Every health advisory speaks of how we need to reduce sugar consumption in our daily meals to protect ourselves against non-communicable diseases like CVD, Diabetes and Strokes. On the other hand, we are advised to take lots of fruits and vegetables, which also contain sugar; so what is the difference that makes one source a health hazard and another a health benefit? Let's find out!
But before that let me explain a few points:
- Carbohydrates are the major and the most efficient source of energy for our body.
- Carbohydrates are classified as Monosaccharides, Disaccharides and polysaccharides, depending on the number of sugar molecules.
- Monosaccharides include Fructose and Glucose. These are the basic units from which all other complex carbohydrates are made. Di saccharides are two monosaccharides combined and polysaccharides are multiple molecules of monosaccharides combined.
- Table sugar and the sugar most used in processed foods is Sucrose, a di saccharide made up of Fructose and Glucose. Sucrose is metabolised through similar processes in our body irrespective of its source.
- All foods of plant origin contain some amount of natural sugars.
- The total carbohydrates in a fruits rage from 1-20g/100 g edible portion and in vegetables rage from 1-25g/ 100gm edible portion approximately. These include simple sugars, starch and fibre.
Sugar In Fruits And Vegetables Vs. Sugar In Packed Foods
There isn't any difference between the natural sugars and the one that is added externally (chemically). The main difference is that sugars from whole fruits and vegetables come packaged with lots of health-boosting nutrients. They are released slowly in the blood preventing a sugar rush.
Commercially available sugars like rice sugar, beet sugar, agave nectar all come from plants. These are extracted, concentrated before being used commercially. This means a higher more refined version of the same sugars that are absorbed very soon and as the quantity added is larger than a normal serving. High amounts of sugar in the blood means more insulin, and we know that constant high insulin in the blood causes serious damage and oxidative stress.
Let's know more about the natural sugars in fruits and vegetables:
Sugar In Fruits
All fruits contain simple sugars. The two sugars present in fruits include Fructose and Glucose. These may be in different ratios in various fruits; approximately they are present in 1:1 ratio. Glucose raises blood sugar directly while fructose is metabolised through the liver. While consuming a whole fruit the body, in addition to some amount of sugar, gets a huge dose of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients. All of these are essential for healthy living and for protection against infections and NCDs. And hence, while refined sugars are just empty calories, fruit sugars come with nutrients and are hence a healthier choice to make. Meaning, if you are a diabetic, it is safe for you to consume fruits, but in moderation.
Sugar profile of some common Indian fruits:
|NAME||LOW SUGAR||HIGH SUGAR|
|Guava||4g/ medium pc|
|Raspberries||5g in 1 cup|
Sugar In Vegetables
Vegetables also contain simple sugars Fructose, Glucose and Sucrose (also known as table sugar). The quantity of sugars in the vegetable is negligible. Most vegetables contain little or no sugar and are loaded with health-giving vitamins, minerals, fibre, antioxidants and phytonutrients. Vegetables are, for this reason, very low in total calories and high on nutrition. It is recommended that everyone gets at least 3 servings a day. Roots and tubers also counted as vegetables have a higher amount of sugar in them.
Beetroot, yam, tapioca, potato and sweet potato have higher sugars and are restricted while calorie counting.
Bottom line: Eat 5 servings of whole seasonal fruits and vegetables daily. Choose fruit to satiate your sugar cravings. Read labels on processed foods to see the hidden sugars like agave syrup, coconut sugar, sweet beet syrup. Maple syrup, golden syrup, Molasses, maltodextrin among others.
Eat fresh, eat nutrient-rich foods and stay healthy!
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About Rupali DattaRupali Datta is a Clinical Nutritionist and has worked in leading corporate hospitals. She has created and lead teams of professionals to deliver clinical solutions for patients across all medical specialties including critical care. She is a member of the Indian Dietetic Association and Indian Association of Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition.