Sure, sugar is sweet, but it’s certainly not simple. We use the word sugar to describe that white stuff we spoon into coffee and bake into cakes, but did you know, that’s actually called sucrose and it’s made up of fructose and glucose? Let’s look at the different types of sugar and the ones we could do with cutting back.
Here’s a look at some of the sugars you might have heard about:
- Fructose. This is the type of sugar found naturally in most fruits. It’s also used by food manufacturers as an additive to sweetened products like soft drinks. The US food industry particularly relies on the processed product high-fructose corn syrup
- Glucose. This sugar is found in the starch of plants and is processed by organisms (including the human body) and stored as energy
- Sucrose. Commonly referred to as table sugar, this is the sugar we buy off supermarket shelves. It’s made up of equal parts fructose and glucose
- Maltose. Eaten anything with “malt” in its name? Chances are, it’s got maltose in it. Maltose consists of two glucose molecules and is produced when the starch from grains is broken down. So yes, it’s present during the process of turning barley into beer
- Lactose. This is why low levels of sugar pop up on nutritional panels of plain, unsweetened dairy products, despite there being no sugar listed in the ingredients list.
The main point to make about sugars is that while they all taste sweet to the palate, once inside the body, they’re treated, or processed, very differently.
Science says glucose, maltose and lactose are safe to consume in moderation but fructose is the problem sugar. Our bodies simply do not break it down. They store it as fat.
As reported by Clett Erridge for The Conversation, “glucose is a type of sugar which is readily absorbed and converted to energy by all cells of the body. By contrast, fructose is taken up almost entirely by liver cells, where it is converted directly into fat”.
The bad news on fructose doesn’t stop there. According to several reports, including one in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, “consuming too much fructose can actually put you at greater risk of developing heart disease and diabetes than ingesting similar amounts of glucose”.
Learning to live without fructose
So, if you’ve started to question your “sugar” intake over recent months and want to do something to cut back, remember not all sugars are created equal. Start by looking at not just your sugar intake but your fructose intake.
The good news is, there are naturally derived sweeteners on the market – and cheaply available on supermarket shelves – made entirely on glucose and maltose and it can be a fun experiment learning to cook with them.
There are a lot of resources to get you started. Take a look at these great Australian low-fructose communities (recipes and shopping lists included):
- I Quit Sugar
- Teresa Cutter, The Healthy Chef
- Move, Nourish, Believe by Lorna Jane
- That Sugar Film
- What is the UK Sugar Tax and why Australia could be next