Just a spoonful of sugar … finding sweet balance

October 28, 2021
By Tonya Bramlage

With Halloween just days away, you may have found yourself dipping into the candy bowl. If you have kids you know the temptation of digging through their trick-or-treat bag to find those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups or Kit Kats, which more often than not leads to the psychological distress of owning up to the deed later.

The question of whether sugar can be good for you is a common one. One that is based on an incorrect assumption: we “MUST” consume sugar. Our bodies rely on carbohydrates for energy, and carbs are all turned in to sugars. If you were to only eat protein and fat, you would quickly encounter a number of health problems. The question is not whether sugar is good but how much and in what form should it be consumed.

The added sugar in the Western diet goes by at least 61 names and is found in 74 percent of all processed foods. Sugar itself is a necessary carbohydrate. In fact, core metabolic processes, like glycosis and the Krebs cycle, largely revolve around the processing of glucose. The biochemical story of what happens to this carbohydrate once inside the human body is complex. There are simple sugars, compound sugars, and chemical sugars which are sweet but not actually sugar. This major contributing factor makes the sugar debate confusingly ongoing.

Most plants contain sugar. Fruit and honey also contain readily available simple sugars. The more common sources for processed food sugars are sugarcane and sugar beets, although the most inexpensive to produce is corn syrup. Biochemically, believe it or not, high fructose corn syrup isn’t all that different from honey. Historically, sugar was a rare and valuable commodity. Hard won only to those willing to gnaw on sugarcane. DouxMatok (Hebrew for “double sweet”) is an Israeli food tech company  that has created a sugary product that uses 4o percent less actual sugar. The development team took notes and advantage of the fact that our sweet receptors only detect about 20 percent of the sugar molecules that we consume. What this means is 80 percent of sucrose products go right into our bodies entirely unnoticed by our mouths.

The most up-to-date recommendation is 50 grams of added sugar per day. Roughly, that number is equal to approximately 10 teaspoons. To put that in to perspective, American’s average consumption of daily sugar intake is 71 grams which equals 17 teaspoons per day.

Mind you, a single can of Coke contains nearly 10 teaspoons of sugar. This brings the yearly total intake to a whopping 57 pounds of sugar every year. The higher the intake of added sugar, the higher the risk for heart disease. Sugar is metabolized similarly in the liver as alcohol. Issues with overconsumption of sugar are widespread and include: high blood pressure, diabetes, fatty liver disease, chronic inflammation, dementia, and tooth decay.

People love sweet foods regardless of the negative health effects. After all, the desire for the sweet stuff is biologically programmed into us. The problem is not eating sugary foods per se, but rather excessive consumption. High intensity sweeteners are typically offered as viable substitutes, but these compounds are much sweeter than table sugar. You need less of them in order to achieve the same level of sweetness making big business for creating alternatives. In America there are currently six FDA approved sweeteners patented for use: aspartame, sucralose, neotame, acesulfame potassium, saccharin, and advantame. Other common sugar substitutes include Stevia, sugar alcohols, honey, and agave nectar.

Incredo Sugar is also a sugar reduction that is made from cane or beet sugar. Matching the flavor profile, density, and texture of sugar is harder than it sounds. Consumer palates are able to detect and recognize substitutes and ultimately opt for what they know and love best. Until scientists can hone in on an alternative that performs well in blind taste tests, this will remain a real barrier for everyone.

Companies realize their bottom line depends on offering healthier sugar without sacrificing taste, affordability, and availability. The global food giant Nestle introduced its own sugar reduction product in a “healthier” alternative candy bar called Milkybar Wowsomes. The company pulled the product from shelves due to low consumer demand. This fact has caused the food industry and some researchers to ask, “Can we create “healthy” sugar? Director of the Monell Chemical Senses Center Dr. Robert Margolskee says, “Within five years we will be able to reduce 80 to 90 percent of the sugar now found in food and still get the full sugar sensation. It is not an impossible dream.” Proving once again, the quest for sugar is undeniable, yet remarkably sweet.