Added sugars make up about 16 percent of Americans’ total calorie intake, reports the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for American. Added sugars are usually processed and do not contribute to a food’s nutritional quality. While all sugars must undergo processing to remove to the sugar from the cane, sucanat is type of sugar that is minimally processed. Sugars found naturally in some foods are also unprocessed.
The American Heart Association reports that between 2001 and 2004, the average American consumes 22.2 teaspoons of added, processed sugar per day – or 355 calories worth. These added sugars contribute to weight gain, increased risk of heart disease, tooth decay and compromised nutrition. Major sources of processed sugar include soda, baked goods and sweetened juices. Added, processed sugars include high fructose corn syrup, white sugar, brown sugar, malt syrup and fructose sweetener. The AHA recommends limiting sugar intake to 9 tsp. per day for men and 6 tsp. per day for women – but they mean ADDED sugars, not the ones found in fresh fruits and vegetables or dairy foods.
Sugar is a carbohydrate, which provides energy for your muscles and organs. Sugar can be in the form sucrose, fructose or lactose. Sucrose is what you find in processed white sugar. Processed, added sugars are often in foods that do not offer significant nutrition. Processed sugars are made with a variety of means. White table sugar comes from sugar cane or sugar beets – the juice of which is dehydrated, evaporated, boiled, washed, carbonated, de-colored and boiled again. Other processed sugars, such as high fructose corn syrup, go through similar multi-step processes.
Sucanat comes from sugar cane, but undergoes minimal processing. To create sucanat. sugar cane juice is dehydrated until crystals form. It retains all of the molasses in the sugar, making it a brown color. Although sucanat is still sucrose, it is a source of potassium, trace minerals and vitamins natural to the sugar cane plant. You can use sucanat just like white sugar or brown sugar in baking or sweetening. Do not confuse sucanat with brown sugar, which is processed sugar with molasses added back in or turbinado sugar or Demerara sugar, which have been purified to prevent the growth of mold but removes most of the nutritional benefit. Sucanat is still sugar, however – so keep intake to a minimum.
Food nutrition labels do not distinguish between natural and added, processed sugars; they simply list the total number of sugar grams. Foods such as milk, plain yogurt and fresh fruits may contain sugar – but these are not processed varieties. Fructose and lactose are sugars that naturally occur in fruits and milk. When you consume fructose and lactose in whole foods – an orange or a cup of low-fat, plain yogurt, for example – you get an entire nutritional package. The water content of these foods also helps dilute the sugar content. Sweetened yogurts, canned fruits in syrup and some dried fruits contain processed sugars. Take for example, sweetened yogurt – in a 6-oz. serving of plain yogurt you get about 12 grams of sugar from lactose, that naturally occurring sugar in milk. Choose blueberry, however, and get 25 grams of sugar – 13 grams added and unnecessary. Choose banana cream pie and get 27 grams of sugar – 15 grams added. That’s almost 4 tsp. of sugar – just in your healthy snack. Rely on the ingredient list of these foods and look for added, processed sugars before purchasing. And remember, although fructose found naturally in fruit is okay – once it is used as an added sugar, it is still a highly-processed, added sugar extracted from its normal environment and not any better for you than corn syrup or table sugar.