Are you concerned about sugar? Confused about sugar? Join the group. More and more things that were good for us yesterday, the foods our grandparents ate, and that we fed to our children, are now bad for us today. And before we‘ve gotten use to the bland, cheaper, substitutes that the big food companies are pushing on us, we find out that the solution is worse than the original or we are being asked to accept something that tastes horrible for the benefit of our bodies. Our understanding of what is good for our health is constantly evolving. It’s time to examine our sweeteners as part of the whole.
Let’s jump into sugar. Don’t worry. I’m not here in praise of sugar. Nor am I here to torch it. But let’s look at the whole picture.
In this Article:
- What is Sugar?
- Watch Out for Hidden Sugars!
- The Right Way to Think about Sugar
- Top 3 Common Sugar Myths
- Sneakz and Sugar
What is Sugar??
Sugar is a carb. Not as appetizing in it’s raw form as a plate of pasta but a carb none the less. Sugar comes in four forms (there are some specialty sugars, such as Maltose, that we won’t discuss here. Look for future articles about specific sugars and their uses.):
The body processes these sugars differently. So while they may taste similar, unless you have a very talented tongue, they have a very different impact on the body.
Your body recognizes its ole buddy, carbs (sugar), and uses it for energy. It uses this energy immediately. Or it stores it in our muscles and/or liver as glycogen. This is energy held in reserve. You know, for that sudden burst we need when the Saber Tooth tiger jumps out at us. We all need a little turbo charge, a little hyper focus, from time to time. Doesn’t sound so bad, a little energy in reserve. But this energy is often held as fat in our muscles and liver. And while fat is an efficient energy source for our bodies it is not the first energy source your body looks for (unless you’re a keto beast). So fat can accumulate which leads to all kinds of health issues. And as sugars in all their forms – from any fruit concentrate to High Fructose Corn Syrup to artificial sweeteners – have risen in use, our weight and stored body fat has sky rocketed.
Glucose is your bodies’ favorite. Your body will break down carbs into glucose. Glucose is a simple sugar (monosaccharide; or one unit of sugar) that floats around in your blood stream using enzymes to kick off your metabolism. And what doesn’t get used in that last sprint around the block gets stored as energy. Plus your body’s pretty smart. Get too much glucose and your body will spurt out some insulin. Insulin helps store the left over glucose in your muscles as energy. Keep everything in balance and a healthy body will know just how to handle your glucose.
Fructose is a tricky little dude (and also a monosaccharide; or one unit of sugar). It comes naturally in fruits and vegetables. And when eaten in its natural form uses a high fiber level (naturally occurring in whole fruits and vegetables) to slow the absorption of fructose. This is important because the body prefers glucose and will use glucose first. It will not use fructose for an energy source for the brain or your muscles. What doesn’t get burned gets stored. And fructose gets stored as fat….in the liver.
Fructose gets added into lots of products. Why? Because it’s cheap. And really sweet. In it’s processed form – without fiber – it gets absorbed through the small intestines very quickly. Hence, a sugar high. All of this throws off our body’s natural ability to regulate our energy, hunger, and satiety levels. Plus, it desensitizes us to sweetness levels. It actually trains us to want more things that taste sweet. Sometimes it’s called fruit concentrates. But it’s all fructose in it’s cheapest most harmful form. Fructose is also more damaging on a gram per gram basis than other “natural” sweeteners. It damages our insulin sensitivity and because it is stored as fat in the liver it will harm our liver functions. Fructose, or sugar from an apple, or a date, or grapes is not the same as eating an apple. Using concentrated fruit juice as a sweetener in foods is not the same as eating fruit. When fructose is processed the fiber is eliminated. It becomes a processed sugar instead of a whole food filled with fiber, phytonutrients, and naturally occurring vitamins and minerals. Fructose in all its processed forms can be unhealthy.
Sucrose is what we commonly think of as table sugar. It can be highly processed or used in it’s raw form. Sucrose is a disaccharide. In other words it has two molecules; one glucose and one fructose. Your body will break down sucrose into the individual molecules and use each as previously described. Remember that glucose is the preferred source so it will be used first. The fructose will either be immediately burned, if needed, or it will be stored in the liver as fat. The amount of fructose in products using sucrose is much lower that those that use strictly fructose sweeteners.
Lactose is the sugar naturally occurring in the milk of all mammals; at least all the mammals on earth. Children and infants have a natural sweet tooth. Milk has sugars. We are programmed to like sweetness from the start. This helps infants with nursing and bonding with their mothers.
