • Granulated sugar (table sugar or refined sugar)
  • Instant sugar (obtained by spray drying table sugar)
  • Granulated sugar (coarse granulated sugar)
  • Candy sugar white (thickened sugar solution)
  • brown rock candy (thickened sugar solution, colored with sugar color)
  • powdered sugar (extremely finely ground table sugar)
  • Sugar cubes (household sugar pressed into cubes)

Whole cane sugar, whole sugar, or raw cane sugar?

In health food stores or health food stores, special types of sugar are offered, which are usually made from sugar cane (whole cane or raw cane sugar). If the sugar is called whole sugar, it is a wholesome sugar from sugar beet and not from sugar cane.

All of these sugars are often touted as wholesome and healthy. Nevertheless, these are also concentrated types of sugar whose high sugar content negates the possible health-promoting properties of the micronutrients they contain.

Raw cane sugar contains fewer minerals

Raw cane sugar is partially refined sugar, but some molasses still sticks to it. Molasses is a dark sugar syrup that is a by-product of sugar production. It still contains all the minerals that were originally contained in sugar beet or sugar cane.

Therefore, molasses is considered a valuable food.

Nevertheless, raw cane sugar is not fully-fledged sugar, as it too has been subjected to a number of processing methods. In addition, it contains only very small amounts of molasses, so its mineral content is negligible compared to sucrose. Therefore, raw cane sugar cannot be described as healthy.

Whole cane sugar is only slightly better than table sugar

Whole cane sugar is gently processed sugar cane juice. The refining to white sugar is completely eliminated here. After gentle thickening, it is briefly heated to kill any germs.

Since the whole cane sugar does not form crystals, it is ground for crushing. Its consistency makes it hydrophilic, which means it tends to clump. For this reason, it should be kept tightly closed.

Whole cane sugar is certainly one of the best sweeteners in the sugar category. But this is also a concentrated sugar, and the approximately 2 to 2.5 percent mineral content would not change much.

Maltose has only a low sweetening power

Maltose, also known as malt sugar, consists of 2 molecules of glucose. It occurs naturally when grains germinate, such as barley. Maltose can be found in many plants, but also in bread, honey and beer.

Due to its caramel-like taste, maltose is often used in confectionery, baked goods, baby food, and beverages. However, since malt sugar only has a low sweetening power compared to other types of sugar, it is always used in conjunction with other sweeteners.

You probably already guessed that in this case, too, the natural maltose is not used, but instead, the malt sugar obtained from starch and genetically modified enzymes is meant.

Glucose syrup in candy

The syrup is a thick, concentrated solution made by boiling plant starches with the help of genetically engineered enzymes. This manufacturing process is extremely cheap and therefore just as profitable.

A third of the sugar market is already dominated by syrups in the USA alone. It is therefore not surprising that glucose and fructose syrup can also be found in countless ready meals and drinks in this country.

The glucose syrup is made from vegetable starch. In addition to potato and wheat starch, corn starch is predominantly used in Europe. The corn starch, which is often genetically modified, is broken down into individual sugar building blocks by enzymes that are also genetically engineered.

A syrup mixture of glucose and other simple sugars is formed.

Glucose syrup can be found in all kinds of confectionery and baked goods as well as in jam, ice cream, ketchup, gummy bears, and many other “treats”, all of which are harmful to health.

Fructose syrup has many disadvantages

Fructose syrup is made from glucose syrup using an additional chemical process called isomerization. During this process, some of the glucose is converted into fructose.

The reason for this is obvious because fructose has a significantly higher sweetening power than glucose. The more fructose the syrup contains, the sweeter it is.

This is also the explanation for the fact that fructose syrup is used more frequently than glucose syrup. But fructose is not only particularly sweet, it is also particularly hazardous to health, as you already know.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

When the fructose content in the syrup rises above 50 percent, it is referred to as high fructose corn syrup. It now has a stronger sweetening power than conventional table sugar and still only costs a third of the cost of sucrose to produce.

This is of course an enormously profitable business for the manufacturers. For the consumer, on the other hand, anything but that.

Due to its particularly intense sweetening power, this syrup can make almost all confectionery, ready meals, and drinks “tastier” in a cost-effective way.

Syrup is added to so many products that the consumer has no way of even remotely controlling the amount of fructose consumed.

However, excess fructose can have a devastating effect on health. High blood pressure, diabetes, kidney disease, fatty liver, and gout are just a few of the possible conditions associated with excessive fructose consumption.

