How Do I Define Sugar?
If I’m going to cut sugar out of my diet, I need to be clear about what I mean by “sugar”. So I thought I’d explore this topic a little and figure out what the heck I mean when I say I’m “quitting sugar”. So here goes…
The Many Faces of Sugar
A quick search on planet Google, gave me some food for thought. The first form of sugar that I think of when I say “sugar” is granulated table sugar. Here’s what Wikipedia says about sugar:
“Sugar is a term for a class of edible crystalline carbohydrates, mainly sucrose, lactose, and fructose, characterized by a sweet flavor. In food, sugars refer to all monosaccharides and disaccharides present in food, but excludes polyols, while in its singular form, sugar normally refers to sucrose, which in its fully refined (or free sugar) form primarily comes from sugar cane and sugar beet, though is present in natural form in many carbohydrates. Other free sugars are used in industrial food preparation, but are usually known by more specific names—glucose, fructose or fruit sugar, high fructose corn syrup, etc.”
That’s a pretty good place to start, but how relevant will all of that be when I’m in a grocery store trying to decipher the nutrition labels I’m reading? Heading back to Googleland, I’m going to see if I can find a label-friendly list of the forms of sugar… Using the search phrase, “sugar on nutrition labels” I found this list from The Harvard School of Public Health:
- Agave nectar
- Brown sugar
- Cane crystals
- Cane sugar
- Corn sweetener
- Corn syrup
- Crystalline fructose
- Evaporated cane juice
- Fruit juice concentrates
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Invert sugar
- Malt syrup
- Raw sugar
While this list doesn’t specifically state which forms of sugar are better and which are to be avoided, it’s a good starting point. But maybe I’m approaching this the wrong way. After all, what’s my intention for quitting sugar?
Good Sugar, Bad Sugar
As I understand it, sugar is a form of carbohydrate (a compound containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen in a 1:2:1 ratio). When we eat sugar (a.k.a. sucrose), it gets metabolized or converted to glucose (another form of sugar; used as fuel for our body). This causes a spike in blood-sugar levels which then triggers insulin to be released to bring your blood-sugar levels back down to “normal”, healthy levels. Some forms of sugar cause a higher glycemic (referring to the amount of sugar in the blood) spike than others. When your blood-sugar level is too high, it causes problems for your body (read Why I’m Quitting Sugar). The goal, then, is to consume less of the sugars or carbohydrates that get converted easily into glucose and then causes a quick glycemic reaction or spike.
It can get pretty complex, but this is my simplified explanation. If I’m a little off with this, feel free to correct me in the comments. But my main point here is to explore how I define sugar.
It’s obvious to me that avoiding the forms of sugar (carbohydrates) that cause blood-sugar levels to shoot up, necessitating the release of insulin, is goal number one. So I’ill want to avoid eating any kind of foods that contain sugar or easily-digestible forms of carbohydrate that cause this reaction. However, it’s my understanding that all forms of carbohydrate do this to varying degrees, so there will be some of forms of sugar that I’ll want to avoid at all costs, at least for a while. And then maybe allow it as a rare treat in small quantities down the road (more of this in the future). And I should point out that since starches, such as those found in potatoes and pasta, and refined and unrefined grains of all kinds, such as in bread (white or even whole-wheat) or oatmeal, can easily convert to sugar in the body, I’ll avoid any forms of these too.
So what are the worst forms of sugar? Back to Google I go. Using the search phrase,”sugars rated by sweetness” I found the follow list:
- fructose 173%
- sucrose 100%
- glucose 74%
- maltose 33%
- galactose 33%
- lactose 16%
Since sucrose is the form of sugar most people are familiar with, they arbitrarily assigned it a rating of 100% for relative sweetness comparison. Based on the list, the top three items rank substantially higher in sweetness and therefore, I would infer that they would likewise constitute a higher spike on the glycemic index and would have a relatively higher insulin response. Therefore, I think I’ve found the top three forms of sugar to watch out for and to avoid. However, I intend to avoid all forms of sugar, if that’s even possible.
Where To Begin?
My thinking here is first, to avoid the obvious sweets, such as candies, cookies, cakes, and confections in all forms. Next, I’ll pretty much avoid all foods that are high or moderate in carbohydrate content. If I were to keep my carbohydrate intake low, I know that I wouldn’t have to pay as much attention to the amount of sugar that’s in any of the foods I’m eating. If, for example, I’m eating something that contains 0 grams of carbohydrate, I know that there is no sugar in it and I’m okay. So the correlation is the lower the carbs the lower the sugar contained in the food.
So with all that said, I think I can make a starter list and adjust it as I go along, if needed.
Sugars I’ll Be Quitting:
- All forms of desserts, sweets, and candies.
- Natural (from the earth) foods that contain high-carbohydrate or starches
- Refined or unrefined forms of grains.
- Specifically: fructose (including high-fructose corn syrup), sucrose, and glucose.
I’d Like to Hear From You On This Subject
So that’s what I’m talking about when I say that I’m quitting sugar. Obviously, this is an unscientific exploration but it serves my purpose. Still, I have a lot to learn and I’m just getting started. So any advice you can give me or suggestions related to the different forms of sugar would be very much appreciated.