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Ensuring sweet health.

Natural sugars are omnipresent in our lives. We tell you how to sift through the most common among them and stay on the healthy track

JUST wander into any natural food store, and you are likely to notice that there is a huge choice of sweeteners waiting for you. There are powders, artificial sweeteners, liquids, syrups, some of them with exotic sounding names, claiming be a lot better, tastier, healthier and even environmentally friendly. Our traditional sugars, like the good old jaggery and honey too are packed with vitamins and minerals.

With the number of diabetics in India shooting up, watching your sugar intake means more than just avoiding that candy.

what can you do when you are craving for some sweetness? Whether you are living with diabetes or changing your diet to help prevent it, you must reach the " good sugars" and make a healthy choice. We tell you the most common types of natural sugars and help you decided on which ones are better and what ways.


SUGAR does not have a great reputation with its link to diabetes, obesity, heart diseases and cancer. But we all do know how important it is for our body.

Sugar is an addiction, with people not just developing a strong taste but a craving for it well," says Dr B. Sesikeran, director, National Institute of Nutrition. Consuming too much sugar can make you tired, irritable and even depressed.

There are several options to choose from natural sugars like honey, jaggery, among others.

Then there is molasses, which is also one of the natural sugars commonly used in alcohol. It is dark, sweet, syrupy by- product which is made during the extraction of sugar from sugarcane.

This apart, there is also popular brown sugar, made combining molasses and the refined white sugar. It contains proteins, minerals and essential vitamins.

The natural sugars apart, the one thing that comes to our mind often when there is a good occasion is to gulp a sweet down. Most Indian sweets like gulab jamun, besan laddos are also loaded with sugars. Any halwa like moong halwa or suji halwa contains 30 per cent sugar, say experts. For example, traditional burfi has 50 per cent sugar and the rasgulla too contains 50 per cent sugar.


AS PER the WHO recommendations, you should limit your intake of added sugars to not more than 10 per cent of your calories. Added sugar refers to sugar that you use in your cooking or add at the dining table as well as sugar that's been added to packaged foods beverages that you consume.

" Consuming excess sugar raises the levels of hormone insulin in the blood. Insulin stores fat, which is a risk factor for diabetes, and can damage walls of the arteries and cause heart disease," says Dr Anoop Misra, chairman, Centre for Excellence for Diabetes, Fortis Hospital. A good idea would be to derive your sugar, instead from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.

The rules of sugar consumption differ for those with diabetes.

" Consuming too much of sugar triggers blood glucose lev- els. If the person is diabetic it will lead to severe hyperglycemia and prolonged high blood sugar levels can further lead to various diabetic complications and affect various organs of the body like eyes, kidney, nerves, foot and so on," adds Dr Misra.

So diabetics must not take table sugar or any other form of simple sugar.


THEY are all over there, more so because of increasing cases of obesity and also diabetes.

According to Dr Anoop Misra, " In India the consumption of artificial sweeteners has been fuelled by the burgeoning diabetic segment". There are a range of sweeteners in the market now. It began with saccharine, then aspartame, and now there are new brands like natura and sugar free. The latest sugar replacement is stevia, which is a tropical plant native to South America. Stevia extracts are said to have upto 300 times the sweetness of sugar. " Overweight individuals often choose to have artificial sweeteners in their foods so that they can reduce the total calorie intake in their diet, which in turn leads to weight loss by creating a negative energy balance.

By doing so, they do not have to totally avoid or sacrifice the foods they love to eat", says Dr Misra.

It is a good option for people with diabetes too as they have started using artificial sweeteners for limiting their calorie intake and also maintain their sugar levels by avoiding simple sugars, thereby enjoying most of the foods they like. Yet, there are many studies hinting at grave problems associated with these artificial sweeteners. They are said to trigger an array of neurological symptoms. The other health issue associated with the consumption of these sweeteners are migraines, seizures, panic attacks and bipolar disorders. But health experts say that it all has to do with the proper use of artificial sweeteners. " Presently, they are absolutely safe to be used and don't cause any problem," says Dr Sesikeran. But health experts also say that it is best to minimise their use.

nalini. ravichandran

Too much of sugar, whether natural or artificial can wreck havoc with your weight and hormones


THE good old jaggery is one the traditional unrefined sugars, used in many Indian preparations. It has an excellent nutritive value and contains carbs, iron, folic acid, B- complex vitamins and calcium. It is also quite cost effective. A good quality one is light in colour, flavour and hardness.


About 10 grams of jaggery can give upto 40 calories. The mineral content of jaggery is rich with the presence of magnesium, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, iron and copper. This apart, it has vitamins B1, B2 and The presence of potassium in it helps maintain the acid balance in the body. When it comes to the calorie count, the calories in sugar are the same as in jaggery, so if you are diabetic or dieting, you still need to be on the watch out. Compared to honey and table sugar, the jaggery gets dissolved in the body slowly.


Unlike sugar, jaggery is known to be rich in minerals, predominantly iron with traces of other minerals and fibres. It also acts as a good cleansing and digestive agent. Jaggery is easily digestible and assimilated.

" The best part about it is the presence of micronutrients . Eating a small amount of jaggery during or after every meal helps in digestion," says Dr Sesikeran.

A study done by researchers at the Industrial Toxicology Research Centre has found that jaggery could protect workers in a smoky and dusty environment.


It is known to raise blood sugar levels and is a no for people on weight loss diets. Taking too much of it can lead to accumulation of potassium which can result in kidney problems.


IT is a carbohydrate, containing fructose and glucose. Honey is sweeter than table sugar due to the high levels of fructose.

It contains 2 per cent minerals, vitamins, and proteins. It can be gradually absorbed into the blood stream, resulting in better digestion. It helps metabolise unwanted cholesterol, thereby preventing obesity.


One spoon of honey provides a variety of nutrients like 17.3 grams of carbohydrates, a trace amount of potassium, calcium and 64 calories. Health experts advise that you should avoid taking more than two spoons of honey per day.


Many alternative health experts consider raw honey as a super food. Raw, unprocessed honey is packed with antioxidants, minerals, vitamins, amino acids, enzymes, carbohydrates and phytonutrients. Compared to table sugar, it gets dissolved in the body faster.


Processed honey is stripped of these nutrients and is no better than white table sugar. Health experts say that it can increase blood sugar levels, least desired in diabetes. Honey allergies can affect people who already have a history of pollen and bee allergies.

Table Sugar

THOSE shiny white granules that disappear in our coffees need no introduction.


One spoon of sugar can give upto 20 calories. " More than two spoons or 10 grams of sugar day isn't advisable for an average person," advises Dr Sesikeran.


Sugar delivers a quick energy boost as it is rapidly absorbed in the bloodstream.

However, the quick release of energy that sugar provides also fades quickly, and can cause the body to experience an energy slump.

It is known to stabilise the body temperature and protect against bouts of cold and cough. Some health experts say that it strengthens the muscle too.


Consuming too much of it can raise blood glucose levels and suppress the immune system.

It can also lead to obesity and weaken the eyesight.

Overconsumption can cause crankiness in kids. Diabetics and those at risk for it should control their sugar consumption.

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Publication:Mail Today (New Delhi, India)
Date:Oct 9, 2012
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