Sweet As Sugar – Is There Such Thing As A Healthier Choice?
There are many different types of sugars we add to use in cooking or in hot drinks and despite the large variety of sugars, they are all very similar nutritionally. They are comprised predominantly of glucose, fructose and sucrose, which are the basic forms of sugar. The factors that distinguish sugars are their sources (from sugarcane, beet, fruit, nectar, palm or coconut saps), flavour profiles, and the levels of processing.
So to understand if there is a healthier type of sugar, we must consider all types from white sugar, brown sugar, honey syrups and fruit sugars. Several studies have reported adverse effects of white sugar and high fructose corn syrup on our health. So should we substitute these types of sugars with another?
Some sugars such as honey and agave syrup are higher in fructose. Fructose is sweeter than glucose and sucrose, hence a smaller amount may be needed to achieve similar level of sweetness from white sugar. Honey and syrups also have a higher water content. So the sugar content is less than the equivalent weight of white sugar.
Due to the different levels of processing and refining, sugars that are less processed and refined tend to have higher content of minerals and compounds that give plants their colour. These compounds have been found to increase antioxidant capacity, which reduces the cell damage in the body that causes several chronic diseases.
Different types of sugar raise the amount of sugar in our blood at different rates after being consumed. The glycemic index (GI) concept is used to compare the ability of different carbohydrate containing foods in raising blood sugar levels over two hours.
Pure glucose is used as the reference carbohydrate and it's given a value of 100. Higher GI indicates greater ability of a food in raising blood sugar levels, and having high levels of sugar in the blood can lead to disease. High GI foods tend to be less filling, too.
The GI values in the table below are compiled from the GI database. Corn syrup has the highest GI as it is composed mainly of glucose.
White sugar, composed of 50 per cent glucose and 50 per cent fructose, has slightly lower GI. Based on available values in the GI database, agave syrup has the lowest GI value. Therefore, it's a better option than other sugars in term of blood sugar management.
Honey has been reported to possess several germ-killing capabilities due to the presence of several naturally occurring compounds. But it's still unclear how the antimicrobial property of honey may be obtained.
In the end, sugar in our body is still sugar.
So while honey, raw sugar, date sugar and molasses may be "better" than white and other types of sugar, its best not to substitute and instead, try cut down your sugar intake.