Who doesn’t like to start the day with some breakfast cereal?
How many people grab a coffee on the way to work? Who doesn’t like to drink something more interesting than water, whether it be soda, packaged fruit juice, energy drinks, and so on? How about a chocolate bar with caramel and nuts as a snack in the afternoon? Who doesn’t like to follow a lovely family dinner with a warm piece of apple pie topped with ice cream? Who doesn’t use ready-made meals when you can’t find the time to cook? We can continue listing today’s eating habits, but one thing is common among them: they involve too much sugar. If you look at the ingredients of many of the packaged things you buy at the store, you will see many familiar names—such as sugar, corn syrup, fructose, and so on—as well as some not so familiar ones, like E951, E967, isomalt, and so on. These are all different names for sugars that the food industry uses. We surely live in a “Sugarized” world.
Dr. Edward Howell uses the term “Sugarization” in his book Enzyme Nutrition: The Food Enzyme Concept. It simply refers to adding sugar to everything. As Howell states, it is “…an inexpensive device to make products acceptable to the palate…A large segment of industry depends on sugar to help sell its products. Can you imagine gum without sugar? Or cola drinks?”
I would not be saying anything new if I pointed out how sugar consumption is linked to many diseases, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, coronary disease, and so on. I think I would rather explain how to reduce the sugar in our lives, but before going any further, do you really know what we talk about when we say the word “sugar”?
SGR101: An Introduction to Sugar
I guess most people would define sugar as the white granules that we add to our coffee and tea and use when baking. But they also say fruit contains sugar, so are we talking about the same thing?
The sugar typically used in baking is called “table sugar” or “sucrose.” It’s a carbohydrate composed of two simpler forms of sugar: fructose and glucose. The former is naturally found in many plants, but it’s not my intention to give a dietary lesson but rather clarify some things. So, let me classify the different sugar sources in a practical way:
- Natural: fruits, starchy vegetables, grains, legumes, and milk and its derived products
- No-added-sugar baked goods and chocolate
- Sugar-added baked goods, chocolate, candies
The thing to keep in mind is that in nutrition, when we say sugar, we talk about all forms of sugar. In general conversation, though, we talk about refined sugars that are added.
When we eat raw, complete produce, we know how to identify sugar. There is no need to cut out naturally occurring sugar, such as those in fruits and vegetables, because this sugar comes with fiber, minerals, and vitamins. Fiber slows the digestion process and supports healthy insulin function. The problem with our Western diets is therefore the sheer volume of processed food that we eat daily. These foods contain different forms of added sugar, artificial sweeteners, additives, and so on. Added sugar enhances the taste, extends the shelf life, improves the texture, and so on. What’s more, manufacturers use different names to obscure the real amount of sugar in a product.
So, when you look at the packaging, be wary of the different names and codes for things that are basically sugar.
Different Names for Sugar
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Cane juice crystals
Confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar)
Evaporated cane juice
Fruit juice concentrate
Brown rice syrup
Corn syrup solids
Sorbitol – E420
Mannitol – E421
Glycerol – E422
Acesulfame K – E950
Aspartame – E951
Cyclamate – E952
Isomalt – E953
Saccharin – E954
Sucralose – E955
Alitame – E956
Thaumatin – E957
Glycyrrhizin – E958
Neohesperidin DC – E959
Stevioside – E960
Neotame – E961
Aspartame-acesulfame Salt – E962
Maltitol – E965
Lactitol – E966
Xylitol – E967
Erythritol – E968
Advantame – E969
As you can see, this list is really long, so how can we protect ourselves? The answer is simple: Eat fresh whole produce. You can also use a smartphone app to identify different forms of sugar. And last but not least, stay away from so-called light products, as they often use sugar to compensate for the reduced fat.
I imagine you’re wondering how you could ever eat the cakes, chocolates, and desserts that you like while staying healthy. Here are my tips:
First of all, I try to prepare everything myself, so I know what’s in it.
When I bake a cake, rather than use sugar, I often add fresh fruit or sulfur-free dried fruits instead. I sometimes use whole cane sugar as well.
When I want chocolate, I prepare it myself as well. All you need is some raw cacao, raw honey and coconut oil, or cacao oil. This is the basis of it. You can then add some cashew butter for a milky taste or mix it with dried fruits or nuts if you prefer. Use your imagination.
When I feel like eating something sugary, I eat dates.
Do not forget that your body needs 80% of its diet to be healthy food. If you have an overall healthy lifestyle, you can handle the rest of it.