A Hoarder’s Guide to Sugars

Twenty grams of sucrose. This much sugar is found in a small box of raisins, a box of Milk Duds, a serving of yogurt, and a can of soda pop. But it’s not just the amount–the type of sugar will impact your health as well.

We all know that too much sugar is bad for us and most of us don’t need any reminders. But are all all sugars created equal? How can consumers evaluate products and make choices about sugars? There are a few things to keep track of with evaluating sugars–1) how much do they raise your blood sugar with an instant burst of glucose and 2) how bad are they for your heart and liver because they hoard energy in the form of fat.

High blood sugar or hyperglycemeia harms your blood vessels and nerves and can create high blood pressure as your body tries to dilute the sugar. Ever notice that sugar can make you thirsty? That’s a sign of sugar surge. It’s even been linked to Alzheimer’s.  In some countries, products are labeled as to their glycemic index–a measure of how fast sugar is released into the bloodstream as glucose–the simplest sugar. This can help consumers avoid blood sugar spikes.

GI in Australia is an example of this labeling

In the GI index, it’s taken into account that sugars first must be converted into glucose to be used for energy which means that glucose is the standard. To review some common sugars and their GI Index:

Glucose  GI=100. Glucose is the simplest of these sugars and is the one that the body uses for energy and even hormone regulation. It comes from starch breakdown. Your brain runs on glucose. Excess glucose is stored in the muscles and more presently in the liver as glycogen–a starchy big molecule.

Maltose  GI=105. Maltose is a double glucose which makes it have a high GI. It’s the sugar found in beer, cream soda, rice, and also “malts.”

Sucrose (table sugar) is commonly found in sugar beets and sugar cane but occurs in most fruits and vegetables. It has a glycemic index of 65. It’s a doublet of glucose and fructose. The glucose gives you an energy boost while the fructose is often stored.

Honey Honey is a mixture of glucose and fructose with minerals and fiber and other chemicals. It has a glycemic index of 55.

Maple syrup consists of glucose, fructose, and most of all sucrose in varying proportions. It has a glycemic index slightly below that of honey–usually 54 but it depends on the syrup. Like honey, it also contains minerals and a host of organic compounds, some of which are health promoting. In the end, it’s got a lot of fructose.

Lactose/galactose (milk sugar) milk sugar has a relatively low glycemic index of 46. It plays a  positive role in the immune system. However, some studies have associated it with aging. It’s much less sweet than other sugars.

Fructose GI=19 This is the sugar found naturally in fruits. It is metabolized differently than glucose and is more likely to be stored and to create fat.

HFCS, high fructose corn syrup, corn sugars  58-73.  ” HFCS is made by enzymatically isomerizing glucose from cornstarch to produce a 42% fructose syrup. The syrup is concentrated via an ion-exchange column to form a 90% fructose syrup, which is blended with 42% syrup to make a third syrup containing 55% fructose. The 55% and 42% syrups are used in food and beverages.” Here is a paper from 1989 warning against its use.

Fructose then, is the best sugar because of its low GI, right? Not exactly. In a society where people get plenty of food, fructose, corn sugar/high fructose corn syrup, sugar and even syrup and honey are more likely to make  you fat and deposit fat in your liver and around your organs. It can turn to cholesterol and prompt heart troubles.  eating fructose is like buying Hummel figures, Beanie Babies, and old magazines. In essence, you are hoarding so much energy that you are tripping over it and it’s falling on top of you. You’re not just collecting, not saving, but hoarding.

Let’s take a look at what chemists have to say about sweetness.  They are not known to beat around the bush.  Let me quote from the linked article:

Sugar is toxic. The fat and sodium we’ve spent so much time fretting over may in fact be the lesser of the evils in our diet. New evidence suggests that sugar—and possibly artificial sweeteners—might be the ultimate cause of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, and liver disease.”

The three key dietary monosaccharides—glucose (starch sugar), fructose( fruit sugar), and galactose (milk sugar)—all have the same caloric count, 4 cal/g so in this respect they are equal.

However, it appears that fructose–as in fruits, table sugar, and high fructose corn syrup–is much worse for your body.  This sugar deposits fat on your abs and makes your pancreas work overtime. It tastes much sweeter than glucose or galactose and this is why it is used in soft drinks. It’s not in there because it’s healthy. It would be the ideal sweetener for a hunter gatherer. For a modern human, it’s the equivalent of being a hoarder.

As shown by the GI Index, fructose doesn’t give an immediate sugar boost. So why is fructose and high fructose corn syrup terrible? It’s when a person takes in more than needed that it gets dangerous. “Fructose is converted to glycogen for immediate energy purposes…. As with ethanol in alcoholic beverages, any excess is converted to liver fat. This can eventually overwhelm the liver, leading to a condition known as insulin resistance.The long-term result is fatty liver disease…which leads to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. ..obesity does not cause diabetes—however, too much sugar does (PLOS One 2013, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057873).”

Does this mean that a person should never eat fruit? Of course not. Fruit is a rich source of phytochemicals. It contains fiber that keeps the sugar from releasing too quickly and fills you up.  Juice on the other hand, is a different story. It can deliver a wallop of sugar without the satisfying properties of starch. The same can be said for smoothies and nutrition drinks. Dried fruits are packed with sugars too so keeping a lid on the trail mix might be a good idea–especially if it contains candy. There’s no such thing as a free lunch when it comes to sugars. A serving or two of whole fruit  should be plenty for anybody who exercises a normal amount.  It would also be a good idea to consume your fruit earlier in the day when you have time to use its energy. Otherwise, your body will be renting a storage space at night.

How about artificial sweeteners as mentioned in the quote above? They might have the power to sabotage your appetite and make you less likely to regulate your food intake.Your body stays on the alert for calories and is never satisfied. Sounds terrible, unless you want to be Sisyphus. Personally, I get enough of that feeling just trying to clean my house.

In other words, glucose raises your blood sugar which is bad for you. Fructose raises your blood sugar more slowly but readily turns into fat which can deposit all over your body, To recap, sugar, especially fructose, is as bad for your liver as booze! Two cans of soda per day can give you high blood pressure.  Although scientists are working on better sugar substitutes, the best thing you can do is to monitor your own intake of the sweet stuff. Remember its biological purpose–to give you a burst of energy. This is why we crave it when we are tired and why its best consumed in moderation early in the day. With the most recent news about the terrible effects of the Western diet, a fresh look at the dangers of sugar is timely.  I for one am going to go off it–except for a daily serving of fruit–after the next birthday cake.

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