Lactose is a disaccharide and consists of glucose and galactose. Galactose is critical in brain and nerve tissue development especially in infants. Lactose in milk, especially in breast milk, aids in the development of bacteria in the gut which helps build a strong immune system. Lactose is generally not found in non-dairy type foods but can sometimes be found as fillers in capsules and tablets of all types.
Fun Fact: Lactose is sometimes used as a sweetener in beer. Yeast does not metabolize lactose into alcohol. Therefore lactose makes beer sweeter, creamier, and more full bodied.
Watch Out for Hidden Sugars!
When is zero not really zero? When you read it on the back of the nutrition panel on most processed foods as 0 grams of sugar. It doesn’t really mean zero. Not in most cases. Not when it comes to sugars. In most cases it means they, the big food manufacturer’s of the world, have loaded this product with all kinds of alternative sweeteners. Sugar alcohols, Stevia (technically not a sugar but used as a sweetener), and sometimes, under specific labeling laws, fructose. Anything ending in ‘ose’ or ‘ol’ are all either sugar alcohols or products used as sweeteners that do not have to be listed as sugar on a nutrition label. They get added because we like the taste. Because they’re cheap. We want the sweetness. And we want that zero added sugar label on the package.
Sugar alcohols are also commonly used sweeteners and/or thickeners that do not have to be listed as sugars. Sugar alcohols are a mix of sugar molecules and alcohol. Common sugar alcohols are erythritol, xylitol, and basically anything ending in an .... ol. Sugar alcohols are often mixed with artificial sweeteners to boost the sweetness or taste of the product. While sugar alcohols are usually lower in calories than sugar they can be significantly sweeter to the taste. Erythritol, one of the most common sugar alcohols, is a fermented genetically modified cornstarch. Sugar alcohols are not easily absorbed in the small intestines and therefore can cause bloating and gas. They can be especially hard on the stomachs of children or anyone with sensitive digestive issues.
A quick word about Stevia: Stevia is often lauded as a better alternative to common sweeteners because it’s plant based and has a lower impact on the glycemic index. Cane sugar is plant based. Beet sugar is plant based, Plant based is not always the answer. Stevia in the U.S. is highly processed. The natural fibers in the plant are removed and with it some of the benefits that are touted. Stevia is about 300x sweeter than cane sugar. So while less can be used, because it is so sweet, it still triggers our desire for sweeter foods. Plus the taste is unique. You either like it or you don’t.
Let’s face it. We usually buy products that taste good. We want healthy but we want healthy that tastes good. We want healthy that tastes good and is cheap. So, we end up with processed foods that are packed with sugar, and salt, and fat.
So what’s the fix? Well, a little more honesty in our labeling practices will help. New labeling guidelines are taking effect in 2020 for large companies and 2021 for smaller companies. So help is on the way. But more importantly a better understanding of sugar and food labeling is critical. Don’t just look at the nutrition panel. Read the ingredient list. The ingredient list gives you a complete list of everything in the product. It also gives you an idea of how much of each ingredient is in the product. If water is the ingredient listed first then you can feel safe that the product is largely comprised of water. The first ingredient is the largest ingredient from a percentage basis that is used and the last is the smallest ingredient used. Companies will often use three or four different types of sugars and alcohols to sweeten their product. This allows them to break up the individual sugar and/or sugar alcohols into smaller amounts and move them down the ingredient list. It’s sweeteners hiding in plain sight. If three of the first five ingredients end in an ol then the product has a ton of sweeteners even though it might say 0 or 1 or 2 grams of sugar on the nutritional panel. Now you know.
The Right Way to Think about Sugar
Sixty (60) percent of all American calories come from “ultra processed” foods. We all know the best foods are fresh from our gardens and free of pesticides and additives. But let’s be real. We live busy modern lives. Most of us don’t have vegetable gardens or even access to farmer’s markets. It’s just not possible to get all of our daily calories from only these whole unprocessed foods. This is a world-wide problem not just an American problem. Since 1980 the obesity rate has doubled in 73 countries. It has increased in 113 countries. And in that same time period not one nation has reduced its obesity levels (for more information on obesity please read, ”Everything you know about Obesity is Wrong” by Michael Hobbs, 2018).
Slicing and dicing our diets into individual ingredients will not improve our health. It will not help us lose weight. We need to look at our entire diet and that includes sugar. Sugar is not the devil. I’m not telling you to eat more sugar. But a healthy diet that is high is whole foods and includes vegetables and fruits can handle a little sugar. Studies show the overall calorie count is more important to weight loss than any individual ingredient. A study by American Journal of Clinical Nutrition conducted on 350,000 adults and tested over a decade found that an increase of sugar was not a link to an increase in death, heart disease, cancer, or Alzheimer’s. Moderation is the key. Natural sugars are better. Stay away from sugar substitutes.
