Sugar is a carbohydrate, one of the three types of nutrients our bodies require during pregnancy. Sugar is also the number one additive in the food industry containing zero nutritional value but plenty of calories. One gram of sugar has 4 calories! Since sugar can be highly addictive during pregnancy, it pays to be vigilant.
While pregnant you may be careful about sugar-laden foods but what about foods off the shelf? Sugar has found its way into almost every food. Foods that are frozen, canned, processed or cured are likely to be high in sugar. It is even hidden in non-food items like vitamins and OTC drugs. Read the labels whenever you can.
Sugar is seemingly everywhere and can be found under the following names so look out for these the next time you go food shopping: white sugar, brown sugar, cane sugar, corn sugar, date sugar, galactose, glucose, fructose, lactose, maltose, dextrose, sucrose, mannitol and sorbitol. Honey, molasses and maple syrup are the other sugar-rich foods.
Simple Sugar or Bad carbohydrates
- Commercial white sugar found in cakes, jellies, candies etc causes the blood sugar level to shoot up and is often referred to as bad carbohydrates. It is a refined food i.e. it contains no vitamins, minerals or enzymes. It becomes difficult for our bodies to metabolize sugar in the absence of such nutrients. Our bodies are then compelled to release stored vitamins and minerals to help convert sugar into energy. This causes depletion in the supply of stored nutrients which our body requires for proper functioning.
- All refined sugars are nutrient-poor, simple carbohydrates. When raw sugar is refined, the two end products that result are white crystals (or sugar) and the syrup known as molasses. Simple sugars are the least nutritional; simple because the molecules are so small that they pass through into the bloodstream rather quickly.
- When you eat simple carbs, you experience a sudden surge in energy due to the glucose flood in your bloodstream. That's because simple sugar like candy can be broken down and absorbed quickly. Your brain signals the pancreas to produce insulin and the excess sugar is converted into glycogen and fat. This action causes the sudden fall in blood sugar which leaves you feeling drained. So first you feel energized and within a short time you feel even more exhausted than you did before.
Complex Sugars or Good carbohydrates
- Complex carbs or starches are regarded as good carbohydrates because of the vitamins and minerals they contain; they are the best source of fuel or glucose your body can rely on. They do not deplete your body's store of vitamins and minerals.
- The best sugars are complex sugars (its complexity owing to the molecules being larger). Also referred to as complex carbs, the foods rich in this include pasta, potatoes, grains and seeds.
- A complex carb like a potato which is densely packed will take a long time to break down and is absorbed slowly. Because complex carbs are nutrient-rich they must go through the slow digestion process. The glucose converted is released into your body at a slower, steadier pace. Your muscles and brain receive adequate amount of glucose without you experiencing the high-low feeling associated with the sudden rise and fall in blood sugar.
- To go totally sugar-free is not really possible for most pregnant women so the best bet during pregnancy is to opt for natural sweeteners. Grab a fruit and forgo the chocolate bar when a sugar craving hits you. Use honey in your cereal instead of sugar. In short choose natural sweeteners over refined sugar wherever possible.
- Many natural sweeteners are simple carbohydrates. For example honey has two simple carbs, glucose and fructose. Healthier sugars are the fructose sugars with fruits being the chief source. You also have lactose sugar which is derived from dairy products. Both fructose and lactose provide the pregnant woman with quick energy and do not cause mood swings that simple sugars do. However sweeteners like honey and maple syrup should not be taken in excess as they can cause health problems and weight gain.
How Sugar works in your body..
Carbohydrates, whether simple or complex, are sugars. When you eat foods that are carb-rich, these foods are converted into glucose. A portion is required to keep your brain alert, another portion is to fuel your muscles with energy and the excess is converted into either glycogen or body fat. Insulin is produced to restore the delicate balance of many elements, including your blood sugar level. Glycogen is stored in your muscles for later use. If it is not utilized it's turned into glycerin and subsequently into stored fat which you find around your body. For sure, you wouldn't want more fat on you during your pregnant months!
The Brown Sugar myth
Brown sugar is not a healthier alternative to white sugar. Brown sugar is simply refined white sugar with molasses stirred in for color. Demerara for example is white sugar mixed with some amount of molasses. Bare traces of minerals, calcium, iron and potassium may be present. So categorically brown sugar is a bad carbohydrate.