Understanding sugars

Do you wonder if ‘sugar-free’ is always the best option?

Unfortunately, the answer is not a straightforward 'YES' or 'NO'. There are different kinds of sugars, some better than others, so we'll try and explain these to help you enjoy a healthy, balanced diet.

Lets start by looking at 'natural' and added' sugars.

Foods containing natural sugars (such as the fructose or lactose) are the best. These can offer energy, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. You'll find fructose in fruits, especially apples and pears, and lactose is found in milk and other dairy products. That's why it's so important to get your five portions of fruit and veg a day.

Other sugars are 'added' sugars that go into foods during processing, or when you prepare them at home. Added sugars provide nearly no health benefits, but they do add calories and carbs.

So people with diabetes don't need to avoid sugars or sweets altogether as all types of carbohydrates, sugars and starches raise blood glucose. However, to stay healthy and control blood glucose, it's advisable to keep the intake of sugars and sweets low, especially if you want to maintain a healthy weight.

Sugar on Food Labels

Below are a list of names for ‘added sugars’ that you may see and want to limit.

  • Sucrose
  • Maltose
  • Hydrolysed starch
  • Inverted sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Glucose or Glucose syrup
  • Brown sugar
  • Honey
  • Fruit juice concentrate

When you’re choosing foods and drinks, take a look at the Nutrition Information label but focus on the total carbohydrate number, not just the sugars.

The amount of sugars (both naturally occurring and ‘added sugars’) are counted into the grams of total carbohydrate, but take note as there may also be carbohydrate grams coming from other ingredients (such as starches).

Always look at the ingredients list to find out what particular sugars an item contains.

Sugar-free Foods

There are two groups of reduced calorie sweeteners used in 'sugar-free' foods:

  • Low calorie sweeteners
  • Sugar alcohols

Sugar-free foods may use any one, or a combination of these two types of sweeteners.

'Sugar-free' sometimes means 'no calories or carbohydrates', as seen on many diet drinks. But some 'sugar-free' foods contain both calories and carbohydrates from the sugar alcohols and/or other ingredients in the food. That's why the total carbohydrates number may be greater than all the grams of sugar added together.

It's always wise to read the label and think about portions, even when the package says 'sugar-free'. To fit these foods into your healthy eating plan, check both the total carbohydrate (including sugar alcohols) as well as reading the ingredients list.

 

Did you know?

Foods containing natural sugars (such as the fructose in fruit or lactose in milk) can offer you energy, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.