Hey everyone, I hope your week is going great!
After my sister asked me to do a post about different sugar types and which ones are best to consume, I thought the topic would be super easy to talk about. It turns out, however, that it was not as straight forward as I thought it would be, and as everything in nutrition, there seemed to be some contradicting findings.
In this post, I will address the main sugar villain at the moment, high fructose corn syrup, while also talking about the differences between brown sugar, white sugar, artificial sweeteners and even maple syrup (although my judgement of maple syrup may be biased because I just love it like a mother loves a child).
Which sugars are found in food?
Foods are composed of different types of sugars, the most popular ones are glucose, fructose and sucrose. Sucrose, or table sugar, is typically what you would be adding into your coffee in the morning, it is made up of a molecule of glucose and a molecule of fructose that are linked together.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is very similar to sucrose, in that it is composed of glucose and fructose, however it is not naturally occurring such as sucrose is and the exact ratio of sugars (50:50 in sucrose vs. 42:58 fructose-glucose ratio in HFCS) differ. In fruit, the most common type of sugar found is fructose, which is the sweetest of all sugars!
Which sources of sugar are the healthiest?
What research is consistently clear about is the fact that sugar is a molecule, so no matter which food it is found in, cakes or fruits, the molecule is the same. Does this make a fruit and a cake, with equal amounts of sugar, equivalent? Well, not exactly. In fruit, we have vitamins, minerals and fiber accompanying the sugar. Not only does this allow you to get more nutrients, but the fiber content can slow the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, leading to a much more steady release of insulin. This ensures that your blood sugar doesn’t spike up like crazy, and the response is much healthier that way!
Also, just to make sure we are on the same page, there is not a significant difference between brown sugar and white sugar, and there is not one that is healthier then the other. Brown sugar is simply white sugar that has some molasses mixed into it, giving it a stickier texture!
The Ultimate Evil: High Fructose Corn Syrup
I am being quite dramatic here, because as a matter of fact, research seems to be very inconclusive about the effects of HFCS. It took me a while to figure out why we hate on it so much, and I was extremely surprised to not find more obvious data about it’s negative impacts on health.
The websites that don’t have any scientifical background or evidence are very quick to call it the ultimate killer, but I needed way more evidence than that to be convinced. Actually, the more articles I look up, the more I find evidence that HFCS is not so different from sucrose, and that we should just be limiting our added sugar intake as a whole, no matter the source.
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, if we were to cut out HFCS, consumption of sucrose, which has equal caloric density, would simply increase, and there would be no changes or impact on obesity nation-wide. Actually, our consumption of HFCS in recent years has declined, while obesity is sky-rocketing, so HFCS may not be the only player in this epidemic (1).
What remains unclear is whether or not our bodies metabolize sucrose and HFCS differently, this could have health impacts, but for the moment this seems like much of a grey zone. What we do know is that in sucrose, the fructose and glucose molecules are tightly linked together. Our bodies has the necessary mechanisms to break this linkage and allow us to absorb the two molecules, seperately. In HFCS, the two molecules are not bound together, and this is where it seems unclear whether or not this has an impact on health (2).
I guess for now, we can follow the recomendation of the FDA, and stick to limiting our excess sugar intake, which makes sense!
I myself love using natural sweeteners, such as maple syrup and honey. But, are there any benefits to adding maple syrup, for example, instead of granulated cane sugar?
A study done right here in Québec (it’s about maple syrup, so I am really not that surprised the study was conducted in Québec, we are, after all, huge maple syrup lovers), by professors at Laval University, indicated that maple syrup leads to a smaller spike of insulin, which allows for your glucose levels to get into your cells in a much slower and stabilized response (which is best!).
Agave and molasses were shown to have very similar responses, while honey had the tendency to spike insulin levels higher. However, we need to keep in mind that this study was performed on rats, therefore it’s effects in humans can be debatable (3). As for the honey fact, this sweetener has been indeed shown to have a high glycemic index, which means it causes blood sugar and insulin levels to spike, as I have already mentioned!
The Artificial Sweetener Dilemma: Should I be Using Them?
Once again, studies are super inconclusive. However, I am not one to advocate the use of artificial sweeteners, I just love sugar way too much and am not ready to give it up!
Also, as you may already know it, when we eat sweets, we usually want to eat more, and more, and more. When it comes to artificial sweeteners, that sweet response in your brain is there, but the calories that usually come from sugar are not! Without the calories to fill you up, you end up eating more then you should (4).
I think these sweeteners should be used in moderation, and if following a healthy diet, it seems unnecessary to substitute sugar for an artificial one!
So, what do you think? Do you think HFCS is as bad as it’s reputation implies, or is it just getting a really bad rep?
Also, What are your favorite sweeteners to use?
P.S. I very briefly touched the concept of glycemic index in this post to avoid boring you, if you are interesting in knowing more, go ahead and leave a comment/question below and I will gladly answer it!
Have a great day everyone!