Ministry of Health Singapore. All Rights Reserved.
You’ve seen them at the supermarket: granulated sugar, brown sugar and artificial sugar. What’s the difference? Are some sugars healthier than others?
With a wide array of sugar options available today, many of us may feel confused at what the differences are. We might even believe raw or brown sugar is healthier than white sugar. Here are the facts on the various types of sugar.
This is the most common type of sugar, and although they can be found in various forms such as white granulated sugar, caster, icing and powdered sugar, their compositions are identical.
They are extracted and refined from the natural sugars that occur in sugar cane and are 99.9% pure sucrose with no minerals.
Also known as coffee sugar crystals, these golden-coloured sugar crystals are most commonly found in cafés. A common misconception about raw and brown sugar is that they are healthier than white sugars.
Raw sugar contains 99% sucrose, and even though there may be some minerals within, their health effects are almost negligible.
Often used in baking, brown sugar contains 95% sucrose and 5% molasses, which is the reason for the toffee flavour and moistness.
Again, like raw sugar, they may have some minerals, but they contain no distinct nutritional advantage over white sugar.
Sugar substitutes are also known as low-caloric or non-caloric sweeteners. Sugar substitutes can refer to either sugar alcohols, which are naturally present in plants or non-caloric sweeteners, which are chemical-based sweeteners.
Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol and xylitol are often used in sugar-free sweets and beverages because they contain fewer calories than sugar. Non-caloric sweeteners, such as aspartame and saccharin, have almost no calories and together with sugar alcohols do not contribute to tooth decay or affect blood glucose levels.
Contrary to popular belief, scientific research has shown there are no proven health risks to consuming these sugar substitutes when consumed in moderate amounts.
When you walk around the supermarket today, you are likely to come across product packages claiming, “sugar-free”, “no added sugar”, “unsweetened”, and so on.
While these terms are factual, they do not actually provide any nutritional information on the product. For example, “no added sugar” simply means that no extra sugar was added during the manufacturing process. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the product has fewer calories, since the product itself may be naturally high in sugars like fructose in fruits or lactose in milk.
A more useful method for deciphering a product is to look at food labels, or more specifically, its Nutritional Information Panel (NIP). This will give you a better indication of a product’s nutritional benefits. Look for items such as minerals, vitamins and fibre. Otherwise, you are merely consuming empty calories.
Another thing to note when looking at ingredient labels is that sugar comes in many forms and terms. These include evaporated cane juice, fructose sweetener, fruit juice concentrates, high-fructose corn syrup, honey, liquid fructose, malt syrup, maple syrup and molasses.
It may also be useful to know that ingredients are listed in descending order by weight. If these terms for sugar are on the top of the list, the product is likely to be high in added sugar content.
There are three main types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 (DMT2) and Gestational Diabetes Mellitus (GDM). Type 1 is usually diagnosed in children, where for unknown reasons, the body does not produce insulin. GDM occurs in pregnant ladies. Type 2 diabetes is the one where diet can play a contributing factor, so let’s look at it more closely.
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the body does not produce enough insulin or is insulin-resistant. This occurs more frequently among people over 40 years of age, in particular, those who are overweight. Today, more children and young adults are developing Type 2 diabetes, which could be a result of poor dietary habits.
Since a high-sugar diet is known to cause weight gain by converting excess sugar into fats, it makes sense for you to start cutting down on sugar. If you are 40 years old and above, you are advised to go for health screenings to check your fasting blood glucose levels once every three years, or as advised by your doctor.
Besides diabetes, other health problems related to excessive sugar intake include obesity and heart disease. You can reduce such risks by reducing sugar in your diet.
If your schedule doesn’t allow you to have regular meals at home, you can still make good choices when dining outside to reduce your sugar intake.
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This article was last reviewed on
Wednesday, March 11, 2020
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Ministry of Health Singapore. All Rights Reserved.