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There’s a lot of confusion out there about sugars—here’s what you need to know.

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Maybe you’ve sworn off refined “white” sugar and think that sweetening a latte with, say, agave nectar, is better because, “it’s natural.” Truth is, most health experts agree that the best move you can make when it comes to added sugars (those added to foods by consumers or manufacturers) is to eat less of them. All of them. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to 100 calories per day (about 6 teaspoons) for women and 150 calories a day (about 9 teaspoons) for men. But Americans’ average per capita daily sugar consumption is a whopping 28 teaspoons, and too much sugar can increase risk for obesity, heart disease and diabetes.

You don’t have to ditch sugars altogether. Get to know the types you’re seeing, learn how to spot added sugars on labels and then… sweeten sparingly. Here’s help:

Granulated Sugar

Granulated sugar (aka, sugar, table sugar) is composed of 50 percent glucose, a so-called simple sugar found in all foods with carbohydrate, and 50 percent fructose, a simple sugar found naturally in fruit, honey and agave nectar. This pure white sugar has been processed and so has few minerals and antioxidants. Table sugar is good for making sugar cookies, meringue toppings and delicate, fluffy cakes.

1 teaspoon = 16 calories, 4 g carbohydrate

Agave Nectar

This sweetener has a glycemic index (measure of how high a food raises blood-glucose levels after eating) that’s significantly lower than that of table sugar; it is also up to 90 percent fructose. Agave is good for giving smoothies and iced drinks a touch of sweetness.

1 teaspoon = 21 calories, 5 g carbohydrate

Brown Sugar

Made by adding molasses back to white sugar, brown sugar is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. It has more calcium and iron than white sugar (but only trace amounts) and is best for adding caramel flavor to cookies and brownies and darker cakes like carrot cake and for topping oatmeal and fruit crisps and crumbles.

1 teaspoon = 17 calories, 5 g carbohydrate

Corn Syrup

Not the same as high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup contains less fructose and isn’t as processed as HFCS. It’s best for setting up pecan pie, peanut brittle, popcorn balls and homemade candies.

1 teaspoon = 21 calories, 6 g carbohydrate

Honey

Honey delivers slightly more fructose than glucose. Its antioxidant quantity varies greatly based on type; buckwheat honey typically delivers the most. Honey provides a delicate, sweet flavor to dressings, marinades and slaws.

1 teaspoon = 21 calories, 5 g carbohydrate

Maple Syrup

A go-to for drizzling over pancakes and waffles, maple syrup is about 50-50 glucose and fructose (depending on grade) and contains small amounts of polyphenols—antioxidants that help quell inflammation.

1 teaspoon = 17 calories, 4 g carbohydrate

Molasses

About 50 percent each glucose and fructose, dark molasses has the highest antioxidant levels of all sweeteners (per serving). It’s great for adding a hint of sweetness to baked beans, homemade BBQ sauces and ginger cookies.

1 teaspoon = 19 calories, 5 g carbohydrate

Turbinado (Raw Sugar)

Like granulated sugar, turbinado is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. The brown color comes from small amounts of molasses that haven’t been stripped out. It’s good for topping cookies with a sugary crackle.

1 teaspoon = 18 calories, 5 g carbohydrate


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