BY DODI KINGSFIELD, TECHNICAL SERVICES SUPERVISOR, FREELANCE WRITER & AUTHOR
Tooth decay. Allergies. Diet. Hypersensitivity. Diabetes. Improved health. All are reasons we pay attention to how much sugar our families and children consume. We want to make healthy choices for our meals and snacks. Yet, it seems every time we turn around, the food industry is coming out with a new form of sweet, that’s better for you and soon appears on grocer’s shelves in all your favorite flavors.
Some new sweeteners sound more like chemicals than “natural” ingredients, so how does a parent know what are the best choices for their family’s diet and health? By learning what makes various sweeteners different and reading food labels. With a little knowledge, you can feel better the next time your spouse or soccer player has a “sweet tooth” and the options you make available in the fridge or pantry.
Natural (Minimally Processed) Sugar Sources These are ingredients commonly found on household shelves and used historically as sugar sources for cooking and homemaking: sugar (raw, brown, refined or confectioner’s – derived from sugarcane or beets), maple syrup, honey, molasses (also called sorghum), agave nectar and fruit juice/concentrates. The nutrition profile of these sugar sources is relatively the same for calories and carbohydrates, but they impart different flavors to foods and may possess other health benefits. These sugar sources are the only options available in organic or true “natural” varieties. Experiment with your cooking by cutting down on the amount of sugar used or replacing one of these sources with another in this category.
Processed Sugar Sources Syrups tend to be processed sugars used routinely in the food industry as inexpensive carbohydrate sources. Corn syrup is hydrolyzed from cornstarch, glucose syrup is made from other edible starches, sucrose syrup is actually liquid sugar and high fructose corn syrup consists of fructose derived from corn syrup mixed with glucose. Corn syrup may be further processed to generate crystalline fructose, another substance similar to table sugar. Processed sugars are more intense in sweetness than natural sugar sources and a little goes a long way, so use sparingly or in combination with a natural source for a balanced flavor.
Artificial Low Calorie Sugar Substitutes Most consumers recognize the brand names used for artificial sweeteners like NutraSweet, Equal and Splenda. They won’t recognize aspartame or surculose, the chemical names of these commonly used sugar substitutes. Acesulfame potassium is another artificial sweetener, used in combination with another sugar substitute or a natural sugar source in order to reduce the calorie content of a food. These ingredients are available for kitchen use and equivalent amounts are recommended when using as a sugar substitute.
Natural Low Calorie Sugar Substitutes The most recent trend in food sweetness is the appearance of natural sugar substitutes, derived from natural sources such as the Stevia plant or the Monk fruit. A number of brand names for Stevia are out on the market as Truvia, PureCircle, PureVia or for the Stevia extracts Rebaudioside-A (nicknamed Reb-A) and Stevioside. Known primarily in East Asia, the monk fruit or luo han guo, has emerged in this country as a low calorie sweetener named mogroside, with a sweetness almost 400 times greater than sugar. The number and kinds of foods using these natural sugar substitutes is limited, but growing rapidly with the consumer desire for tasty, healthy food choices.
Knowing the difference between these various sugar options is a good way to start your sugar education, but the most effective way is to read your food labels. Because a food is labeled “Diet” or “Light”, doesn’t mean it is low in calories or low in fat. When looking at a food label prior to a purchase, read the Calorie content, Fat content, Carbohydrates and Sugars content to get a complete nutrition profile. Then consult the list of ingredients. The closer a sweetener ingredient is to the beginning of the list, the more of that ingredient there is. Do not rely on the sweetener logos or banners on the front of the label, refer to the ingredient list. There may be more than one sweetener in the food you are choosing, so choose wisely and read your food label thoroughly.
And that’s the latest buzz about sugar and the foods you eat.
Dodi Kingsfield, Technical Services Supervisor, Freelance Writer and Author. Dodi is employed as a Technical Supervisor for a large food manufacturer in Dunkirk, writes childrens and young adult books and does freelance writing for the web and magazines. Married for more than 20 years and a full-time mother of five, Dodi enjoys yoga, organic gardening and telling tall tales. She can be reached through her e-mail address at email@example.com.