Thursday, April 16, 2009

Sweet Facts

Are you confused about sweeteners? Do you know whether honey is better than sugar? When it comes to alternative sweeteners do you still worry about safety? And of course the big question is – Is high fructose corn syrup really as bad as they say?

The truths about sweets are just about as simple as the chemical structure of sugar so let’s go through them one by one. Before walking through the facts on all the different sweeteners let’s define the word sugar. Sugar refers to the chemical compounds fructose, glucose, galactose and sucrose.

Sucrose - Chemically table sugar/sucrose is a combination of glucose, about 50%, and fructose, about 50%. Sugar comes from either the sugarcane or from the root of a sugar beet. Table sugar has about 15 calories in one teaspoon.

Fructose – Fructose is a simple sugar and it is found in fruit, honey and root vegetables like carrots and onions. Fructose does not trigger insulin so it is often used as a sweetener in foods designed for people with diabetes.

Galactose – Galactose is a simple sugar found in milk along with glucose making up the compound lactose.

Glucose – Glucose is the main source of energy for the body and it is the end product of carbohydrate digestion.

Honey – Honey is several sugars including fructose, sucrose, glucose and other sugars formed from the nectar by bees. Honey has 21 calories in a teaspoon sine it weighs a bit more than a teaspoon of white sugar. Honey is sweeter than white sugar so you can often use less of it.

Brown sugar – Brown sugar is white sugar that has been flavored with molasses and it has 16 calories in a teaspoon.

High fructose corn syrup – HFCS is a combination of fructose, about 55%, and glucose, about 45% so it is very similar to table or white sugar.

Aspartame – Sugar alternative that is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is made from two amino acids - aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It is not stable when heated so it is used mainly in foods that don’t require baking or cooking.

Acesulfame K – AceK is also 200 times sweeter than sugar and is a common ingredient in soft drinks. AceK is heat stable so it can be used for cooking and baking.

Sucralose – Sucralose is made from sugar but it cannot be broken down in the body so it does not contribute calories. It also does not affect blood sugar levels making it a good choice for those with diabetes.

So the bottom-line is all sugars – including high fructose corn syrup – are absorbed and digested in the same way in the body and all end up as glucose. The issue with all sugars is how much you use with current guidelines recommending that added sugars should only account for up to 10% of our daily calorie intake.

Alternative sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame K and sucralose provide an option for those who want to limit there sugar intake or want to consume fewer calroeis from sugar.


Food and Information Council. Backgrounder: Carbohydrates and Sugars. Accessed on April 16, 2009
The American Dietetic Association. American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide, 3rd Edition. Wiley and Co. 2006.
American Dietetic Association. Hot Topic: High Fructose Corn Syrup. Accessed on April 13, 2009

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