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Are all sugars equal?

Published on November 29, 2017 at 1:49 / Updated on June 7, 2022 at 13:56

With all the rumours going around about sugar right now, it can become difficult to sort things out. It’s important not to cut out all carbohydrates—the general term that designates the large family of sugars—because they serve as fuel for your body, a bit like gasoline that fuels a car. What you need to limit is your intake of added sugars, which are found in foods, such as soft drinks and baked goods. Let’s take a closer look at a hot subject: sugar. 

The different types of sugars

Not all sugars are created equal. Although at the end of the day, most sugars will finish their run in their simplest form (either fructose or glucose molecules) after digestion, so it’s important to distinguish between the many qualifiers used to refer to them. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), free sugars are the monosaccharides (glucose, fructose) and disaccharides (sucrose or table sugar) added to foods and beverages by the manufacturer, cook or consumer, as well as the sugars naturally present in honey, syrups, fruit juices and fruit juices from concentrate.

We can also talk about sugars naturally present in food. For example, fruits, vegetables, certain grains and dairy products are considered to be more nutritious because they contain other nutrients, such as fibre and protein, which make the body work harder to be digested. These foods also provide essential nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, which are not found in most products that contain free sugars, like sugary drinks, candies, and jujubes. 

New, more stringent recommendations for added sugar

Did you know that the WHO has lowered its recommendation on the consumption of added sugars? The new recommendation is therefore twice as strict and now amounts to 5% of energy requirements, which represents, on average, around 25 grams of added sugars per day for women and 35 grams for men. The health organization reiterates that its current guidelines don’t address sugars found in fresh fruits and vegetables or those naturally present in milk, as there’s no evidence showing that they have harmful effects on health. 

Where do you find added sugar? 

We find added sugars in pleasure foods generally associated with parties. It is therefore no surprise that energy drinks, soft drinks, cakes, cookies, pies, donuts, fruit punches, cocktails and dairy desserts are among the foods containing the most added sugars. Warning! Several other foods, sometimes even unsuspected, can contain significant amounts of sugar. Among these are barbecue sauce, flavoured yogurts, coleslaw, iced tea, ketchup, tender bars, General Tao chicken, etc.

It’s also sugar when...

Although the list of ingredients may not always clearly indicate "sugar,” certain words can tip you off and confirm your suspicions that it is indeed a sugary food. Here are words that are all synonyms for sugar: 

  • Glucose
  • Fructose
  • Maltose
  • Lactose
  • Dextrose
  • Anhydrous dextrose
  • Brown sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Corn syrup dry extract
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Molasses
  • Nectars (pear or peach nectars)
  • Xylitol
  • Granulated white sugar
  • Mannitol
  • Sorbitol

In conclusion, there’s no need to ban all sugars from your diet, but use your common sense and instead try to reduce the frequency that you consume certain desserts, sugary drinks or sweets. The taste for sugar is innate and sometimes you need a few opportunities to satisfy it!  

Familiprix in collaboration with Hubert Cormier

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