Sweet poison all the way

Updated: Feb 11 2007, 05:34am hrs
FOR diet freaks and diabetics it must be celebration time. Given that the shelves have suddenly started looking brighter with low-calorie saccharin and asparatame proudly sharing space with cookies with no added sugar, pro-biotic ice creams, sugar-free desserts, granola bars, nutralite butter and all things good and healthy. But does the bliss figure in the fine print as well

Read the food label and you shall find that the healthy oats in your favourite granola bar are glued together with high-fructose corn syrup and probably barley maltingredients that dramatically raise your blood sugar level. The flashy packaging may scream no added sugar or sugar-free. Turn it around to read the food label, and the total carbohydrate count and calories give away the real picture. Though most of us know that sugar is a simple carbohydrate, we get fooled by smart marketing slugs!

So, to begin with get to know your sugar. Did you know what is common between mannitol, lactose, maple syrup, molasses, and sorbitol Well, they are all different forms of sugar. And add to that the ever-growing market of artificial sweeteners.

Dr Eti Bhalla, dietician, Paras hospital, Gurgaon says that diabetics and health-conscious people opt for artificial sweeteners to enjoy their favourite foods without gaining as many calories. But some foods containing artificial sweeteners, such as sugar-free yogurt, can still affect your blood sugar level due to other carbohydrates or proteins present in the food. In addition, some foods labeled sugar-free such as cookies and chocolatesmay contain calorie-dense sweeteners like sorbitol or mannitol that can affect your blood sugar level. Even refined flour raises blood sugar levels. Just removing sugar from cookies and chocolates doesnt make them low-calorie, low-fat foods. If you eat too many, youll still get more calories than required.

The oft-raised concern, given the divided debate, is related to the safety of consuming artificial sweetners. There are studies which have linked artificial sweeteners to memory loss and different cancers but the scientific literature remains largely divided, explains Dr Bindu Sharma of Dr Batras Positive Health clinic.

Unlike conventional sugar, artificial sweetners are not absorbed by the body and are directly passed out through stool. It is best to adopt a guarded approach and not consume these in large quantities. Up to four teaspoons a day can be taken as a safe limit. But people suffering from the metabolic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) must avoid the same at all costs, says Dr Kanupriya Khanna, nutritionist, Fortis Hospital.

And for those who resort to artificial sweeteners to lose weight, Dr Bhalla has a word of caution: Changing the food energy intake from one food will not necessarily change a persons overall food energy intake, or cause weight loss.

In terms of calorie consumption there is little difference in the forms of sugar be it honey, refined sugar or jaggery. However, honey is preferred over refined sugar because of the added nutritional value that it provides, says Dr Khanna.

The benefits of honey over sugar have long been sworn by. Honey is devoid of sucrose that is blamed for shooting up sugar level. Instead, it has a low glycemic index and plenty of anti-oxidants to stimulate insulin secretion, details ayurvedic practitioner Dr V V R Durga Prasad of Dabur. Natures nectar indeed!

Sugar substitutes are metabolised more slowly, thus allowing blood sugar levels to remain more stable. But that hardly gives one the licence to binge! So, even if fructose has less of an impact on blood sugar than sucrose, avoid it in large quantities.

To begin with, follow the simple formula60-65% of your total energy must come from carbohydrates, 15-20% from proteins and about 20% from fat. But given the complexities it would be advisable to consult a nutritionist to chalk out a personal diet chart.

Sugar Daddies

Read the food label carefully to know which sweetener it contains
Confectioners sugar: Finely ground sucrose.
Corn sweeteners: Obtained from corn, it is a concoction of maltose, glucose, and dextrose. Remember the corn syrup in carbonated beverages
Dextrose: Glucose combined with water.
Invert sugar: Most commonly found in bakery goods, it is made by dividing sucrose into glucose and fructose.
Fructose: Naturally found sugar in all fruits.
Honey: Combination of fructose, glucose, and water.
Maltose: Or malt sugar is found in beer and in breads.
Sorbitol: Commonly used in dietetic food products, it is produced from glucose and is also found naturally in certain berries and fruits.