What is sugar really? And what different kinds of sugar exist? And most importantly, when might I need (or be ok with) sugar in my diet? Charleh Dickinson from Designed2Eat explains all ...

This is a guest post from Charleh Dickinson, owner of Designed2Eat, an online shop selling gluten, dairy, sugar, grain, soy, egg free snacks, cakes & cereal.

It's been in the news a lot lately and too right! These are the real questions we should be asking ourselves about sugar. Do we know: 

   •    What are the different types of sugar that exist?
   •    Where and in what foods do you find them?
   •    How do you avoid the 'bad' Sugars?
   •    Why and when might you need sugar?

There are a number of perspectives in this article. They have come from experience, knowledge and external advice. I do not confess to be a nutritionist, however, the information has been sourced from top academic journals from across the world.  

Firstly! Sugar! The term 'sugar' is an umbrella heading for many different types that exist. 

Sugar is the generalised name for a sweet, short-chain, soluble carbohydrate. There are various types of sugar derived from different sources. 

Simple sugars are called monosaccharides and include glucose (also known as dextrose), fructose, and galactose. Liquid glucose is mainly used in confectionery and dextrose can be found in sports tablets. Galactose and fructose are metabolised in the liver and yet, it isn't regulated by insulin. Fructose is predominately found in fruit and combined with fibre.

The table sugar or granulated sugar most commonly used in food, is called sucrose, which is a disaccharide. (In the body, sucrose hydrolyses into fructose and glucose.) e.g. Two monosaccharides combined together. Other disaccharides include maltose and lactose. Maltose is most found in beer, cereal and pasta whereas lactose is the sugar found in milk and whey protein powders.

Longer chains of sugars are called oligosaccharides. Chemically-different substances may also have a sweet taste, but are not classified as sugars. They are mainly used as lower-calorie food substitutes for sugar described as artificial sweeteners.

So where do 'natural' sugars fit into all this?

Natural sugars include: fruit, dried fruit, agave syrup, tree syrup, honey, root vegetables, coconut palm sugar, fruit juice, coconut water and no doubt there will be a few more out there.

Now, we all know that there is a difference between root vegetables and dried fruit and even honey. 

However, the media are no help at all and are very conflicted. One minute, the news are saying that honey is bad for us and then the next, a nutritionist is using it in her latest healthy recipe! How confusing can that be!

Well, what's it's lacking is context. For instance, both my father and I are a great example. We both lead very different lifestyles and have different auto-immune conditions.

My father was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 56. 

I know right! Crazy eh?! 

He's always had a varied diet and mainly home cooked dinners. We're a fairly active family, however, he is self employed and predominately works at a desk. This can be very stressful.

Me, on the other hand. I commute by train every day and walk roughly 5 miles a day. I also train CrossFit twice a day to a high intensity. The rest of my day is behind a desk or going to and from clients. Stressful in a different way.

Admittedly, we are the extreme cases. I hope by telling you more about us, it gives you more clarity.

We both have different intakes of natural sugars to meet the demands of our lifestyles. My father doesn't drink fruit juice, consume any syrups or processed sauces. He will only have blueberries with his breakfast and a little bit of root vegetables in the evening.

Me on the other hand, will have to protein shakes with some fruit juice or coconut water in whilst I'm training. This is to restore my glycogen stores and aid my recovery in between sessions. I will also consume dried fruit, root vegetables and honey within my 300g carb macro limit throughout the day. Particularly died fruit when sessions are very close together (4 hours).

The point is: this demonstrates that the quantity and quality of natural sugars in your diet depends on time and context. For the working average person doing low intense exercise: all sugars should be limited as much as possible. 

The more knowledge you can obtain about where any sugar is in your diet, the more equipped you are to control how much you have.

Follow Charleh Dickinson on all social media at: Designed2Eat - including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.