And you have long known about the effect of fructose on cancer cells.

Maple syrup is rich in antioxidants

Maple syrup is the thickened sap of Canadian sugar maple. To win it, small taps are knocked into the maple trees, from which the sap runs out. It is collected in vats and then boiled until the water has evaporated.

What then remains is an almost 70 percent sugar concentrate. Although maple syrup still contains quite high amounts of minerals, such. B. 90 – 100 mg calcium per 100 g syrup, 1.5 mg zinc, and 25 mg magnesium.

However, due to the high sugar content, maple syrup is not eaten by the hundred grams, which is why the syrup cannot contribute so much to covering the mineral requirement.

Certainly maple syrup is better than table sugar (due to the added minerals) and also better than fructose syrup because it is relatively low in free fructose and its main sugar content is sucrose.

Maple syrup also contains plenty of antioxidants and compounds that can have a positive effect on diabetes, but we wouldn’t call maple syrup really healthy either.

On the other hand, a very special syrup that has many health benefits is Yacon syrup.

Yacon syrup: a healthy alternative

Yacon is a root vegetable that grows in the Peruvian Andes, where it is valued both as a valuable food and for medicinal purposes. Yacon syrup and yacon powder are made from this root.

Both are a little less sweet than sugar, honey, or thick juices, but they are all healthier and have fewer calories.

Yacon syrup and yacon powder can confidently be described as healthy sweeteners because they combine many health benefits. The yacon sweet has a very low glycemic index of 1. It also provides iron, calcium, potassium, and antioxidants.

However, what is most remarkable about Yacon is the quality of its sugars, which are predominantly in the form of fructooligosaccharides (FOS). FOS are not broken down in the liver, but – similar to inulin – serve as food for the good bacteria in the intestine.

Thus, yacon syrup and yacon powder support the healthy intestinal flora in the form of a natural prebiotic.

FOS also show an effect similar to roughage, in that they activate intestinal activity and can thus counteract constipation.

Studies have also confirmed that yacon sweeteners have a metabolism-stimulating effect, which can also contribute to weight reduction. It is recommended to take 1 teaspoon of Yacon (syrup or powder) before a meal.

Yacon syrup and yacon powder are therefore ideal sweeteners for diabetics and overweight people as well as for those people who are looking for a really healthy alternative to sugar.

Steer clear of sweeteners

The best-known representatives of sweeteners include u. aspartame, saccharin and sucralose. Aspartame is also known as “NutraSweet”, “Canderel” or simply as E 951. Saccharin bears the designation E 954 and sucralose E 955.

Sweeteners are synthetically produced substitutes for sugar. They have a strong sweetening power but still have no calories. Since they contain no sugar, they also offer no food for bacteria and fungi. But that is already the only advantage of sweeteners.

Because the zero-calorie substances do not always support weight loss, as is wrongly assumed. The opposite is the case because sweeteners make you fat.

And while it is sugar that is commonly associated with diabetes, sweeteners can also increase the risk of diabetes: sweeteners promote diabetes

Sweeteners are also dangerous for the kidneys. Yes, they are even able to trigger premature births. In addition, the risk of stroke increases if you frequently drink soft drinks sweetened with artificial sweeteners. And those who suffer from migraines should avoid sweeteners, as they can trigger a migraine attack.

Thick juices are often not recommended

Apple, pear, or agave syrup? The names of these juices alone suggest a healthy sweetness. But beware! Thick juices are not healthy because they have an extremely high sugar content, which is mainly composed of fructose. You are aware of the disadvantages of fructose.

While the respective juices initially only have 10 to 15 percent sugar, this value increases to up to 90 percent as the water evaporates during the manufacturing process.

Even if the juice is heated relatively gently at around 60°C, which is by no means the case with all juices, heat-sensitive vitamins and all enzymes are lost. What is left is highly concentrated sugar with some minerals still clinging to it.

Admittedly – these juices are certainly better than those made from genetically modified maize and microorganisms, but the thick juices cannot be labeled “healthy”.

Although still not to be described as healthy, the following syrups are still more recommendable than the thick juices mentioned above: maple syrup, date syrup, rice syrup, and barley malt syrup. Their only, but the essential advantage is that the fructose content is significantly lower.

Honey: if at all, only small amounts

In addition to fructose, glucose, sucrose, and other polysaccharides, honey also contains some minerals and enzymes. Its sugar content is around 80 percent. The rest is mainly water.

