About Sugar

What is sugar?

Sugars are the basic building blocks of carbohydrates. They are classified chemically according to the number of sugar units they contain. The term 'sugars' is conventionally used to define the mono- and disaccharides in foods (also known as total sugars).

'Sugar' refers to sucrose, a carbohydrate found naturally in most fruits and vegetables. Sucrose is the major product of photosynthesis, a natural process that allows plants to turn sunlight into energy. Sucrose is the most abundant sugar found in nature, and occurs in the greatest quantities in sugar cane and sugar beets, which are used to produce sugar for use at home and in food products. Whether produced from cane or beet, the result is the same: pure sugar.

The process of extracting and purifying sugars from sugar cane and sugar beet however allows for the production of a large variety of sugars. Sugars may differ in colour, flavour, sweetness and crystal size. Each of these characteristics allows sugar to perform a variety of functions in food products, in addition to providing a sweet taste.

Sugar has been part of our diet for thousands of years. Sugars are carbohydrates that provide energy for the body. The most common sugar in the body is glucose which your brain, major organs and muscles need to function properly. Some sugars are found naturally in foods (e.g. fruit, vegetables and milk) while others are used during processing and cooking.

The body does not distinguish between the different types of sugar and breaks them down in exactly the same way. For example, the sucrose in an apple is broken down in exactly the same way as the sucrose in your sugar bowl.

The most common kinds of sugars

  • Sucrose is often called table sugar. Made up from glucose and fructose, it is extracted from sugar cane or sugar beet and also naturally present in most fruits and vegetables
  • Fructose and glucose are found in fruits, vegetables and honey
  • Lactose is commonly called milk sugar because it is found in milk and dairy products
  • Maltose is also known as malt sugar and is found in malted drinks and beer

Added Sugars: Sugars (e.g. glucose, fructose, sucrose) and syrups (e.g. honey, high fructose corn syrup) that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared.

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