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Confused about sugar? There is a tonne of misinformation presented through various forms of media which can make it difficult to understand whether sugar is good or bad. Often termed ‘toxic’ with claims that sugar alternatives can be health promoting, we are usually left more confused than before.

The following describes 7 common sugars;

Granulated sugar – also known as regular white sugar, has a moderate glycaemic index. Composed of 50% glucose and 50% sucrose it provides nothing nutritionally besides calories and carbohydrates.

Agave nectar or syrup – a nectar that is extracted from the sap of agave which is then filtered and heated to produce a sweet glucose/fructose syrup. Having a high fructose content means that agave has a relatively low glycaemic index, making it popular for diabetics. Compared to granulated sugar, agave is slightly higher in calories, however it is 30-40% sweeter and as such you can use less.

Coconut sugar – sometimes promoted as ‘whole food’, ‘natural’, or ‘healthier than sugar’ but it’s still sugar (sucrose). Calorie content is the same as regular sugar, but with a lower glycaemic index it could be a better choice than white sugar.

Honey – receives its sweetness from fructose and glucose, but the percent of each will depend on where the bees have been buzzing, which is why honey’s sweetness can vary. Most commercial honeys are made from a mixture to achieve consistent sweetness and flavour. These commercial varieties will have a similar effect on blood sugar levels as regular sugar; however some particular honeys have a lower glycaemic index.

Palm sugar – contains 10-20% sucrose and may contain vitamins and minerals not found in regular sugar, but the amounts are far too small to count toward your recommended daily intakes. Currently, the glycaemic index is unknown but assumed to be similar to coconut sugar.

Rice malt syrup – a melted grain syrup made from rice, containing maltose, maltotriose and glucose. With a very high glycaemic index, it is not ideal for those trying to lower their blood sugar levels (i.e diabetics).

Stevia – a plant based sugar alternative which is free from calories. The body doesn’t metabolise these plant compounds meaning there’s no effect on blood sugar levels and the compounds are excreted. Stevia is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar and as such can be used in very small amounts. Ideal for diabetes, however most will agree, the flavour is not entirely comparable to regular sugar.

In summary, there is not necessarily one sugar that will be better than another. All (except for Stevia) contain calories and should only consumed in small amounts. Reducing your overall sugar intake can promote weight loss and better blood sugar control.

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