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The CalorieKing Sugar Guide

Next time you go to call your nearest and dearest “sugar” or “sweetie” or even “honey”, take a moment to consider whether it’s really a term of endearment you're flattering them with.

In the past, when sugar was a rare dietary treat, referring to someone as your “sweetie” made sense. But nowadays Australians eat eat an average of more than 40 kg of refined sugar a year. Therefore, sugar has become more synonymous with health problems like obesity, diabetes and tooth decay – not things you would want to wish on your family and friends!

Of course, sugar is not all bad. But there are limits to how much sweetness your body can handle.

For everything you need to know about sugar, read on!

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What is sugar?

Table sugar is extracted from sugar cane

When you think of sugar you probably picture the white stuff you stir into your coffee. Actually, this is just one form of sugar, called sucrose, that is extracted from sugar cane. Technically, sugar is a carbohydrate that occurs naturally in every fruit and vegetable. It is the major product of photosynthesis, the process by which plants transform the sun's energy into food.

You can think of sugars in two groups:

Naturally occurring sugars – This term refers to sugars that occur naturally in foods such as fructose in fruit and lactose in milk and dairy products. Be aware, however, that fructose can also be used as an added sugar, such as in some novelty beverages (e.g. Bubble Tea), some food/energy bars, and some “natural” packaged foods (e.g. biscuits from a health food store).

Added sugars – An added sugar is any type of sugar that is added to food, such as the sugar you use in baking, or the sugar you add to your coffee. Added sugar can take many different forms, including: Raw sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, sucrose, glucose, fructose, malt, maltose, corn syrup, lactose, sorbitol, mannitol, honey, molasses, evaporated cane juice, and barley malt extract.

What is sugar for?

Energy. When sugar is metabolised it supplies calories for energy in the form of carbohydrates. Four calories of energy are provided by every one gram of carbohydrate you eat. However, added sugars are not a good choice of carbohydrate for energy as they provide few nutrients for the amount of calories. Natural sources of sugar such as milk, fruit and other unrefined foods are a much better choice.

Taste! Of course, what sugar is most loved for is the taste it adds to food. Even in fruits and vegetables it’s the naturally occurring sugars that provide flavour. Refined sugar is often used to add flavour to everyday foods. For example, you might sprinkle brown sugar on your porridge or pour maple syrup on your pancakes. This use of added sugars can be fine in moderation, but watch those extra spoonfuls – they’re an easy way to add an unhealthy amount of extra sugar to your diet.

Food technology. Refined sugar is also important in cooking, and not just for flavour. For example, sugar helps bread to rise by providing food for the yeast. Sugar also helps prolong the shelf life of baked products and acts as a preserve in jams.

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