A Sugar By Any Other Name Would Taste As Sweet

Sweet, delicious sugar. Most Canadians just can’t get enough. But what is it doing to our bodies?

Whether we get it in our chocolate bar reward after a long climb, or add it to make terrible campfire coffee drinkable; sugar makes life just a little bit…well, sweeter. Alarming statistics tell us however, that a lot of us are making life a little too sweet. According to Statistics Canada, over 60% of Canadians are overweight or obese, and sugar is one of the leading causes. But surely Canadians aren’’t adding that much sugar to their campfire coffees?

Well, of course not. The real reason we’re eating excess sugar is because it is in everything. Bagels? Sugar. Ketchup? Sugar. Canned beans? Sugar. Even in some lipsticks and medications. Food companies have snuck it into your everyday foods in large quantities, tricking you into thinking a good ol’’ granola bar is healthy!

Now I know what you’’re thinking. You’re thinking ‘”Hey! I read ingredients lists, I know I don’t see sugar all that often.’” And you’re right, sort of. You see, food companies are able to list sugar by many different names other than just sugar.

Here is a list of many (but not all) of the synonyms for sugar:

sucrose

dextrose

cane sugar

honey

fructose

maltodextrin

agave nectar

lactose

glucose

hydrolyzed starch

high-fructose corn sweetener

sugar beets

maltose

corn syrup

molasses

maple syrup

As far as you’’re concerned, all of those names should just mean one thing to you: sugar.

What makes sugar so harmful to our health?

Well, nothing really, if it’’s the right type and amount. That’’s because all carbohydrates are technically sugars. We need carbohydrates for energy to let us live, work and play. It’’s when we start eating lots of refined sugars that we run into trouble.

Refined sugars are extracted from sources like sugar cane or fruits. They are then boiled, filtered and dried, effectively removing any natural fibre or nutrients in the process. All that’’s left is calories, completely devoid of any nutritional value. These refined sugars are then added to our everyday foods, creating a mess worse than spilled molasses.

Milky Way looking down on Machu Picchu. Photo credit: John Reid.

What happens when we eat those sugars is called “incomplete carbohydrate metabolism”; jargon that means sugar isn’’t digested properly. The sugars then steal calcium from bones and teeth, create acid in your brain and nervous system, and interfere with cell respiration. The liver, meanwhile, is trying to store this excess sugar but doesn’’t have enough room. So it binds the sugar to fatty acids and moves it to inactive parts of your body for storage. Fat storage. Pretty soon every single organ in your body is affected by that excess sugar! Dozens of health conditions, most notably diabetes, can result. And that’s not sweet. Not sweet at all.

How can you avoid the sickly death trap of excess refined sugar? First off, read labels. Look for any of those sugar synonyms, especially as the first or second ingredient (the order of listing indicates quantity) and avoid those products like Halloween candy corn. Secondly, avoid all sweet drinks: pops, juices (especially from concentrate) and energy drinks are huge sources of sugar.

Never fear, you won’’t have to go the rest of your life in a dull, sugarless sadness. Try buying stevia, a herb 1000 times sweeter to satisfy that pesky sweet tooth. In-season fruit or below-ground vegetables can also be a sweet fix. And when you really want to treat yourself, save that Milky Way for the peak of the climb!

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John Reid

John Reid is a University of Calgary Faculty of Kinesiology graduate and Precision Nutrition Certified Sports Nutritionist. When he’s not rowing for the Calgary Row Club you’ll find him enjoying every possible second in the mountains hiking, trail running and road cycling.

Outside of sports, John is involved with the Branch Out Neurological Foundation, a local non-profit charitable organization dedicated to fundraising for new and alternative forms of treatment for neurological disorders.