Sugar as a source of antioxidants?


This month's issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association includes a study that compares the antioxidant content of different kinds of sugar. Katherine Phillips and her team at Viginia Tech found "substantial differences" in the different sugars they studied:

Are the authors suggesting that we should be eating more (or different types of) sugar in order to boost our intake of antioxidants? Not exactly. But they do make the following disturbing observation:

  • Refined table sugar, corn syrup (not high fructose but the kind you buy in the grocery store), and agave nectar all contained "minimal" antioxidant activity.
  • Maple syrup, brown sugar (which is refined sugar with a bit of molasses added), and honey had "intermediate" antioxidant activity.
  • Dark and blackstrap molasses had the highest antioxidant capacity.

The average intake of refined sugar in the U.S. is around 130g a day. At that level of intake, replacing low antioxidant sugars with higher antioxidant sugars could increase antioxidant intake the equivalent of a serving of berries or nuts.

I've got a better idea: How about substituting a serving of berries or nuts for some of that sugar? The fact that Americans eat an average of 130 grams of refined sugar a day is shocking. The antioxidant capacity (or lack thereof) of all that sugar is the least of our problems.

The World Health Organization recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 10% of total calories, or around 50 grams a day. They are not talking about sugars found naturally in whole foods like fruit or dairy products, only the refined sugars found in things like soda, breakfast cereal, and baked goods, or added to coffee.

No amount of refined sugar is necessary to health, of course. But cutting back to 50 grams a day would be a huge step in the right direction--and much more helpful than simply substituting molasses for table sugar.