Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Little White Crystal

I'll be the first to admit, I have a sweet tooth. I'm notorious in my family as the cookie dough thief, a title earned after my early achievement of sneaking an entire double batch of chocolate chip cookie dough from the fridge when I was 6. That title was well-earned and reaffirmed many times over the years.

That being said, I want to talk for a second about sugar.

Sugar is everywhere.

It's in your cereal, your bread, your pizza sauce, your drinks, your snacks, your desserts... It's all over the place. What's more, majority of that sugar is what are called empty calories. To break that down (excuse the pun), a calorie is a unit of energy, defined as the amount of energy required to bring 1 ml of water from 14 to 15 degrees Celsius. Empty calories are sources of calories which provide no other nutrient benefit, think for example, bread made from refined, non-fortified flour versus bread made from home-ground flour from whole wheat grains. Refined, non-fortified flour us pure carbohydrates with no other nutrients, whereas the wheat germ from the whole grain provides many essential nutrients.

Now, our energy intake is often measured in Calories, not calories. What's the difference? Calories, with a capital "C" are actually kilocalories, kcal or 1000 calories. Our recommended daily allowances are often based on a 2000 Calorie (kcal) diet. This is calculated from a simple formula:

  • 1 gram of protein ~ 4 kcal
  • 1 gram of carbohydrates ~ 4 kcal
  • 1 gram of fat ~ 9 kcal
Now, seeing that energy difference, many of you are probably thinking, "Why are we talking about sugar then? Fat has far more Calories." You are not alone in your thinking. If you want to see the biochemistry behind the push against sugar, then check out The Fat-Sugar Metabolism Debate  (TFSMD).

Interestingly enough, we have a recommended daily amount for sugar: 24-36 grams[1]. That's not a lot; it's roughly 6-9 teaspoons per day. Two sugars in your coffee? you've already hit 1/3 of your daily allowance. 

Two sugars? Really?

Yeah, and it doesn't stop there. We've already discussed how excess sugar leads to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and coronary artery disease in TFSMD. What's I'm trying to show you is that sugar, truly, is everywhere. The scary part of all of this is that you don't need to be eating a diet of candy for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to wind up with way more sugar than you need.
Sorry, Buddy
Next time you grab a can of coke, check the amount of sugar in it - 39 grams. Grabbing a pack of Pop-Tarts or a bowl of Frosted Flakes for breakfast? 34 and 25 grams respectively. Fruit juice isn't even safe, weighing in at around 24 grams per 8 oz of juice.[2]

All right, wise guy, what am I supposed to do, not eat anything?

No. You need to eat, but instead of buying pre-packaged, pre-made foods, why not make it yourself? Sure, it takes time and work has chewed you up and spat you out. I understand. I'm a med student and, for a while, my wife worked two jobs on top of that - we were never home and rarely had the time to cook. For the time being, we had to be content with that, but we still tried to make healthy choices when eating out (particularly after going through the GI/nutrition course). 

Don't kill yourself trying to avoid sugar, but do what you can to minimise it. That's why we have nutrition labels on foods. Find the sugars, see how much is in one serving and do the math to figure out how much sugar is in the whole bag (because we never eat just 3 oreos, right?).

Also, if you're really curious, you can look at the ingredients list to see where and what type of sugar is listed. If you didn't know, the ingredients are listed in order of amount, from most to least. So, if sugar is high on the list, you know there's a lot of it. That being said, producers have found alternative ways to get sugar in food without using literal sugar (table sugar), so you'll have to be extra canny, scanning for all of these other names for sugar (Not all of these are exactly the same as table sugar and sometimes have different structures, but they are still all empty calories and sweeteners)[3, 4]:

  • Agave nectar/syrup
  • Barbados sugar
  • Barley malt
  • Barley malt syrup
  • Beet sugar
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • Buttered sugar
  • Cane juice crystals
  • Cane juice
  • Cane sugar
  • Caramel
  • Carob syrup
  • Caster/Castor sugar
  • Coconut sugar/Coconut palm sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Corn syrup solids
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Date sugar
  • Demerara sugar
  • Dextran/Dextrin
  • Dextrose
  • Diastatic malt
  • Diatase
  • Ethyl maltol
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fructose
  • Free-flowing brown sugars
  • Fruit juice concentrates
  • Galactose
  • Glucose
  • Glucose solids
  • Golden sugar
  • Golden syrup
  • Grape sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Honey
  • Invert/-ed sugar
  • Lactose
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Mannose
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses syrup
  • Muscovado sugar
  • Organic raw sugar
  • Oat syrup (avena sativa)
  • Panela
  • Panocha/Penuche
  • Powdered/Icing/Confectioner's sugar
  • Refiner's syrup
  • Rice bran syrup
  • Rice syrup
  • Saccharose
  • Sorghum
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Sugar
  • Syrup
  • Treacle
  • Tapioca syrup
  • Turbinado sugar
  • Yellow sugar