Sugar: what types and benefits? Can it hurt?

Sweets, desserts, juices, teas, soft drinks, fruits… what does all this have in common? All of these foods contain sugar.

The raw material for this ingredient is sugar cane, widely grown in several countries around the world, including Brazil.

It is estimated that sugar cane began to be planted approximately 6,000 years before Christ, in regions close to India.

At that time, it was a special delicacy used to make medicines and spices for the government, and was even kept in vaults.

Sugar only became popular in Europe in the 15th centuries, when teas and coffee began to be sweetened with this ingredient.

In Brazil, the first records of cane fields are from 1521. During the 16th and 19th centuries, sugar was the basis of the Brazilian economy. Its trade yielded 2 times more than mining and gold mining.

The word sugar comes from Sarkara, a Sanskrit expression that means “grains of sweet sand”.


What is a sugar?

To help clarify some details about sugar, we talked to nutritionist Carolina Lanes Farias.

Sugar is a carbohydrate, responsible for providing energy to our body. It is widely present in foods of all kinds, sweet and savory: fruits, pasta and cookies, juices, pizzas.

According to the nutritionist, they are classified into:

  • Monosaccharides: glucose, fructose, galactose;
  • Disaccharides: sucrose, maltose, lactose;
  • Polysaccharides: starch, glycogen, cellulose.

This difference between them is estimated according to the size of the molecule and the complexity of the chain.

The nutritionist gives the example of fructose (a monosaccharide). It has a small chain (with 6 carbon atoms), which classifies it with a simple form of sugar, found in fruits.

Such monosaccharides can bond with each other and form new structures, which tend to be larger. This is the case with lactose (milk sugar) and sucrose (cane sugar).

Some types are found naturally in foods (such as apples, oranges, bananas , carrots and beets).

Other types are added to the ingredients to make them sweeter (this is the case with cocoa that is mixed with refined sugar and fat, turning into chocolate).

Despite the differences, our bodies cannot recognize the types of sugar and process them all in the same way.

What types of sugar?

Sugar can be found naturally or artificially produced from the extract of other delicacies. Natural sugars are fructose (present in fruits), lactose (from milk), maltose (beers), ribose (vegetables such as spinach and broccoli), sucrose (cane) and raffinose (whole grains).

There is also brown sugar that is produced from the cooking of sugarcane. Despite being rich in calories, it maintains some nutrients such as iron, calcium and folic acid .

Artificial sugars are:

White sugar

Refined, crystal and confectionery. All of these are white sugars and the 3 are made in the same way.

The difference between them is that the crystal type is thicker, the refined is intermediate and the icing is very thin.

Because they are highly industrialized, these sugars contain many chemical additives to make them white and tasty.

The big problem is that with these processes, proteins , vitamins and minerals are lost.

In cooking, it is the most used type, present in cakes, desserts and as sweeteners for drinks.

Raw sugar

Demerara sugar is basically brown sugar that goes through a slight refinement process, but without the addition of chemicals.

It is indicated for making whole wheat cakes and pastries.

Organic sugar

Organic sugar has the same calories as white sugar. The difference is that during its manufacturing process, fertilizers, industrialized sweeteners and chemical substances are not used.

Sugar syrup (liquid sugar)

Sugar syrup, also known as liquid sugar, is a combination of several types of sugar, which are diluted with water, until it becomes an extremely sweet liquid.

This type of mixture is widely used in the beverage industry, to sweeten soft drinks, teas, juices and drinks.

Iced sugar

The advantage of iced sugar is that it does not fall apart with fried foods and can still be frozen. Therefore, it is widely used in dreams, donuts and in cake decoration.

This type is made of white sugar and corn syrup, in addition to containing other types of artificial sweeteners. Therefore, its consumption should not be frequent.

Brown sugar

Brown sugar is a more crude version of refined. It is made from sugar cane, but without going through chemical processes. So it conserves some nutrients.

The taste of brown sugar is stronger and more pronounced when compared to the white type. This causes many people to be surprised or dislike eating foods with this ingredient.

What is lean or light sugar?

Light sugar is a combination of white sugar (usually refined) and sweeteners that can be artificial or natural. Thus, it has a great sweetening power, but with less calories than the white type. In most cases, it is used to sweeten drinks like juices, teas and even coffee.

But does it really not make you fat?

Well, like any other food, light sugar also contains calories, so if it is ingested in excess it is as harmful to health and weight as any other type.

In fact, the main purpose of light sugar is not to prevent people from putting on weight, but to make them consume less of the product.

Thus, this type of ingredient was developed. Since it has a great sweetening power, it doesn’t take a lot to make things sweeter.

For example, a cup of coffee with 6g of refined sugar requires only 2g of light sugar to taste the same.