Of course, just like table sugar, this concentrated sugar can damage teeth, stress the pancreas, and damage the intestines. Therefore, honey should only be consumed in very small quantities – also considering the fact that bees (like any “farm animal”) are not always treated well and carefully these days, but are only bred for their performance and exploited accordingly.

Manuka honey: used as a remedy

Manuka honey is an exception among all types of honey. As a traditional remedy, it is used for many diseases. This is thanks to its main active ingredient, methylglyoxal.

Despite its high content of fructose (about 40 percent) and glucose (about 30 percent), it should not damage the teeth. A scientific study even showed that manuka honey can protect teeth from plaque almost as well as the chemical chlorhexidine solution.

Manuka honey should only be considered as a remedy, taken in correspondingly small amounts and only when needed.

Coconut blossom sugar is similar to whole cane sugar

The coconut blossom sugar is obtained from the fresh juice of the coconut blossom. For this purpose, the flower juice is first boiled over an open fire to form a thick syrup. This is how the popular coconut blossom syrup is made.

To make the coconut blossom sugar, the syrup is further heated until it crystallizes. After it has cooled down, it is finely ground.

Now the coconut blossom sugar – contrary to what its name might suggest – does not taste like coconut but has a strong caramel-like flavor. It is less sweet than table sugar and has a very pleasant taste.

There are no reliable sources for its allegedly low glycemic index (GI) of 35. Since coconut blossom sugar consists mainly of sugar, similar to whole cane sugar, it should only be used in small quantities and it is also better to exchange it for other alternatives.

Sugar substitutes: xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol

Sugar substitutes include sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, and erythritol. They are not to be confused with sweeteners. These are sweet-tasting carbohydrates, but they don’t quite come close to the sweetening power of household sugar (the exception is xylitol). Therefore, they are often used in combination with sweeteners. So caution is advised here as well.

In general, sugar substitutes have fewer calories than normal sugar, get into the blood more slowly (low blood sugar level rise), and are metabolized largely independently of insulin. In addition, they are only slightly acidic, so they do not harm dental health. These advantages make sugar substitutes so interesting.

From a chemical point of view, sugar substitutes are among the sugar alcohols that are also found in fruit, vegetables, mushrooms, etc. Of course, the substances used in industry are not derived from these foods, but from wheat and corn starch.

If the corn and the bacteria used to break down the sugar building blocks are not genetically modified, the sugar substitutes can be a good alternative to the types of sugar already mentioned. Provided they are consumed in small amounts, otherwise, they have a strong laxative effect.

Erythritol, also known as erythritol, also belongs to the group of sugar substitutes. It is obtained through a fermentation process in which glucose from wheat or corn starch is fermented by special yeasts.

Compared to sugar, erythritol has a sweetening power of around 70 percent and its health benefits are comparable to those of xylitol.

However, erythritol has two notable advantages over xylitol.

On the one hand, it has almost no calories (20 kcal/100g) and on the other hand, 90 percent of it gets into the blood via the small intestine and is completely excreted via the kidneys. Just under 10 percent are excreted through the large intestine.

Erythritol is therefore much better tolerated than xylitol and other sugar alcohols, even after consuming larger amounts.

D-Ribose is not a sweetener

Like fructose or glucose, D-ribose belongs to the group of simple sugars but is not suitable as a sweetener. The kilo price is around 60 euros and the sweetening power is too low. It also does not bake or cook well with ribose. D-Ribose is instead used as a dietary supplement e.g. B. taken in chronic exhaustion, heart failure, or fibromyalgia.

Conclusion on the different types of sugar

It’s tedious to pass the time finding out which sweetener is actually supposed to be the best. Wouldn’t it make more sense to wean the palate a little from the sweet taste in order to experience the occasional pleasure?

That’s certainly easier said than done. Because one thing is for sure: sugar is addictive and getting rid of sugar addiction is anything but a “silk bed” :-). But simply replacing the types of sugar or amounts of sugar you have used so far can be a good start. Also try the natural sweeteners Yacon, Stevia, or Luo Han Guo.

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Written by Bella Adams

I'm a professionally-trained, executive chef with over ten years in Restaurant Culinary and hospitality management. Experienced in specialized diets, including Vegetarian, Vegan, Raw foods, whole food, plant-based, allergy-friendly, farm-to-table, and more. Outside of the kitchen, I write about lifestyle factors that impact well-being.

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