There seems to be a constant chatter about sugar. Let’s start with the background of carbohydrates and sugars.
Carbohydrates are one of the three basic macronutrients; the other two are protein and fats. Carbohydrates are found in a wide range of foods like fruit, vegetables, grains, and dairy.
When you hear the word “sugar”, you may think of granulated white sugar. The white sugar we are all familiar with is sucrose, and we use this mostly in cooking or baking. But when we say “sugars” there are many types. Sugars occur naturally in many foods like fruits, vegetables, and dairy. And sugar can be manufactured and added to foods to make them taste better among other reasons.
Sugar may come in different forms, but all sugar provides four calories per gram.
Some common sugars found in foods are:
· Corn Syrup: Made from corn and usually 100% glucose.
· Fructose: A simple sugar found in fruits, honey, and root vegetables. It is used as a caloric sweetener, added to foods and beverages in the form of crystalline fructose (made from corn starch), and it makes up about half the sugar in sucrose or high fructose corn syrup (see below). Fructose does not elicit a glycemic response, so it sometimes has been used as a sweetener for foods intended for people with diabetes. However, because of concern about the effect of the excessive use of blood lipids, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics does not recommend fructose as a sweetening agent for people with diabetes.
· Galactose: A simple sugar found in milk and dairy foods.
· Glucose: The main source of energy for the body and the only used by brain cells. Glucose is produced when carbohydrates are digested or metabolized. Glucose is sometimes referred to as dextrose.
· High Fructose Corn Syrup: A mixture of glucose and fructose produced from corn. The most common form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) has 55 percent fructose and 45 percent glucose.
· Lactose: The sugar found naturally in milk, sometimes called milk sugar.
· Maltose: Found in molasses and is used in fermentation.
· Sucrose: Known as table or white sugar, sucrose is found naturally in fruits and vegetables. Appearing most abundantly in sugar cane and sugar beets, sucrose comes from these foods for commercial use.
A sugar alcohol is neither sugar nor alcohol but is actually a carbohydrate with a chemical structure that partially resembles a sugar and partially resembles an alcohol. The sugar alcohols or polyols commonly used in the United States include sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, maltitol, maltitol syrup, lactitol, erythritol, isomalt, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates. Their caloric content ranges from .02 to 3 calories per gram compared to 4 calories per gram for sugars.
The 2015-2020 DGA recommendation is to limit intake of added sugars to less than 10% of total calories per day. Currently, we get 13-17% of our calories from added sugars.
Bottom Line: As the main energy source for the body, carbohydrates are an important part of a healthful diet. Currently, experts agree that carbohydrates and sugars in foods and beverages can be enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet and active lifestyle.