Sunday, April 29, 2012

Let's Talk Sugar, Shall We?

I wrote this post at the end of last summer, and am finally publishing it now.

We had several 14+ hour car drives this summer, and on one of them, in a fit of boredom, I began absolutely pestering Devin with questions.  I took notes on his answers, and because I am not ashamed for you to know how truly nerdlike I am, I typed them up for you.  Maybe you'll learn something too?  (These are not direct quotes from Dr. Rose.  I did my best to stay accurate, but I am just paraphrasing here.)

So what kinds of sugar are there?
There are naturally occurring sugars, added sugars, and digestible carbohydrates that are broken down in the body and become sugar.

Naturally occurring sugars are found in what foods?
They are found in fruit, vegetables, grains, legumes (i.e. plant based foods) and milk.  So, just about everything but meat.

Are naturally occurring sugars good, or should they be avoided?
They provide calories just like added sugars, but they bring with them other nutrients-so eat up.

What is an added sugar?
They have many names on a label: sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, brown sugar, inverted sugar, glucose, fructose, honey, molasses . . . to name a few.

Should these sugars be avoided?
That depends. If you feel like they should be, then you should. Personally, I do not avoid them. When I say I don't want a brownie, it is not because of the sugar. When I eat my bowl of oatmeal after dinner, I always add sugar to it. Sugar has its place in a healthy diet, even high fructose corn syrup. To be healthy, eat a balanced diet.  If 80% of your calories come from some source of sugar then you may have a problem.

There is a lot of hype about high fructose corn syrup. Tell me more about that.
There is no evidence in scientific literature that high fructose corn syrup is worse than sucrose for your body. Food companies use high fructose corn syrup because it is cheaper than sucrose. But they also like to use it because it is sweeter than sucrose, so they can use less of it to get the same sweetness intensity, which also saves them money. When you eat something with high fructose corn syrup, you are getting less overall sugar than if they had added sucrose.

Could you tell me what you mean when you say sucrose?
Sucrose is fructose and glucose that are combined, and when you eat it your body uses an enzyme to separate it. Sucrose is what most people think of when they hear the word sugar, granulated sugar, or powdered sugar. High Fructose Corn Syrup is fructose and glucose that are already spread apart, or separated.

What else should I know about high fructose corn syrup?
One of the main concerns people have about high fructose corn syrup is the fructose part. People worry because fructose more easily converts to fat than sucrose. But sucrose is 50% fructose, and high fructose corn syrup is 42-55% fructose, which is not a significant difference. So if someone is avoiding fructose (say, in high fructose corn syrup) then they should know that they should also try avoiding sucrose, as it also contains fructose.

Anything else you want to say?
This whole discussion in the media about fructose being lipogenic is not really going to make that much of a difference. What is effective is reducing total calories and if that includes reducing sugar then that should be your main reason, rather than just blindly avoiding fructose.

Another concern about sugar is the myth that it leads to hyperactivity in children. Studies have shown that a child's activity level does not change when they eat sugar. What changes is the perception that adults have while watching the child's activity levels.

A sugar crash does occur, and it varies depending on how each individual is affected by the sugar in their bloodstream. It occurs usually half an hour to an hour after eating something really sugary. Most people will find themselves really hungry again at this point because their blood sugar is low.  At this point Devin went into some complicated, lengthy explanation about insulin and you'd think  I would understand it a little, since my brother has been diabetic since I was six, but I got none of it.  If you'd like to hear about that, just ask and we'll do another post.  Pending Devin's cooperation, and another 14 hour car drive.

It is almost impossible to cut sugar entirely out of your diet. If you tried to eat a strict no-sugar diet you would be restricting yourself to eating meat, and mustard, vinegar and vegetable oil, Crisco.  You wouldn't even be able to salt your meat, because they add dextrose to salt.  Crazy, right?

All fruits, vegetables, dairy, bread, cereal, grains, nuts, crackers, ketchup—anything you would add to your food or eat that is not a pure ingredient has sugar. It would also exclude processed meats, such as bacon, hot dogs, sausage.

If you allowed naturally occurring sugars, and only excluded foods with added sugars you would then be able to introduce into your diet fruits, vegetables, cheese, and milk.  You would still exclude cereal, crackers, cream cheese, and mixed food items.

The point is to be active, eat well, and be happy. 

What should I ask Dr. Rose about next?


  1. Thank you thank you thank you. I "knew" this, but it helps to know the "science" in "my" terms.

    I hear a lot of people say that it's better to eat honey than sugar, but I thought it was essentially the same thing/same effect as sugar. Can Devin touch on that next?

  2. Interesting discussion. It is nice to get a "local expert" opinion vs the media hype. I still tell people about the microwave popcorn/breastfed baby poo connection.

  3. Love this. I really think it is interesting about high fructose corn syrup. My Father in Law is determined that is the reason for obesity in our country.
    I should cut more sugar out of my diet. Why must it taste so good.

  4. Thanks, Ames. I know you've told me all this before, but I like having it in print now in a place that I can go back to whenever someone starts asking me about the evils of high fructose corn syrup.

    Hmm. What should we ask Dr. Devin next? :)

    There was a disagreement recently at a RS activity about how much milk children should drink, how fat the milk should be, and whether or not it was good for kids to drink cow's milk, but that might be more of a dietician question than a science question.

  5. Oh! And, I was curious about the nutritional value of white whole wheat. Is it really the same nutritional value as whole wheat?

  6. Being married to your diabetic brother, I've learned a lot about which foods have more carbs (which become sugar). Dan doesn't avoid sugar (ha ha, he recently told me he has no "stop button" for twizzlers), in fact he has to have it in order to function (i.e. keep living). But he gets it from lots of different sources, like you mentioned, and he has to track how much he has.

  7. Haha! Roger graduated in Food Science and we have the same "wild discussions" all the time!!

  8. Perhaps this brilliant husband of yours should start up a class to educate us all! I would attend!

    Love, MOMROSE

  9. This is awesome. I tried to find info about this online a long time ago and couldn't really find anything other than both sides saying the other was evil. Turns out they're both wrong!

  10. This is awesome. I tried to find info about this online a long time ago and couldn't really find anything other than both sides saying the other was evil. Turns out they're both wrong!

  11. Good to know. I have also heard it is a better idea to eat honey.

  12. Fascinating. I like it when Devin talks food science.