Understand what you are eating. Read the labels. It’s easy to get too much sugar if you believe that 0 grams of sugar on the Nutritional Panel is really sugar free. Stick with food companies that have clean label policies. A glass of milk has about 12 grams of naturally occurring sugar (lactose). This is significantly better for your child than a diet soda or sport’s drink that has “zero” calories. One large carrot has approximately 4 grams of naturally occurring sugar. A carrot is much better for your child’s health than a cookie claiming to have “zero” grams of sugar and added vitamins. A medium size apple has about 16 grams of natural sugar. It’s still healthier than a glass of apple juice that has about 36 grams of sugar without the fiber content.
Be aware of sugar but not afraid of sugar.
All American Snack: There is nothing wrong with a homemade Chocolate cookie and a glass of milk. Just don’t eat a dozen cookies. Choose a natural sugar and whole food ingredients to make the treat healthier. Add nuts or nut butters. Add bits of fruit. Try this recipe for a healthier cookie.
Top 3 Common Sugar Myths
Sugar Alternatives will help you lose weight: Aspartame, Sucralose, Saccharin and other sugar substitutes are popular because they mimic the sweetness of sugar but flaunt their zero or low calorie claims. And yes, they have fewer calories but in this case that does not mean they will help you lose weight. Studies show (https://www.cmaj.ca/content/189/28/E929) that consumption of these sugar substitutes will actually lead to weight gain. They have also been linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, strokes, and metabolic disorders. Sugar substitutes can disrupt your blood sugar, make it more difficult to control your hunger, and negatively impact your gut biome.
Raw sugars are healthier that refined sugars: Raw sugars do have phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals, and fiber but the amounts are very small. They do not offer any more substantive health benefits than refined sugars. Sugar that comes from plants, such as cane sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar, coconut sugar, and sugars that come from fruits, are all the same to the body. Your body will break down it down, digest it, and either burn it as energy or store it as fat.
Don’t eat fruit; it’s filled with sugar: Let’s use some common sense. Fruit is packed with fiber, phytonutrients, and vitamins and minerals that are easily absorbed by your body. Fruit works great as a sweetener for your morning smoothie or as an addition to your cereal or yogurt. Fruits and vegetables are the best method of hydration. Try eating your water – instead of juicing your food - by ingesting fruits and vegetables with a high water content. You’ll feel better, stay hydrated, and lose weight when used as part of a sensible diet. Eat fruit. Eat your veggies.
Sneakz and Sugar
We are constantly looking at ways to improve our product. This includes looking at ways to reduce our sugar and increase our vegetables. We are committed to using whole food ingredients. We feel that organic cane sugar is the best sweetener to use at this point. It’s easy for your body to digest. It’s a stable and safe form of sugar. It has a low impact on your glycemic index when combined with fiber. Your body will not differentiate between organic cane sugar, maple syrup, date sugar, coconut sugar or other natural sugars. So we’ll stick with cane sugar for now. It’s reliable. We are always conscious of the overall calorie count and sweetness levels. Our products are nutrient dense due to our vegetable content yet are low in calories. Perfect for an overall healthy diet.
Eat healthier foods. Get healthier. I don’t mean for it to sound that simple. It’s not a simple problem. There aren’t any simple or immediate answers. But we can do better. And it starts with understanding what’s in the foods that you eat. The secret is in the label.
We’re dedicated to helping you get less processed foods and more vegetables into your diet.
We promise to improve the products we sell. We will only use natural, organic, and raw forms of sugar. We will not use any sugar simply because we can hide it in the label. We will reduce the sugar content and increase the fiber content. We want to make healthier products but we also want them to taste good. We want healthier and tastier products.
We promise to keep researching and studying overall nutrition. If we learn of better ways of preparing our products or making our products healthier, in either the means of production or the ingredients we use, we will make the changes. We will keep learning and getting better.
In our new line of nutrition shakes and protein drinks we’ve included a whole serving of vegetables plus plant based proteins. We’ve reduced the sugar and increased the fiber. Our ingredients are all from whole foods as minimally processed as possible. Mix them with water and you have a healthy, tasty shake.
We are also introducing a line of clean proteins and smoothie boosts. You’ll have vegetables. You’ll have plant based proteins. They won’t taste sweet. You might not like the taste. If you want a little sweetness just add your own. My favorite is raw honey. Sometimes I’ll even throw in a chunk of honeycomb. I love Brazilian JuJitsu. My son and I go three to four times a week. I find the shot of honey with my protein shake is just what I need to get us ready for class. But you do what works and tastes best for you.
We are a small company. So have a little patience. We’re going to get healthier products to you soon. And keep reading those labels.