Sunday, January 15, 2012

La Vita e Dolce, Part Two: Sugar by Any Other Name

II. Is Sugar by Any Other Name (like “HFCS”) The Same Thing?

The short answer is no, not in how it’s processed, or in how sweet it is. True, HFCS and Corn Sugar have about the same glucose:fructose ratio as white sugar (aka “sucrose,” which is 50% fructose, 50% glucose)). The corn refiners’ industry spins this fact into, “HFCS is as natural as sugar, it acts no differently inside your body.” A truthful description goes more like this:
“HFCS is as bad as sugar is for the body, and worse, it’s made from genetically modified corn that has been grown and processed with synthetic chemicals.”
HFCS may be on your radar, but “sugar” has many aliases these days, and if you want to reduce your sugar consumption, you have to be able to identify it in all its forms in the ingredients list. As I researched sugar types, I also investigated from whence they come. (This was a very long process, as the manufacturers of highly processed sugars don’t very much want to talk about the sulfuric acid, genetically modified enzymes and bleach they use. )

Because I most trust foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, I thought that honey and maple sugar were the best added sugar choices. (Honey does contain micronutrients, but I learned needs to be used sparingly because a little honey contains a lot of sugar). I would still choose it and other “minimally” processed sweeteners (highlighted in green in the chart below). Avoid the others and send a message to the sugar industry that we are not interested in eating genetically modified, bleached, chemically-bathed substances (and ultimately to our government representatives that we do not support our tax dollars subsidizing this industry.

Points of Interest:
  • “Pretending that soda made with high fructose corn syrup is ‘all natural,’ is just plain old deception,” said Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) executive director Michael F. Jacobson. “High fructose corn syrup isn’t something you could cook up from a bushel of corn in your kitchen, unless you happen to be equipped with centrifuges, hydroclones, ion-exchange columns, and buckets of enzymes.” 
  • “Brown Sugar” (dark, light) and Natural Brown Sugar (aka Evaporated Cane Juice, Barbados, Cane Sugar, Demerara, Muscovado, Panela, Raw Sugar, Sugar in the Raw, Turbinado) may look the same, but are different. The former has gone through the entire chemical process to become white sugar, after which molasses is added back in; while the latter is only processed through the first crystallization stage. Try Sucanat as the least processed option when a recipe calls for brown sugar.
  • While their molecular structures differ, HFCS, sugar and honey similarly contain about 50% glucose, 50% fructose. What differentiates them is their processing and sweetness.  Unlike highly processed HFCS and sugar, unpasteurized honey contains trace amounts of vitamins, minerals, local pollen and anti-fungal propolis; but honey is sweeter than sugar (1 tsp. honey = 17 g sugar; 1 tsp white sugar = 4g sugar). Using small amounts of honey respects body and planet.
  • Not all agave is created equal (or has the same amount of fructose). As you’ll read later, agave nectar with 90% fructose can be toxic to your liver. Look for organic or white agave nectars, which claim to be less processed and lower in fructose.
  • Though the AHA doesn’t count milk as a source of added sugar, possibly because it is naturally occurring as lactose, I included it in this chart because I think it should be viewed as such. As is the case with fruit juice, consuming sugar in liquid form causes insulin to spike. When considering whether or not to minimize your dairy intake, consider that our country has a powerful marketing machine (“Got Milk?” posters hang in our public school cafeterias) whose goal is to convince us that cow’s milk is integral to a healthy diet. Others, like Barbara Kingsolver, author of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, understand that after we wean off our mothers’ milk, our bodies are not designed to continue breastfeeding throughout our adult life, let alone from a cow. “We’re all hailed with a steady song and dance about how we ought to be drinking tall glasses of it every day. And we believe it, we want those strong bones and teeth. Oh, how we try to behave like baby cows. Physicians will tell you, the great majority of lactose-intolerant Americans don’t even know it. They just keep drinking milk, and having stomachaches.”

Revisit I. How Much is Too Much? to quantify how much sugar is too much, and compare that to the sugar content of common foods/drinks.

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