But be careful: because it is made with refined white sugar, light sugar is also not recommended for people with diabetes . 

If the objective is to reduce weight, the ideal is to cut industrialized sugar (mainly white) and replace it with natural sugars such as fructose, in addition to reducing fats in general and practicing physical exercises.

Why is sugar bad?

The nutritionist Carolina Lanes Farias explains what makes the consumption of sugar harmful is the excess.

In the expert’s opinion, it doesn’t matter what type of sugar you are consuming. If there is exaggeration, the person can develop health problems like obesity and diabetes.

Finally, she also warns: “it is important to read the food label, as sugar can often come under other names, such as maltodextrin , corn syrup, malt extract, glucose syrup, dextrose”.

In general, the type of sugar used in processed foods is refined white, made from sugar cane or beet.

Excessive consumption of refined sugar is harmful to health. The big problem is that it helps in increasing body weight and, thus, indirectly, allows the development of various diseases.

An example of this situation is obesity, related to the consumption of too many calories and one of the main factors for the onset of diseases such as type 2 diabetes and cancer .

White sugar is also harmful because it tends to addict the brain. Like this? Calm down, that we will explain:

When a person eats a sweet food, the brain releases a hormone known as dopamine, which causes pleasure and well-being.

But this sensation tends to pass quickly, leaving the person unhappy and tired. Thus, the organism needs another piece of candy and enters a circle of “addiction”.

Among other harms of sugar consumed in excess are:

  • Facilitates the appearance of tooth decay;
  • Increases the levels of cholesterol and fat in the blood;
  • It can cause gout;
  • Favors heart disease (high blood pressure and heart attack);
  • It causes intestinal problems (such as constipation and gastritis);
  • Increases the risk of thrombosis;
  • It can lead to decreased memory;
  • Favors acne.

What are the benefits of sugar?

The harms of sugar are said in several places, but it is important to note that this ingredient, if consumed correctly and in moderation, can have a positive side for the proper functioning of the body, especially for some people (such as those with hypoglycemia ).

Consuming a little bit of sugar is the fastest way to supply glucose to our body.

Glucose, after being absorbed by the body, is transformed into energy. It is also essential for the proper functioning of the brain, muscles, pancreas and kidneys.

When it comes to sugar benefits, it is important to be clear that some types are more advantageous than others.

For example, fructose has vitamins and proteins that vary depending on the type of fruit it is present in.

Thus, this type of sugar has more benefits than the others.

The type with the least advantages is the refined white. It is considered a “poor” food, that is, its consumption does not bring any vitamins or proteins for the functioning of the body.

If consumed in moderation, sugar has other benefits such as fighting stress and the presence of good bacteria in the intestine that help control flora (avoiding bad bacteria, viruses and fungi).

How much sugar can we consume per day?

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that only 5% of the total daily diet is sugar (100 calories out of a total of 2000 kcal daily). This is equivalent to approximately 25g or 6 teaspoons of the ingredient. Until 2014, what was recommended by the agency was double what it is today.

This reduction was stipulated so that there is a greater intensity in the fight against obesity and dental diseases.

But the ideal is to avoid ingesting this ingredient as much as possible, to prevent the harm caused by this ingredient.

Can you replace the sugar?

Yes, it is certainly possible to replace refined white sugar with other healthier options such as stevia, honey, molasses and even organic sugar or brown sugar. Some types of syrup (such as maple or yacon) can also be substituted for this ingredient.

Instead of replacing sugar, you can choose to simply not eat it anymore, since biologically the body does not need it, especially the white type.

What happens if I run out of refined sugar?

For the vast majority of people, not eating sugar will only benefit the body. Others need to ingest the ingredient to control blood glucose.

If a person is used to consuming white sugar every day and suddenly cuts off that ingredient, it is natural that in the first few days he feels tired and irritated.

It is also common to feel a strong urge to eat sweets (as stated earlier, the brain will be addicted to sweets and will be begging for another “dose”).

After a few days, the body will start to get used to the lack of this ingredient. In this phase, it is common for the person to feel less bloated, to be able to sleep better and to have more disposition for daily tasks.

After a few weeks avoiding sugar and maintaining a healthy diet it is possible to notice a reduction in weight and body silhouette, especially if there is physical exercise combined with healthy eating.

Over the months, it is possible to notice other beneficial effects such as reducing cellulite , improving the skin, reducing cholesterol and fat.

In excess and without moderation, sugar tends to damage the body (including contributing to diseases such as obesity and heart attacks).

But if the intake is correct, this ingredient can even bring benefits to the body, since it is a good source of energy and is present in fruits and healthy foods.

The type of sugar also influences the results. In general, the rule that prevails is the same as always: you can eat, but without extrapolating the dose.

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