This is an in depth explanation that will clear up some of these misconceptions. I'll be explaining it with some biochemistry so if that isn't your thing there's still plenty of helpful information here.
The scientific word for sugar is saccharide. There are monosaccharides and disaccharides. Monosaccharides are the most simple forms of sugar and include glucose, fructose, galactose, xylose and ribose. We get glucose, fructose and galactose in our diets. Disaccharides are formed from two monosaccharides. For example, table sugar (sucrose) is a disaccharide and is formed from one glucose molecule linked with a fructose (50% glucose and 50% fructose).
Much of this fat is stored in the body. Some is also stored in the liver leading to a condition called steatohepatitis, which results in liver inflammation and liver damage. The liver can handle processing of some fructose especially when the body uses the fatty acids it creates for energy. However, fat storage and liver damage happen in chronic sedentary states when high levels of fructose are consumed on a daily basis. So, the problem is the fructose.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
You can see why high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is bad for you. HFCS is made up of 55% fructose and 45% glucose. It's also highly processed in order to increase the fructose levels. HFCS was first created in 1957 when researchers discovered the enzyme that converts glucose into fructose. The process was modified and improved in the 1970's. Why is it used today? Plain and simple, it's cheap.
Fructose is the component that makes sugar sweet. Glucose on its own isn't very sweet. In fact, starch is actually just long chains of glucose rings linked together, which is why starchy foods aren't really sweet. So by increasing corn syrup's fructose content we need less corn syrup to make things sweet. You may have some regular corn syrup in your pantry right now. Go taste a little and see how sweet it really is. You'll find that the taste is pleasant but it's not super sweet. If you were to taste some HFCS you would find that it was very sweet.
Is it true what the Corn Refiners Association says? "Sugar is sugar." Yes. They're both equally bad for us. The problem with HFCS is there are hundreds of examples of hidden sources of HFCS in the grocery store, let alone the obvious ones like sugary drinks and processed sweets. Americans today are consuming much higher amounts of fructose, in obvious and hidden forms, than our parents and grandparents. What's the result? Epidemic levels of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and other diseases related to obesity.
So, what can you do about it? Consumers let the food industry know how they feel by voting with your dollars. Read food labels regularly. Don't buy anything if it has HFCS in it. Avoid processed foods as much as possible. Is a little okay once in a while? Sure, but be cautious of the hidden forms and it's best to just stay away from it completely.
Agave nectar comes from the agave plant. The nectar has traditionally been used as the sugar to make tequila. It has been marketed as the next, great, alternative sweetener. It's been touted as "diabetic-friendly" and "weight-management friendly". It's been purported to be lower on the glycemic index, meaning it's less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar than table sugar. These are very irresponsible labels. In 2010 the Glycemic Research Institute announced that studies using agave with diabetic patients were halted due to serious side effects it caused in these patients. If it's bad for diabetics is it okay for non-diabetics? Likely not.
The sugar found in agave is a fructan. These are long chains of fructose molecules linked together. Below is an example of a short fructan. Recall from the image above that fructose is the pentagon shaped molecule. While it may take the body longer to break fructans apart because they are in long chains, in the end it's just a lot of fructose. It's been proposed that agave fructans are chains of fifteen fructose molecules and one glucose molecule. This would make it about 93% fructose and considerably less healthy than even HFCS.
Honey is made up of about 45% glucose and 55% fructose. This is the same composition as HFCS. Raw honey, however, carries with it healing properties that are evident when used topically for wounds. Raw honey also contains vitamins B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin and pantothenic acid, as well as minerals like calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc. Honey also contains antioxidants. The darker the honey the more antioxidants it contains. So, yes, honey is just another form of sugar. Used in moderation I find that it is a better choice when a sweetener is desired.
So, the diet soda you drink today won't cause cancer tomorrow. However, years later could cause cancer and lead to rapid growth of that cancer. That's right. Aspartame not only causes cancer it also promotes rapid growth and movement of cancer cells. Cancer cells that move lead to metastasis, which can be a very deadly stage of cancer. Aspartame is also an excitotoxin to nerve cells. It causes over excitation of nerve cells to the point that they can no longer function and they die. Aspartame toxicity is often difficult to diagnose because it looks like other neurodegenerative disorders like Multiple Sclerosis and Parkinson Disease. For more information about aspartame and other neurotoxins I recommend getting a copy of Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills by Dr. Russell Blaylock, a renowned neurosurgeon. I hope that this is enough information to steer you far away from ever using aspartame.
You can now visit the grocery store educated with the right information about what sugar in your food is doing to your body. Is eating sugar once in a while okay? Absolutely. The key phrase is "once in a while". Hundreds of years ago sugary treats were just that, a treat. Many people today not only eat obvious forms of sugar but are also eating hidden forms of sugar on a daily basis. Even if you're not overweight that can wreak havoc on your body over time. Having dessert once a week and on special occasions is reasonable. More than that could lead to problems, especially if you're not very physically active.
If you're looking to start slowly, start with eliminating the sugar you consume in sugary drinks. Drink fresh, plain, filtered water. If you need some flavor add a little lemon juice or a few drops of flavored liquid stevia. I've seen patients lose 15 pounds just from stopping their daily soda habit.
If you feel your sugar habit is more of an addiction I encourage you to seek help. Emotional eating can not only affect the quality of your life, it can also affect the duration of it. You may not even be aware that you use food or sugar to quiet undesirable feelings caused by stress or anxiety. Taking a break from all forms of sugar can be very eye-opening. If you're unable to control your intake of sugar you may have a problem. Contact me if you want some help or would like a referral to a counselor. You are not alone. I can help you find other strategies to manage stress and ways to get your eating back on track and get sugar out of your diet.