What We Should Know About Sugar and Sweeteners
All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.
I like to eat sweets, so my daily menu consists of lots. I like to make pudding, creamy caramel, cakes and other desserts for my family and we all know that when something sweet touches our tongues, it can taste delicious. The sugar that we ingest lands in our stomach where it’s diluted by digestive juices and shuttled into our small intestine then enzymes begin breaking down every bit of it into two types of molecules: glucose and fructose.
Unfortunately, there is no simple answer to this question. Some people can eat sugar without harm, while others should avoid it as much as possible. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), the maximum amount of added sugars you should eat in a day are (7):
-Men: 150 calories per day (37.5 grams or 9 teaspoons).
-Women: 100 calories per day (25 grams or 6 teaspoons).
What Is Sugar?
Most of us think of “sugar” as the white powder that we like to add to our coffee, but in biological terms, sugar is nothing but the building blocks of carbohydrates. Sugars come in several different types, including single sugars and double sugars (combinations of two single sugars). Since your body digests them all differently, the distinctions among all these types of sugars are actually quite important.
Any food with a carb content greater than zero will have some sugar in it. Even foods we don’t usually think of as “sugary,” like potatoes, contain sugar in the form of glucose. Refined foods like white flour and table sugar are called “simple carbohydrates” because their molecular structure includes single or double sugars. Whole grains and legumes are called “complex carbohydrates” because they’re made of three or more sugars. When you eat simple carbohydrates, your body can use them for energy right away (this is why you can get a “sugar rush” from eating too much candy); when you eat complex carbohydrates, your body has to break them down into simple carbs first. Since this process takes some time, most people don’t get the same immediate rush of energy from complex carbohydrates.
Brown sugar and white sugar are both made from sugarcane. Brown sugar also contains molasses and water and has a slightly lower calorific value than white sugar. White sugar is sweeter than brown sugar so they are not substitutes. Some people believe that brown sugar is healthier than white sugar but this is not true; both are equally harmful in large quantities.
“Regular” or white sugar, as it is known to consumers, is the sugar found in every home’s sugar bowl, and most commonly used in home food preparation. White sugar is the sugar called for in most cookbook recipes and the food industry stipulates that “regular” sugar to be “extra fine” or “fine” because small crystals are ideal for bulk handling and not susceptible to caking.
Common sugars include: Glucose, Fructose, Galactose, Sucrose (common table sugar), Lactose (milk sugar), and Maltose (product of starch digestion). Another fact is that sugars are found naturally in milk products (lactose) and fruits (fructose).
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes but may be derived from naturally occurring substances, including herbs or sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners are also known as intense sweeteners because they are many times sweeter than regular sugar. Artificial sweeteners are attractive alternatives to sugar because they add virtually no calories to your diet and in addition, you need only a fraction compared with the amount of sugar you would normally use for sweetness.
Artificial sweeteners are widely used in processed foods, including baked goods, soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, candy, puddings, canned foods, jams and jellies, dairy products, and scores of other foods and beverages.
Artificial sweeteners are also popular for home use for providing sweet flavor when added to food and for maintaining freshness and food quality. Artificial sweeteners also act as a preservative in jams and jellies, enhance flavor in processed meats, provide fermentation for breads and pickles, add bulk to ice cream, and add body to carbonated sodas. Some can even be used in baking or cooking. Certain recipes may need modification, though, because artificial sweeteners provide no bulk or volume, like sugar. We have to check the labels on artificial sweeteners for appropriate home use.
Some natural sweeteners that we can use for substituting sugar are:
- Stevia is a very popular low-calorie sweetener.
- It is extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia Reabudiana
- This plant has been grown for sweetness and medicinal purposes for centuries in South America.
- There are several sweet compounds found in Stevia leaves, the main ones are Stevioside and Rebaudioside A. Both are many hundred times sweeter than sugar, gram for gram.
- Stevia is very sweet, but has virtually no calories.
There are some studies in humans showing Stevia to have health benefits:
- When blood pressure is high, Stevia can lower it by 6-14%. However, it has no effect on blood pressure that is normal or only mildly elevated.
- Stevia has been shown to lower blood sugar levels in diabetics.
- Stevia is a natural, zero calorie sweetener that can lower both blood pressure and blood sugar levels.
If you need to sweeten something, Stevia may be the healthiest choice.
- Erythritol is another low-calorie sweetener. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol manufactured through fermentation. It is used widely in bakery foods like some biscuits, cakes and cookies (which can be over 10%), and it is good for improving the stability of baking and prolonging shelf life.
- It is a sugar alcohol that is found naturally in certain fruits, but if you’re buying powdered erythritol then it will most likely be made via an industrial process. Sugar alcohol does not contain ethanol, which is found in alcoholic beverages.Therefore, it is not alcoholic.
- It contains 0.24 calories per gram, or about 6% of the calories as sugar, with 70% of the sweetness. Erythritol doesn’t spike blood sugar or insulin levels and has no effect on biomarkers like cholesterol or triglycerides. It is absorbed into the body from the intestine, but eventually excreted from the kidneys unchanged.
- Studies show that erythritol is very safe. However, as with other sugar alcohols, it can cause digestive issues if you consume too much at a time.
- Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with a sweetness similar to sugar.
- It contains 2.4 calories per gram, or about 2/3rds of the caloric value of sugar.
- Xylitol appears to have some benefits for dental health, reducing the risk of cavities and dental decay.
- It may also improve bone density, helping to prevent osteoporosis (14). Xylitol doesn’t raise blood sugar or insulin levels.
- However, as with other sugar alcohols, it can cause digestive side effects at high doses.
- If you have a dog in your home, then you might want to keep xylitol out of the house because it is highly toxic to dogs (16).
- Bottom Line: Xylitol is a very popular sweetener. It is a sugar alcohol, with about 2.4 calories per gram. It has some dental benefits and may improve bone density and lower the risk of osteoporosis.
About Erythritol and Xylitol, it is argued by some people say its halal and by others that its haram. Wallahu”alam .
4. Yacon Syrup
Recently I reviewed a rather unique sweetener called Yacon syrup.
- Yacon syrup is harvested from the Yacon plant, which grows natively in the Andes in South America.
- This sweetener has recently become popular as a weight loss supplement, because one study found that it caused significant weight loss in overweight women.
- It is very high in fructooligosaccharides, which function as soluble fibers that feed the good bacteria in the intestine.
- Yacon syrup can help against constipation and it has various benefits due to the high amount of soluble fiber.
- Don’t eat too much at a time though, as it can cause digestive problems.
- Yacon syrup is very high in fructooligosaccharides, which feed the good bacteria in the intestine. It may be helpful against constipation and may help you lose weight.
There are several popular sweeteners that health conscious people often eat instead of sugar. This includes coconut sugar, molasses, honey and maple syrup.
Artificial sweeteners may be a good alternative to sugar if you have diabetes because unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners generally don’t raise blood sugar levels because they are not carbohydrates. Concerns about how sugar substitutes are labeled and categorized, however, make it important that we always check with a doctor or dietitian about using any sugar substitutes if you have diabetes.
We have to change our lifestyles when eating sweets for the wise consumption of sugar and some ways can be by having something sweet for breakfast, as simple as adding honey or agave to oatmeal, topping yogurt with granola or having a frozen berry smoothie.