Know the Difference Between Added Sugar and Sugar Alcohols?

Poor nutrition, as in eating too much added sugar, can easily ruin all the hard work someone puts in at the gym. Sugar is in just about everything we eat and drink. For instance, take a look at the food labels on those protein bars and protein drinks. Heck, read the labels on the different sports drinks while you’re at it. Gatorade has added sugar, it’s just in the form of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Many of these foods and drinks contain so much added sugar and sugar alcohol they could found in the candy isle…seriously. According to JAMA Internal Medicine, sugar-sweetened drinks are the single largest source of added sugar (37 percent) in the American diet.

Does Eating Too Much Fruit Mean I’m Eating Too Much Sugar?

To begin with, fruit does contain sugar but its natural. The source of sugar found in fruit is fructose. As mentioned, fruit contains natural sugar as opposed to added sugar or sugar alcohols. One key ingredient found in fruit is fiber. Basically, fiber slows down the speed of glucose entering into the blood stream. As a result, it won’t raise blood sugar level quickly. When you eat a candy bar, though, which has no fiber and is loaded with added sugar, your glucose level will spike. In fact, the body releases insulin from the pancreas to bring down the glucose level. “The amount of insulin released usually matches the amount of glucose present.” This is important to understand. If this happens often throughout the day, there is a high probability that the body will begin storing more body fat as a direct result.

Many people consume a high percentage of sugar (carbohydrates) over three meals during their waking hours. When this happens, they end up with the scenario mentioned above. Now that you have a better understanding on fruit and natural sugar, let’s look at the differences between added sugar and sugar alcohols.

Added Sugar

Added sugar is in 74 percent of all packaged foods. Think about that for a moment. In order to make foods low fat, many of the food companies replace added fat with added sugar. Americans currently eat about 76 pounds of different forms of sugars each year. Even though we have seen a 15 percent decrease in added sugar consumption since 1999, according to government data, the typical person still eats about 94 grams (or 375 calories) on a daily basis (U.S. Department of Agriculture). Lastly, Dr. Robert Lustig, author of Fat Chance, and his colleagues, have shown through their research that every additional 150 calories (38 grams) of added sugar consumed above daily requirements, was associated with a 1.1 percent increase risk of type 2 diabetes.

Sugar Alcohols

Added sugar and sugar alcohols are carbohydrates but with slightly different chemical makeups. Sugar alcohols are considered less sweet and contain fewer calories than sugar; they also affect blood sugar levels less significantly. They are also known as polyols, which are ingredients used as sweeteners and sugar replacers. If you have diabetes you want to stay clear of sugars and lean towards sugar alcohols …if you must. Keep in mind they may also cause bloating and an upset stomach in some people. Best advice, stay clear of all three forms of sugar.

Read Food Labels When it Comes to Protein Bars, Sports Drinks and Protein Shakes

So, the next time you want to order your favorite box of protein bars on Amazon or get a protein or sports drink at the gym, read the food label first. If either has more than a few grams of added sugar, then avoid it. The goal should be 0 grams of added sugar. Many of the bars say they contain zero or <1 gram of added sugar but don’t be fooled. Added sugar likes to hide its toxic self under more than 60 different names like the HFCS mentioned above found in Gatorade. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but the total grams of added sugar consumed over a day can add up fast. A candy bar and a Coke has more than 75 grams of added sugar. Men should consume about 38 grams/day while women need about 25 grams/day.

One study showed subjects who got 17-21% of their calories from added sugar had a 38% risk of dying from cardiovascular disease compared to those who consumed 8% of their calories from added sugar. The risk more than double for those who consumed 21% or more of their calories from added sugar (D’Adamo, 2015).

Bottom line, any form of sugar, other than what’s found in fruit, is potentially harmful to your body. In addition, eating too much sugar will zap your energy level which you’ll need during workout time. One thing that really loves added sugar is body fat. If you want a lean, hard body, reduce the amount of sugar you eat! If that’s not enough – read the quote above one more time. Stay strong!

References

Berardi, J., et al., The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition, Precision Nutrition, 2017.

D’Adamo P.J., The Many Consequences of Sugar Imbalance, 2015.

Additional Reading on the Topic

Shanahan C., Deep Nutrition (2nd Ed.), 2017.

Taubes G., The Case Against Sugar, 2016.

Fitzgerald M., Diet Cults, 2015

Ludwig D., Always Hungry?, 2016.

Freedhoff Y., The Diet Fix, 2014.

Duffy W., Sugar Blues, 1986.

Lustig, R., Fat Chance, 2012.