Sugar and its replacements – sugar-free, but what else is in it?

When starting the adventure with healthy nutrition, we often tend to limit or eliminate refined sugar. Such decision is right. However, it's good to know that it's very easy to miss highly-processed sugar, because it's hidden in various products we would never consider as sweet.

We can find sugar in such food products, like salad sauce, tomato sauce, cold meat, ketchup, mayonnaise, muesli, ready-made soup, dried fruit, or bread. The list is really long. It gets even longer over time, because producers keep adding sugar and salt to their products to preserve them, but also to enrich their taste. Thanks to such procedures, the consumers are more eager to buy such products.

Sugar is responsible for the problems with teeth, obesity, weaker immune system, migraines, over-stimulation of the nervous system, it fosters the development of diabetes, it may cause increased level of triglycerides.

Excess amount of sugar causes sleepiness and drastic decrease of the ability of assessment and remembering.

White sugar, before it is put on our tables, undergoes many various processes. Among others, it is treated with calcium hydroxide. Refined sugar includes no precious mineral compounds, which are present in the root of sugar beet.

Excess amount of sugar in diet is harmful for our health.

There are many replacements of refined sugar. For majority of people, resigning in 100% from sugar seems impossible. Therefore, it's good to know what replacements can be used in diet. Moreover, it's good to know them in order to learn how to read the ingredient lists of the products. Producers often hide the amount of sweetening substances used to make their products under different names.

“Sugar-free” doesn't always mean that such product is healthier. Without sugar, but what is in it instead? Read the labels.

There are three kinds of sugar replacements in sales. These are: artificial, semi-artificial and natural sweeteners. Not all the replacements of white sugar are healthy and worth recommending.

Artificial sweeteners include aspartame, acesulfame K, sucrose and sucralose.

Aspartame is vulnerable to high temperature. It should not be used to cook or bake. It can be often found in chewing gums and cold meat.

The safety of using aspartame was the subject of many scientific studies and raised many social controversies. It is often described as carcinogenic.

Acesulfame K

It's almost two hundred times sweeter than sucrose, which is popular table sugar.

It is synergic to other artificial sweetening substances. With polyols it gives the sweet taste similar to sugar. There are many controversies around the harmfulness of its intake. It was admitted to trading as safe substance. However, it may cause e.g. rash among sensitive people.

Among semi-artificial sweetening substances there are: sorbitol, mannitol, isomalt, maltitol, lactitol, xylitol.

Xylitol is called the brown sugar. It is a kind of substance that occurs naturally. It was qualified as semi-artificial substance because of the technology of collecting it.

Xylitol is perceived as harmless in small amount. In Poland, the daily recommended dose is 15g. In larger amount, xylitol may disturb the digestive tract.

If we decide to replace refined sugar with xylitol, we should remember to choose good quality product. It should not come from China.

Xylitol, just like other polyols and fructose, belongs to a group of fodmaps.

FODMAPS is a group of short-chain carbohydrates, which are poorly absorbed in small intestine. They may cause diarrhea among sensitive people, they also ferment easily, which causes excess amount of flatulence and bloats.

In the group of natural sweeteners there are: honey, agave syrup, non-refined beet sugar or cane sugar, fructose, stevia, molasses from sugar cane, palm sugar, maple syrup, glucose-fructose syrup, coconut sugar.

Glucose-fructose syrup is a kind of sweetener gained from corn, which is widely used in food industry. So far, it has been established that consuming large amount of products containing glucose-fructose syrup causes fast increase of weight and obesity, it increases the risk of occurrence of type II diabetes, it causes decreased sensitivity to leptin (which is responsible for the feeling of satiety), it contributes to increased possibility of occurrence of the irritable bowel syndrome, it also blocks the production of ATP.

Honey has many pro-health properties. But remember about the fact, that it loses its properties in the temperature over 40*C. It's important, if you decide to use honey, to choose the real product, made by bees, not the artificial one. Make sure that the honey you buy comes from your country. It may sometimes happen that honey contains pesticides, or remains of medicines harmful for the human health.

Stevia is considered to be the sweetest plant in the world. It is available in a form of juice, pills, dried leaves. Steviol glycosides, which are the compounds found in leaves and stems of stevia, are responsible for that. One tea spoon of powder stevia leaves equals one glass of sugar. Despite that, it is neither calorific, or responsible for causing dental caries.

Stevia is not the best additive to pastries. The reason it that it does not behave like sugar and it simply changes into caramel. It does not make the biscuits more crunchy, or acts like a nourishment for yeast. That's why xylitol is better for baking.

Stevia is considered to be safe for our health. However, when buying it, you should keep cautious and always read the ingredient list. It happens very often that products sold with the name of stevia only contain few per cent of steviol glycosides.

Coconut sugar is obtained from coconut palm tree. It is gained from the sweet, watery juice from the cut flower buds. Coconut sugar is very rich in minerals. The most important ones are iron, zinc, calcium and potassium. It also contains polyphenols and antioxidants. It is rich in vitamins, especially B1, B2, B3 and B6. Its advantage is very low glycemic index. It is fantastic for sweetening home-made desserts, muesli, pastries or biscuits, but also beverages and shakes.

To sum up, excess amount of sugar in diet is harmful for our health. Remember that additional sugar may be hidden under various names, such as glucose-fructose syrup, sucrose, dextrose, brown sugar, cane sugar, rice syrup, corn syrup, glucose syrup or invert sugar.

When choosing food products in a shop, remember to read the ingredient lists.

Most of all, choose the most natural products. For now, the safe sweeteners are stevia and xylitol. But also coconut sugar is getting more popular.