Sugar metabolizes as energy, experts say
vakis boutsalis/for metro toronto
Sugar is a natural part of a variety of foods, and added sugar accounts for more than one-tenth of the average Canadian’s daily calorie intake. But most people are still in the dark when it comes to the sweet-tasting carbohydrate.
“The biggest misconception about sugar is that when people think about it they tend to think about white table sugar,” says Douglas Cook, a registered dietician at St. Michael’s Hospital.
In reality, sugar comes in a variety of forms, including naturally occurring glucose and fructose, which is commonly found in fruits and vegetables, as well as refined sucrose, a technical name for table sugar.
“Sugars all exist in different forms, but glucose is the only form that can be used for fuel. It doesn’t matter how you consume it, all sugar is turned into glucose,” Cook explains. “People tend to think that white sugar metabolizes differently.”
Another common misconception, Cook says, is that brown sugar and honey are healthier alternatives to sucrose.
The truth is there is no difference between white sugar, honey and brown sugar, which is regular sucrose mixed with traces of molasses.
For the health-conscious who think consuming too much sugar is unhealthy, Cook says that in dietary circles, sugar is almost an interchangeable word for carbohydrate because it metabolizes as energy, and avoiding it would be next to impossible. “It’s part of the food supply.”
What Cook warns against is the use of added or refined sugar, which can be problematic if overused.
“The only difference with refined sugar (from naturally occurring sugar) is that it is pure energy. So you are adding calories to your food by using it,” he says.
But that doesn’t mean you have to eliminate added sugars from your diet all together.
The Dietary Reference Intakes developed by the U.S. Institute of Medicine in collaboration with Health Canada says the maximum intake of added sugars should be 25 per cent of total calories per day.
For the average Canadian, added sugars only account for 13 per cent of the daily calorie intake, a relatively moderate amount.
And, sugar is more than just sweet tasting. It has a variety of uses, including helping bread rise, preserving the smell and flavour of jams and jellies, balancing the flavour of foods with high acidity, and enhancing the creamy texture of ice cream.
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