The ability to identify added sugar helps people make healthy choices and is a big plus to food manufacturers who want to highlight the lack of added sugar in their products.
Recognizing added sugar in foods just got easier, thanks to the FDA’s 2016 adjustments to the nutrition facts label for packed food and beverage products. The label must now list the amount of added sugar as well as the amount of naturally occurring sugar. The nutrition label change seems small, but it empowers companies and consumers alike to create and use products without added sugar.
Why all this interest in added sugar? Refined sugar is increasingly known for its harmful effect on the human body, and as one of our top six food trends for 2017, we think it is worth exploring.
Is all sugar equal?
Added sugar is a broad category. According to the American Heart Association, added sugars include any sweeteners added to foods or beverages during processing or preparation, like white sugar, brown sugar, fruit juice concentrate, molasses, and honey. Caloric sweeteners that are chemically manufactured, like high fructose corn syrup, also fall under the added sugar umbrella.
Here’s how added refined sugars affect the body. They are digested and absorbed immediately, causing blood sugar to spike. The pancreas must pump insulin, and sometimes the pancreas can’t keep up, causing problems with insulin secretion. Refined sugar, or sucrose, is a molecule combination of the carbohydrate glucose bonded to the carbohydrate fructose. Eating sugar is more work for the liver than eating a similar number of calories of starch. Sugar in liquid form, like juice or soda, affects the liver faster than the same amount of sugar in fruit (The New York Times). Added sugars also cause inflammation and increase triglycerides in the blood. This inflammatory response by the body is one of the most critical aspects of degenerative disease situations in the human body.
The naturally occurring fructose in fruit is a different story. The body is built to break down the sugar in fruits and vegetables and use it for energy.
Paired with the nutrients and fiber in fruit, sugar plays an important role in human nutrition and available energy. Refined sugar, on the other hand, is detrimental to your health and is not comparable to naturally occurring sugar. According to the Mayo Clinic, issues related to added sugar consumption include poor nutrition, weight gain, increased triglycerides, and tooth decay.
The American Heart Association and other organizations like it suggest lowering your added sugar intake because of the empty calories. But that’s not the only reason you should avoid sucrose. Sucrose itself is the problem, and its impact on your metabolic health has nothing to do with calorie count. Besides contributing to diabetes and obesity, sucrose damages the gut’s microbiome.
Sugar and the gut microbiome
The microbiome is the living collection of bacteria residing in and on the body, and it’s an important part of overall health.
“The beneficial bacteria—also called probiotics—in our gut (where most of our microbes live) are responsible for a variety of health-promoting functions, like regulating our immune system, balancing our blood sugar, helping us absorb nutrients, and even calming our emotions” (Hyperbiotics).
Scientists and consumers alike are beginning to focus on maintaining the health of the body’s microbiome, and avoiding refined sugar is one of the best ways to protect it. Sucrose kills healthy microbes in your gut. The bad bacteria in our bodies feed on sugar, and a high sugar diet increases bad bacteria while weakening good bacteria.
Look to fruits and vegetables as your natural sugar sources
Whole fruits and vegetables are excellent sources of natural sugar. Fructose, the sugar in fruit and vegetables, is accompanied by fiber, slowing digestion and absorption, as well as minimizing spikes in insulin. Your body recognizes the sugar in fruit as a naturally occurring molecule, whereas refined sugar lacks nutrients and fiber and your body responds to it like a toxin.
Healthy sugar alternatives
Refined sugar is not good for you, but there are healthy alternatives to add sweetness to your diet and to your products.
- Use fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables to sweeten food.
- Freeze-dried fruits and vegetables bring color and flavor to snacks and work wonders as ingredients in products like cereal, granola, and snack bars.
- Stevia is a sugar substitute that comes from the stevia rebaudiana plant. It doesn’t add calories and is a natural source of sweetness.
- Monk fruit is a small, green gourd grown in Southeast Asia. The fruit’s extract is used as a sweetener and is a great refined sugar alternative because it has zero carbs and zero calories.
Make no sugar added your goal
Thomas Creek Farms does not add sugar to its products, allowing the natural sweetness of the fruit to shine. We recognize that added sugar poses a health concern for consumers, and we believe it’s our job as food innovators to provide a healthy alternative. If you want to explore healthy sweetener options, get in touch. We would be happy to discuss making no sugar added your goal.