Much like everything else in a college girl’s life (finding the perfect pair of jeans, balancing relationships, deciding where to party, etc.), sugar seems complicated. And I’m sick of complicated, so I’m going to break it down for you.
Should you go for natural or artificial? Low-cal or all natural? Corn syrup or aspartame? Honey or agave nectar?
Here’s your guide to satisfying your sweet tooth in the healthiest way possible.
What It’s Called
There are secret code names for sugar that you’ll find in everything from crackers to vegetables. Look for: Sucrose, Fructose, Glucose, Corn Sugar, Sorbitol, Dextrose, Maltose, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Aspartame, Lactose… and more.
What It Does To Your Body
Carbs and sugars turn into glucose, which gives us energy to function. Glucose determines your blood sugar level, which affects your appetite, emotions, athletic performance, and more. You do not want to screw with this system – ideally, you want your blood sugar level to stay pretty even all the time. Usually people do this by eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and things that get metabolized at a steady rate in your body.
Sugar has two parts. Besides the glucose, there’s fructose, which is in added sweeteners, and in smaller amounts in fruits and veggies. Either way, eating too many calories from glucose or fructose is a sure way to gain weight and mess up your blood sugar level.
Anything that we can easily trace to its natural source fits in this category. Check out these facts on natural sources of sweetness:
Sugar (granulated, raw, brown, powdered, etc.)
Made from sugar beets & cane
Spikes your blood sugar levels
48 calories per tablespoon
Has some natural antioxidants
Metabolized same as sugar, but doesn’t spike your blood sugar level quite as much
64 calories per tablespoon
Made from same plant as tequila
Keeps your blood sugar level stable
Sweeter than sugar, so you’d use a lot less
60 calories per tablespoon
Comes from stevia plant
No calories and doesn’t screw with your blood sugar levels
Used in South America and Japan for awhile
Brain does not recognize it as sugar, so it probably won’t satisfy your sweet tooth
Tastes like sugar, made with similar ingredients to sugar, but it’s just not natural. Oh, and contrary to what you’ve heard, it doesn’t cause cancer! Here are some surprising facts about non-natural sugar products:
High Fructose Corn Syrup (pop, crackers, cereal, granola bars, almost everything, etc.)
Contains near same percentages of fructose & glucose as sugar, so gets broken down in the body almost the same.
In study of obese people, found that it can increase bad cholesterol as they needed more insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
May make it harder to associate sweet taste with high calories, so harder to keep track of calories.
45 calories per tablespoon
Aspartame (diet pop, Equal, breakfast cereals, desserts, candy)
May cause headaches and stomach aches
No links to cancer after further research
Almost no calories
Doesn’t react with heat well, so you can’t cook with it
Sucralose/Splenda (diet pop, protein bars, low-cal anything, etc.)
Derived from sugar (chlorine replaces some stuff in the normal sugar molecule)
People have reported side effects like cramps, headaches, weight gain, fatigue, bloating, etc.
No links to cancer after further research
Almost no calories.
What Kind of Sugar is for YOU?
In general, staying away from the sweet stuff is the best idea because it’s usually high in calories and low in nutrients. Less than 10% of your daily calories should come from sugar, and you already get a good amount of natural sugar from fruits and vegetables! Remember, though: sugar-free items don’t mean healthy – just empty calories! So which is best for you? Well, like most things, it all depends on which situations you usually find yourself in. Do you:
Need Coffee in the Morning? You can’t imagine your morning java without sugar! Go for Stevia-based options since it usually comes in packets, has no calories, and isn’t associated with any side effects.
Look for All-Natural Antioxidants? You want a sweetener with the most nutritional value possible. Date sugar and blackstrap molasses, although unmentioned because they aren’t as common and are kind of expensive, provide the most antioxidants. Honey would be your next alternative because it has more antioxidants than any of the other sweeteners mentioned here.
Count Calories? You’re a girl on a weight loss mission! Use Stevia-based options if you can, since they have no calories and don’t have any side effects that could de-rail your exercise and weight loss plan.
Love to Cook? You can use agave nectar or applesauce as your secret weapons for making healthier desserts. If the recipe is no-bake, you can replace the sugar with an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce or agave nectar. If the ingredients will be heated, you can usually replace up to two thirds of the sugar with these healthier substitutes.
Stay on Budget? Honey and agave syrup are expensive. Don’t go for organic versions – the label will jack up the price significantly. You can usually buy the cheapest sweeteners, like Stevia, Splenda or regular sugar if you want, in bulk to save money!
Have a Major Sweet Tooth? Try to stay away from artificial sweeteners like High Fructose Corn Syrup, Aspartame, and Splenda because they won’t satisfy your sweet tooth! You need legit sugar to satiate cravings, so if you’re making a dessert, try substituting some of the sugar for applesauce. If you’re buying sweets, go for quality rather than quantity. Make sure it’s made with actual sugar and only eat it in moderation.