From maple syrup to molasses: six sugars explained
TORONTO -- Sugar has been demonized as a dietary no-no for decades, but some sugars are worse than others.
Registered dietitian Nishta Saxena visited CTV’s Your Morning to explain the differences in the sugars we use, with an emphasis on “less is more.”
“I think a lot of Canadians don’t realize how much sugar is added to other foods they’re consuming, that they don’t anticipate sugar to be in,” Saxena said.
“When we’re controlling sugar and adding a tiny bit to tea or coffee, that’s very different to looking across the foods you’re eating and seeing sugars in every one of the foods that you’re eating. You want to watch where it is in your diet.”
Saxena broke down the differences in these common calorific sweeteners, that will increase blood sugar levels.
White cane sugar
The most common kind of sweetener, extracted from sugar cane or beets, this is the white crystalline powder that is 100 per cent sucrose, half glucose and half fructose.
This sugar comes in many different forms, from caster sugar to confectioner’s sugar, often distinguished by the size of the crystals.
“This is what we think of when we think of sugar,” Saxena said.
“White sugar comes from sugar beet, sugar cane, they’re juicing that and they’re evaporating the water away to get this crystalized form of sugar.”
She also dispelled the myth that brown sugar is slightly better for us than white sugar.
It’s 95 per cent sucrose with five per cent molasses added to give it its rich colour and a deeper flavour in baking.
“The brown is not necessarily better, it’s just really sugar,” Saxena said.
“It’s slightly more hydrating, so sugar does hold a lot of water in baked goods.”
Molasses are a byproduct of sugar cane manufacturing, “like the syrup left over at the end,” Saxena explained, with a slightly bittersweet taste.
It has a slight nutritional edge over cane and brown sugar, she said, due to some mineral content.
“It contains some actual minerals, so if you look at two tablespoons of molasses you can actually see that you get eight to ten per cent of calcium and iron (daily recommendation for adults) from having that much blackstrap (common) molasses,” Saxena told CTV’s Your Morning.
Molasses doesn’t work well in cooking, Saxena said, but is better drizzled on toast or oatmeal.
“You don’t want to have vats of it, because like all of these you want to watch your portions,” Saxena said.
Taken from the sap of the coconut tree, and not to be confused with palm sugar, coconut sugar is four times more expensive than any of the other sugars on the list.
There’s a lot of unproven health claims around coconut sugar, Saxena said.
“It’s from the sap of the tree so it has some of those extra minerals, antioxidants, polyphenols (a naturally occurring organic chemical), but really there’s no measured health benefit here, you still have to watch your portion,” she added.
Honey will have different properties depending on where it’s from, Saxena explained.
“Whether or not it’s highly refined it’s going to have some of those extra added antioxidants, it has minerals as well and it has some of the parts of bees in it, like bee pollen,” she said.
“It’s very high in calories so you have to watch how much you’re having and taking large amounts of it hasn’t been shown to improve health in any way.”
The more unrefined the honey, the more plant compounds it will have that come from the bee hive.
Honey can help certain types of wounds to heal, reduce allergy symptoms for some and show small improvements in reducing cough.
This Canadian staple, which is at least 65 per cent sugar, also contains minerals from the sap of the maple tree.
“The same as the molasses, you’re getting a little bit of zinc and calcium, but you don’t want to trade in your multivitamin yet,” Savena said.
“Just stick to watching portions again of this delicious Canadian classic.”