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Types of sugar

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Around the year 500 B.C. from boiled cane, sugar gross was obtained and named "gur", a word meaning "nice, sweet and sticky stuff". The use of sugar began widespread in Europe but it was not until the eighteenth century when most families could buy brown sugar at a reasonable price.

White sugar came from the Industrial Revolution, bringing food processing on a large scale, many with large amounts of refined sugar. Since the mid-1920s to 1970, consumption of cane sugar remained constant, except during World War II because of rationing. In times of widespread nutritional deficiencies, energy intake of sugar has been crucial to help meet the caloric needs of much of the population.

Since 1970, the consumption of white sugar was added sweetener (substances which add sweet flavor) from sources other than sugar cane sources, such as corn syrup.

Corn sweeteners today represent 50% of the sugar consumed. The consumption of sugars of all kinds has increased about 50% in the last 3 decades.

Most sugar consumed today comes from adding the food industry to processed foods, such as canned goods, packaged, baked and processed beverages. All this explains that sugar not only play an important role in our nutrition; so does the economy and even in the politics of many countries.

Which is better: white or brown sugar?

From a nutritional point of view, the differences between white and brown sugar and nutrients that provide both, are insignificant. White or refined sugar is obtained through a long process of cleaning, purification, evaporation and crystallization of sugar cane or sugar beet (the two main raw materials for the production of sugar). In one of the last steps, a byproduct called molasses is obtained by mixing with white sugar results in brown sugar.

That molasses gives the characteristic flavor and color to brown sugar, which can also be obtained by a similar process, which is used for refined sugar (although this is less common).

But besides white sugar and brown, we find a lot of presentations and formats: from classic sugar cubes or envelopes until the icing sugar.

Other names for sugar in processed foods

Most of the sugar we eat comes from processed foods. However, it is not easy to detect its presence on labels because sometimes you do not find the word "sugar", but that ingredient has been added.

The problem is that there are many words that are synonymous with "sugar", but not everyone knows. Moreover, there are also other substances that give sweet flavor and with the same caloric intake and the same metabolic effect than sugar.

Possible names that sugar manufacturers include product ingredients are: 

  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Crystalline fructose
  • Glucose
  • Fructose syrup
  • Corn syrup
  • Maltose
  • Agave nectar
  • Sucrose
  • Malt syrup

The World Health organization (WHO) recommended not to exceed consumption 50 grams of sugar daily.

Natural sweeteners

Honey

Honey is highly appreciated by some populations of hunter-gatherers such as the Hadza, for those who can represent a significant part of their total calories during part of the year. Some experts believe that meat not only helped us develop our great brain, but the caloric power of honey may have also played a role. The honeycombs were not coveted only for honey, also by the larvae of bees undoubtedly an excellent source of protein.

Stevia

Stevia rebaudiana is a plant native to Paraguay, used as a sweetener and a medicinal plant by the Guarani people for over 1000 years. Japan represents more than 40% of sweeteners. Its leaves are much sweeter than sugar, with no calories.

 Just like honey, stevia is much more than a sweetener:

• Stevia leaves has protective renal function antidiabetic properties (improved insulin sensitivity), and antioxidants.
• Stevia reduces blood glucose levels compared to sucrose or aspartame. This certainly makes it a good alternative for diabetics or people who have problems with blood sugar control.
• Although the evidence is still small, it seems also help reduce blood pressure.

The question is whether these beneficial properties are extrapolated to sweeteners products you find in the supermarket-based stevia, where steviol glycosides are isolated and mixed with other substances such as erythritol (a sugar alcohol).

Stevia is a valid option, but ideally consumed in its natural form, such as fresh or dried leaves.

As only warning, some studies have found that stevia can affect female fertility. It is believed that the Guarani women were using contraception. Although other studies find no relationship and quantities to be used should be elevated, it is an issue to consider.

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