Contrary to popular belief, not all sugar is bad for you. While some food products like cereals and fruit juice may be loaded with artificial sugar, there are naturally-occurring or added sugar options that you shouldn't necessarily shy away from. But before we go into some of these tasty options, you should gain a better understanding of what type of sugar you may be consuming.
A Quick Primer on Added, Naturally-Occurring, and Artificial Sugars
Naturally occurring sugars are inherently found in fresh, dried, frozen, or canned fruits and in dairy products like milk and yogurt.
Added sugars, on the other hand, are added to foods either during processing or preparation. These sugars can be found in ice cream, candy, and soft drinks more—foods you’d generally assume contained them. But they’re also in less obvious foods like bread, bbq sauces, and ketchup, albeit in typically smaller quantities. You may also add sugars to your foods yourself, when you cook or as you eat.
There’s also a third category known as artificial sweeteners. They are sugar-free chemical substitutes that add sweetness to foods. Artificial sweeteners don’t affect your blood sugar levels and typically have no nutritional value.
Your Go-To's for Your Added-Sugar Fix
Craving some extra sweetness in your meal? As you reach for some added sugar, keep in mind that they aren’t all the same. Some types have more nutrients and antioxidants than others, so you may want to opt for them where possible. Here are the healthier types of added sugars and some of the benefits they offer:
Raw Honey is primarily made of sugar, but it also contains vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds. Ascorbic acid, pantothenic acid, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, copper, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, and phosphorus are just some of them. For people with peptic ulcers and gastritis, research shows that honey may help promote the repair of damaged intestinal inner lining, as well as stimulate the growth of new tissue. Honey provides relief for coughs and may also help alleviate risk factors for cardiovascular conditions.
Maple syrup is made from the sap of sugar maple trees. This added sugar contains significant quantities of essential minerals like manganese, zinc, calcium, iron, magnesium, and potassium. Maple syrup is also rich in antioxidants, which prevent or slow down damage to cells.
Blackstrap molasses is a thick, sticky syrup produced when sugarcane or sugar beets are refined into sugar. This added sugar is a good source of nutrients like vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, and manganese.
Blackstrap molasses may help relieve menstrual cramps caused by an iron-deficiency. Finally, of all added sugars, (including honey and maple syrup), blackstrap molasses has the most antioxidants. Antioxidant-rich foods may help reduce the risk of developing conditions like heart disease and cancers.
Managing Your Added Sugar Intake
Although these added sugars are the healthiest options, you should still restrict your intake to the recommended limits. The American Heart Association recommends that women take no more than six teaspoons of added sugar daily. This is the equivalent of 25 grams or 100 calories. For men, the limit is nine teaspoons— the equivalent of 36 grams or 150 calories.
So the next time you're craving a sweet addition to an otherwise plain meal, remember these natural options before you opt for the artificial kind. Your body will thank you.