The following terms are ALL just sugar:
Dextrose, fructose, glucose, golden syrup, honey, maple syrup, sucrose, malt, maltose, lactose, brown sugar, caster sugar, maple syrup, raw sugar, sucrose.
Did you know honey is sugar. Confused? Understandably, and so today I hope to clear up a little confusion around the infamous sugar, aka the multitude of names listed above.
So, what is sugar? The technical name for sugar or what we dietitians often call it is; glucose. Glucose is a carbohydrate. It is our bodies predominant source of energy. When we consume carbohydrates like rice or bread, they get digested and broken down into glucose in our bloodstream. Our body then shoots out a hormone called insulin which opens the door for glucose to enter our cells and be used as fuel.
Problems can arise, particularly in the context of diabetes, when either not enough insulin is produced (type 1 diabetes) or insulin does not work effectively, and you develop a resistance to its effect (type 2 diabetes). Type 2 diabetes was previously called late onset diabetes because people were getting it in later life. However, as it started to develop in younger individuals, it was changed to type 2 because late onset was in fact not correct. For those without diabetes excess amounts of sugar in the blood stream over time makes it hard for our insulin to keep up with the demand. This means that glucose stays in your blood for longer and over time this can cause serious damage to many parts of your body including the heart, kidneys, liver and blood vessels.
Sugar is naturally found in many foods, such as fructose in fruit or lactose in milk, but sugar is also frequently added to food products and this is often called ‘free sugar’ or ‘added sugar’. Because of this, and the multitude of different names, comparing 2 processed/ packaged foods in terms of sugar content can often be difficult. What does a reasonable amount of added sugar look like? The WHO recommends to limit the amount of added sugar to 5-10 tsp per day (WHO, 2015). Sure, that helps when cooking or if you add it to your beverages, but what does that look like on food labels? When comparing two like food products always use the 100g column and ideally items with 15g or less for sugar are a recommended choice.
I guess some of you may still be wondering about honey. Well honey is predominantly a combination of both fructose and glucose, as well as a bunch of other simple sugars such as those listed above (White & Doner, 1980). So regardless of how you look at it, honey is sugar, just like maple syrup, golden syrup, maltose and sucrose are all sugar. Honey is also delicious, and I personally love drizzling some honey on my oats in the morning.
Take home: Sugar is also called multiple other names (particularly on food labels), however at the end of the day they are all metabolised and form glucose in the blood stream. Our bodies have a natural ability, through the hormone insulin, to regulate our blood sugar levels. It is when excess amounts over time can do us harm (potentially resulting in a resistance to the effects of insulin). Sugar does NOT need to be avoided, it is in some of the foods we enjoy the most and naturally found in many nutritious fruits and vegetables. If you find the sugar content is high in a particular product check the ingredient list, it is likely under another name. When reading the label aiming for 15g or less (in the 100g column) for sugar is an ideal choice. With this information we have the power to make the choice that is right for us and by sticking close to these and the WHO’s recommendations will help reduce the risk of poor outcomes related to large amounts of sugar consumption.