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Here is a handy Need-to-Know glossary for Sugars & Sweeteners:

Glycaemic index: All carbohydrates break down into sugar once inside the body but the rate that this goes down varies among different carb-containing foods; these differences form the basis of the glycaemic index. The glycaemic index (GI) essentially ranks carb-containing ...foods according to their effect on blood sugar, from 0 (no effect) to 100 (straight up glucose). The more processed a carb-containing food is, the higher the glycaemic index. Fructose: Fructose is the simple form of sugar naturally found in fruit, some plants, and honey. When you’re getting small amounts of fructose in your diet from, for instance, a piece of fruit, it’s not a problem. But in terms of excess added sugar (lollies!), it can be. For starters, unlike glucose, which can be used by virtually every cell in the body for energy, only liver cells can break down fructose. Tasking liver cells with processing a bunch of fructose amps up the production of unwanted by-products like triglycerides, free radicals, and uric acid. And because of the unique way fructose is broken down in the body, it doesn’t shut off the body’s hunger-indicating hormone ghrelin (some other sugars do), so it leaves us feeling hungrier, rather than satisfied. This doesn’t mean you should swear off fruit (in fact please don’t do that), but it is something to keep in mind when you encounter fructose-heavy foods like acai bowls and agave, which are marketed as healthy options. Agave: Agave is made from the agave plant, a succulent native to Latin America. It’s often labelled as a healthy, natural sweetener, but it’s actually highly processed and has a significant amount of fructose (often up to 70 to 90%). Coconut Nectar & Sugar: Coconut nectar comes from the sap of the coconut palm tree flower, and coconut sugar is coconut nectar that has been dried down to its crystalline form. They are minimally processed (coconut nectar more so than coconut sugar) and have a relatively low GI score (35) compared to table sugar (68). Both coconut nectar and sugar do contain fructose (around 38-48%) but less than agave. Brown Rice Syrup: Brown rice syrup is a thick, gooey sweetener made from fermented cooked brown rice. While it’s typically made from natural ingredients, it is highly processed. On the plus side, brown rice syrup doesn’t contain fructose. Because of its unique stickiness, it can be texturally desirable for specific recipes like nut and seed bars. Stevia: Stevia comes from the South American plant, Stevia rebaudiana that has leaves with naturally occurring sweet-tasting compounds. Stevia is many hundred times sweeter than table sugar, but is virtually sugar-free with no effect on blood sugar. That said, not all stevia is created equal—the product can vary from whole leaf powders (best option) to fairly processed ones. Additionally, because stevia is several hundred times sweeter than table sugar, it can overstimulate your taste buds and increase your sweetness threshold. Meaning that while you may cut down on sugar in the short term, you may also end up craving intensely sweet foods throughout the day. Xylitol and Erythritol: Xylitol and erythritol are naturally occurring carbohydrates called sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols aren’t fully digested in the gastrointestinal tract, so they offer significantly less calories and don’t have much impact on blood sugar. Because they aren’t fully digested, these sources are often touted as great sources of prebiotics (i.e. food for “good” gut bacteria). On the flip side, sugar alcohols are often associated with gastrointestinal distress, bloating and gas. It’s no secret that refined white sugar is bad for us - overconsumption can lead to diabetes, obesity, weight gain, inflammation, and a list of other ailments. But what’s the best option for those of us who still crave a little sweetness? In this day and age, we rely heavily on raw honey, maple syrup, and dates but we have also been experimenting with some of the newer sweeteners on the market (as mentioned above). A lot of these new products claim to be everything from “healthy” to “sugar-free” and even “zero calorie,” but are they really better for us? Sure, stevia comes from a plant, but how natural is the stuff in packets at the store? I don’t recommend choosing a sugar based on the potential health benefits because I don’t recommend eating sugar to promote health. What I do recommend is using sugar in moderation, ideally not too processed or loaded with excessive fructose. Yours in health, Maria Lucey, Nutritionist

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