Q: Mr. Norris, I recently read the label on my yogurt, and it said it contained evaporated cane juice. What is that? Sugar? — Tina J. in Reno, Nev.
A: Finding sugar on the labels of foods and beverages has become like “Where’s Waldo?” The food industry engages in a game of semantics, trying to hide that ever-pervading sweetener.
The American Diabetes Association defines a sugar as a simple carbohydrate because it is digested more quickly than complex carbohydrates, e.g., starches. Each teaspoon of sugar contains 4 grams of carbohydrates, which your body uses as energy.
The body converts all foods into glucose — the simplest carbohydrate and the primary fuel source used by plants, animals and humans. All cells and organs utilize glucose, including muscles and the brain. Glucose is also the molecule that is measured in the human bloodstream to detect blood sugar levels.
Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University’s Prevention Research Center, told CNN: “We actually need sugar; it’s our body’s preferred fuel. But we eat too damn much of it.”
All types of sugar — granulated, raw, brown, powdered, etc. — have the same number of calories; each teaspoon contains 15 calories. Sugar has no fat, sodium, protein, vitamins or minerals. Hence, they are “empty calories.”
As far as how much sugar we need, the Mayo Clinic, citing the American Heart Association, explained that women should limit their daily intake of added sugar to 100 calories or fewer (6 teaspoons, or 24 grams), and men’s intake should be no more than 150 calories (9 teaspoons, or 36 grams) per day. (By “added sugar,” I mean sugar besides the sugar that is found in good food sources, such as fruit.)
The AHA explains that added sugar is responsible for a series of health ailments — including tooth decay, lower good cholesterol, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. And the scary part is that the average American consumes roughly 141 pounds of refined sugars and high-fructose corn syrup a year. That’s more than a third of a pound every day. Sixty-three pounds a year are high-fructose corn syrup alone!
If you’re like me, you’re looking to reduce your intake of sugar. So here’s a list of some of the most common sugars you’ll find hiding in foods and drinks:
—Table sugar (sucrose). Sucrose is made from units of glucose and fructose, which are manufactured from sugar cane or sugar beets. The primary problem with sucrose is it is stripped from the plant’s natural fiber and nutrients, which normally would slow its digestion and enhance its utilities.
When glucose rises in your bloodstream, the pancreas releases insulin, which is used in order to unlock your cells so that glucose can enter and be used as fuel. (Extra glucose is stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen.)
The rush of glucose in the bloodstream from sucrose ingestion spikes insulin levels in the body, which can cause instant energy and mood swings, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) and, over the long term, the more detrimental ailments mentioned above.
—”Natural” sugars. Natural sugars are variations of cane sugar, including brown, caster, unrefined, demerara, vegan and turbinado. For example, Sugar in the Raw is a brand of turbinado sugar, which is a naturally brown sugar named after the turbines in which the sugar is spun. It is a less processed type of sugar but nevertheless 100 percent cane sugar.
Similarly, brown sugar is nothing less than an unrefined or partially refined table sugar with a distinctive brown color because of the presence of molasses.
The fact is that any “natural” sweetener that might seem redeemable in ingredients and eatables — such as molasses, maple syrup or even honey — is merely the flip side of the same sugary coin.
Diet and fitness expert and physician nutrition specialist Dr. Melina Jampolis said: “Even though honey contains slightly more nutrients than sugar, the extra 70 calories per day, whether from sugar or honey, could prevent you from losing 7.3 pounds per year! So if you are trying to lose weight, I would limit honey and sugar as much as possible and focus on getting your nutrients and antioxidants from fruits, vegetables and whole grains.”
—Evaporated cane juice. Evaporated cane juice is sugar; it’s just one step shy of its refined white form. (Another sly move by the food industry, isn’t it?)
Judy Sanchez, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Sugar Corp., explained to NPR: “All sugar is evaporated cane juice. They just use that for a natural-sounding name for a product.”
The only difference between evaporated cane juice and common white table sugar is that the white sugar is stripped of molasses.
The Food and Drug Administration issued guidance four years ago to the food industry — suggesting not using the term “evaporated cane juice,” because it misleads consumers, seeing as it’s plain and simple sugar.
Well, we now know how well that advisory was heeded!
Next week, I will discuss the other “covert” sugars, such as high-fructose corn syrup and “natural sugar substitutes,” and also explain why sugars in fruits are good for you.