It seems like the food industry is trying to confuse us sometimes. There are so many different names for the same ingredient. What we refer to as sugar comes under the label of fructose, glucose, sucrose, dextrose, evaporated cane sugar, high fructose corn syrup, even grape juice concentrate in its chemical structure is pretty much sugar. But when it comes down to it, is one of these better for us than the rest? Specifically, is one of these going to pack on pounds while another may have a place in our diet? I will run through the difference between these sugars and which one is the worst of the evils–remember none are really going to help us lose weight, but it may not derail our diet as much.
Lets start with the one that is most misunderstood in our society. Fructose is the sugar that is found in fruit. It is all natural and thus is universally understood to be healthy for us. However, while it may be somewhat healthy when consumed in the fruit form, when it is separated down to fructose itself, it effects us very differently. The reason for this is that fructose is a simple sugar. It is about as simple as it gets. Therefore it is very easy for our body to digest and absorb. Without the fiber and vitamins that ususally accompany fructose in the form of fruit, digestion is rapid and there is nothing to slow it down. Thus when all this sugar enters our system at once, it gets stored as fat rather than absorbed as nutrients into our cells.
This also ties into the fruit juice concentrate form and fruit juice in general. Since these are derived from fruit they pretty much are simply fructose, water, and some vitamins. These vitamins, although good for your health, do little to delay the absorption of fructose and thus we experience similar fat storage. While these are important vitamins to your health, juice is not the way you should consume them–look to whole fruits rather than their compenents. Remember, just because it is from something healthy like a fruit does not mean it is good for you.
So how about sucrose. If you know anything about the different forms of sugar you probably think this is the worst for you. Sucrose is the chemical name for table sugar–that white crystal that dieters need to avoid at all costs. While I am by no means telling you it is good for you and you should eat it, realize that it is a better alternative than some of the other forms of sugar on the market. Sucrose is a 50-50 mix of the simple monosaccaride fructose and glucose.
Glucose is our bodies preferred source of sugar and it is a little more complex than fructose. The carbs you get from starchy foods such as pasta and bread are converted down to glucose before they can be used by our bodies. Thus glucose itself is not horrible, but it is still worse than starch as it is already broken down and asorbable whereas starch is not.
In excess however, even starch can cause weight gain and since sucrose is such a concentrated form of sugar and carbs, it can lead to fat storage. Furthermore, the fructose content works just as it would if fructose were injested alone and is likely to be stored as fat. Therefore, sucrose is a better alternative to pure fructose as it has the healthier glucose compenent but it is still inferior to starch.
However, we often see the ingredient evaportated cane juice or evaporated cane sugar in healthier products as an alternative to sugar. Don’t be confused by things like this, while it is slightly more natural and thus has miniscule nutrients that table sugar does not, in its essence, it really is the same thing as sucrose. Still a better alternative to fructose, yet not as good for you as these companies would like for you to think.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
After what you now know about fructose you probably think high fructose corn syrup must be the worst of the worst. If fructose is bad then this sounds like it will kill us right? Well it isn’t as bad as its name implies. High fructose corn syrup, like sucrose, is a mix of fructose and glucose. However, where sucrose was a 50-50 mix, HFCS is a 55-45 mix, with the 55 being fructose. therefore it is slightly worse than table sugar since fructose is the compenent we would like to minimalize, however it a small difference in weight. All things being equal, sucrose would be the better alternative but since the difference is somewhat insignificant, there is no steadfast rule for deciding between the two.
Dextrose or Maltodextrin
You may see this ingredient mostly in supplements such as protein powders. Dextrose and Maltodextrin, although sugars, cannot be found or derived in nature, they must be manufatured chemically. If you are a strong proponenet of an all natural diet and don’t like the idea of injesting chemicals then steer clear. The FDA still does not fully understand the health implications that these chemically formed sugars have.
If we look at these sugars purely health wise however, they may have dietary benefits. In a sense, like starch, they are composed fully of glucose, without the fructose counterpart. Thus they are in a sense complex carbohydrates. They still digest faster than a starch will but will certainly store less fat than fructose or sucrose. If you don’t have a problem with a sugar developed in a lab rather than nature then dextrose of maltodextrin may be the best sugar our there for your diet!
But don’t forget, while some sugars are better than others, they are all sugar, and should be treated as such. They can work with your diet in moderation if you make the right sugar choices but any sugar in excess will cause weight gain and fat storage!