|Sugar is a simple carbohydrate. There are two types of sugars - monosaccharides, which include glucose, fructose and galactose, are made of one sugar molecule, and disaccharides are made of two sugar molecules linked together. Disaccharides are formed when monosaccharides combine - for example, when glucose and fructose are combined, they form sucrose, also known as table sugar. Other disaccharides include maltose, dextrose and lactose. When many sugar molecules are linked together, they form a complex carbohydrate, also known as a starch.
Sugar provides the sweet flavor to foods to which it has been added, and it may also act as a preservative and flavor enhancer. Sugar is used in a variety of foods, including cookies, cakes, pickles, ice cream, alcohol and jams and jellies. Types of sugar include raw sugar, brown sugar, honey, molasses, maple sugar and corn syrup.
Sugar, which provides 16 calories per teaspoon, provides no vitamins and minerals, so it's a good idea to use it in moderation. Overconsumption of sugar, like other carbohydrates, has been linked to the development of cavities. However, sugar consumption has not been linked to hyperactivity in children. A high intake of sugar does not cause diabetes, but if a person is diagnosed with diabetes the amount of simple sugar eaten daily often needs to be reduced.
Two types of sweeteners—sugar alcohols and no-calorie sweeteners—are used to replace sugars in foods. It's not necessary to use artificial sweeteners to eat less sugar because foods taste just fine made with less sugar. Still, artificially sweetened beverages, yogurt and desserts are a popular alternative to sugary treats.
No-calorie sweeteners currently used in foods include saccharin, aspartame and acesulfame-K. Saccharin is about 300 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose). It's used in several brands of table-top sweeteners, in canned foods and in low-calorie soft drinks.
Aspartame is 160 to 220 times sweeter than table sugar. Aspartame loses flavor in foods when heated. Although aspartame contains 4 calories per gram, the amount used is minute, so aspartame generally adds less than 1 calorie to a product per serving. Products that may contain aspartame include low-calorie beverages, sugar-free gelatins, yogurt, puddings, frozen desserts and cereals, as well as table-top sweeteners. Table-top sweeteners may contain an ingredient used as a filler that provides some calories. People with the condition phenylketonuria should not consume aspartame because their bodies are unable to metabolize it.
Acesulfame-K is 200 times sweeter than sugar. This newest of artificial sweeteners is being used in dry mixes for beverages, gelatin desserts, and puddings.
Artificial sweeteners must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for use in foods or as a table-top sweetener before they can be used by food processors or marketed for sale. Ingredient labels list any artificial sweeteners in a product.
Using Less Sugar and Sweeteners
Here are some tips for reducing sugar in your diet to make room for more nutritious foods:
- Read ingredient labels. If sugar is listed as the first, second or third ingredient, the product probably contains a large amount of sugar as a sweetener. Identify all the sugars in a product (sucrose, honey, glucose, molasses, dextrose, corn sweetener, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, lactose, maltose, sorghum syrup, mannitol, fruit juice concentrate, sorbitol). Select items lower in added sugars when possible.
- Buy fresh fruits or fruits packed in water, juice, or light syrup rather than those in heavy syrup.
- Buy fewer foods that are high in sugars such as soft drinks, fruit-flavored punches and sweet desserts. Be aware that some low-fat desserts may be very high in sugar.
- Add less sugar to coffee, tea, cereal or fruit. Get used to half as much, then see if you can cut back even more.
- Use less sugar in the foods you prepare at home. Try new recipes or adjust your own. Start by reducing sugars gradually until you've decreased them by one third or more.
- As you reduce the sugar in your baked goods, try adding spices like cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, ginger and mace to enhance the sweet flavor of foods. Spiced foods will taste sweeter if warmed.
Here's a guide for baking with less sugar:
| For every cup of flour, use only:
|Cakes and cookies
||1/2 cup sugar
|Muffins and quick breads
||1 tablespoon sugar
||1 teaspoon sugar
Don't worry - sugar isn't your enemy. But reducing your sugar intake will help you cut calories and will allow you more room for more nutritious foods.