Thursday, 29 May 2014

Added sugars and natural sweeteners

I've been doing some research on added sugars and natural sweeteners this week and thought I'd share some of my findings.  Added sugars are dietary sugars that contain very little nutritional value and are added to many pre-packaged foods, baked goods, restaurant foods, etc.  Added sugars do not include the natural sugars from vegetables and fruit (fructose) or dairy (lactose).  Here are the statistics (from Statistics Canada findings, 2004, more information is available at www.statcan.gc.ca):
  • The average Canadian consumes 110g of sugars daily.  This is equivalent to 26 teaspoons, 440 calories or 21.4% of the average daily caloric intake.
  • Of this 110g, 12.5-14.4% came from breads and grains, 25.7-33.2% came from vegetables and fruits, 15.5-17.8% came from dairy products, 33.6-44.2% came from "other," for Canadian adults aged 19-50.
  • This "other" category are the added sugars we take in through commonly eaten pre-packaged, baked goods, and restaurant foods, such as sauces, condiments, granola bars, fruit juices, sodas, flavoured yogurts, chocolate milk, etc.
Why are fruit and dairy sources exempt from the "added sugars" category?
While fructose and lactose are sugars, foods that contain these sugars are nutrient dense.  The nutritional components (fibre from fruit and protein from milk) slow the insulin response produced in the body, so blood sugar does not spike as drastically as with added sugars in low nutrient density foods.

How do "natural sweeteners" compare?
Many foods or recipes that contain honey, agave nectar, or maple syrup make the claim that they are "no sugar added."  It is a false claim, as these sugars are still classified as added sugars (see abstract).  However, the macronutrient values of these sugars do vary, and provide some small nutritional differences in potassium, iron, and calcium.  Date syup, which consists of 10 dates, 3/4 cup water and 2 tsp lemon juice per cup, can be classified as no sugar added since the sugar is entirely from a fruit source.  Here is a nutritional comparison per cup:


The antioxidant content of each of these sugars varied, with maple syrup and honey classified as intermediate amounts, and agave classified as low in antioxidants (see abstract).  Antioxidant comparison for date syrup was not available.

In conclusion, date syrup was the best choice for baking or adding sweetener to foods, as it is truly no added sugar, and is high in fibre and low in calories.  The downside to date syrup is that it has a short shelf life and must be refrigerated. As for longer shelf life syrups, pure maple syrup ranked highest for nutrient density (high in potassium, iron and calcium, lower in calories).

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