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How Much Sugar Do You Have, Really?

By: Shanna Jones

How many times have you told yourself, “I think I’m limit how much sugar I eat”?

Many believe it is possible to do by limiting sugary drinks, and taking one less spoon of sugar in their coffee or tea. However, in many foods, there are added sugars present. The added sugars are normally naturally occurring, but are they not as bad as sugar?

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Sugar alcohols or “polyols” are sweeteners such as xylitol, erythritol, isomalt, and lactitol among others that are used as food additives. Health Canada provides that sugar alcohols do occur naturally in fruits and vegetables such as berries and apples, but only in small amounts. For sugar alcohols used in commercial use, these are manufactured from common sugars. The structure of sugar alcohols is very similar to normal sugars, but are less sweet and have fewer calories per gram. 

Polydextrose is synthesized from dextrose (glucose) and is also used as an additive. When used as an additive, polydextrose reduces the caloric content due to it having a low digestible energy value. Polydextrose does not produce a sweet taste, but the tartness that it does produce may add texture to foods, and as such, polydextrose may also be used as a substitute for sugar, starch and fat in desserts.

Diabetics are often directed to sugar alcohols such as mannitol and sorbitol as sugar substitutes. Mannitol and sorbitol do not produce quick changes in blood glucose concentration in the same way as sucrose and glucose. Are always advised to consult their physicians before altering their diet or increasing the types of sugars they intake. 

Health Canada scientists have “concluded that the addition of sugar alcohols and/or polydextrose to foods is safe and effective for their accepted purpose”. They also acknowledge, however, that “eating too much of these substances can cause gastrointestinal discomfort and laxative effects.”

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Let me count the ways

Sugar can appear on a product label in as many as 152 names. Agave, barley malt, sorghum, brown rice syrup, and cane sugar are all types of added sugars found on food labels. They are also found behind the main ingredient, sugar, on a food label. So, in addition to normal sugar, a lot of foods include these as added sugars.

Currently, Canada only lists the total amount of sugars on a food label. Labels do not declare what amount of that total is made up of actual sugar, and what part is made up of added sugars.

Health Canada gives helpful advice to those looking to avoid or lower the sugar in his or her diet. For example, instead of fruit flavoured drinks, try adding a slice of lemon, lime, or cucumber to your water. Or, if you want the sweetness of juice, choose a beverage that is 100% juice and retains its natural sugars.