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A guide to sweeteners

By Patterson Clark and Lazaro Gamio, Published: March 2, 2015
Too much sugar can be detrimental to health, rotting teeth, building fat, damaging blood vessels and stressing out the system that regulates blood sugar. Some people turn to artificial sweeteners, but those are under increasing suspicion of creating metabolic problems, such as diabetes and obesity. Natural alternative sweeteners exist, but even they have pitfalls if consumed in excess. Read related article.


Sweeteners: a periodic table

This table charts the wide variety of sweeteners available in the United States, either in bulk amounts or as additives in food. Not listed are super-sweet- tasting, zero-calorie proteins from several African fruits (monellin, brazzein and thaumatin), which have not been approved for use by the FDA. Also not included: banned or poisonous sweeteners, such as lead acetate, which ancient Romans made by cooking sour wine in lead pots.

COOKED

1

Ms

Maple syrup

Mostly sucrose; contains antioxidants, minerals and B vitamins

1.1

Sg

Sorghum syrup

Mostly sucrose; contains antioxidants, minerals and B vitamins

0.8

Mo

Cane sugar molasses

Mostly sucrose; contains antioxidants, minerals and B vitamins

REFINED SUGAR

1

Su

Sucrose, Table sugar

Linked to kidney disease, gout and fatty liver disease

    1.2

    Hf

    High fructose corn syrup

    Stabilizes processed foods; has been linked to mercury contamination

      0.45

      Tr

      Trehalose

      Natural preservative for foods; fuels insect metabolism

        1.7

        Fr

        Fructose, Agave nectar

        Boosts appetite; raises triglycerides and bad cholesterol

        1.2

        In

        Inverted sugar

        Sucrose split into glucose and fructose by an acid

          0.3

          Ga

          Galactose

          Harmful to people unable to digest it

          0.7

          Gl

          Glucose, corn syrup, Karo syrup

          Lowers appetite; quickly raises blood-sugar levels

            0.5

            Ma

            Maltose, Brown rice syrup

            Syrup arsenic levels often higher than recommended

            0.2

            Lc

            Lactose, Milk sugar

            Glucose bonded to galactose; some adults cannot digest it

              0.9

              Tg

              Tagatose, Naturlose

              Lowers blood glucose levels in people with elevated blood sugar

              SYNTHETIC SUGAR

              300

              Sc

              Saccharin, Sweet'n Low

              Once banned for causing bladder cancer in rats

                500

                Sr

                Sucralose, Splenda

                Keeps crystalline form even in high heat; persists in environment

                  200

                  As

                  Aspartame, Equal

                  Generates formaldehyde in the body; can increase waist size

                    20,000

                    Ad

                    Advantame

                    Derived from aspartame; effects on brain have not been thoroughly tested

                        8,000

                        Ne

                        Neotame

                        "Flawed safety studies," says Center for Science in the Public Interest

                            200

                            Ac

                            Acesulfame potassium, Sunett

                            CSPI: "Safety tests . . . were of mediocre quality."

                                PARTLY REFINED

                                1

                                Br

                                Brown sugar, Sugar in the raw

                                Trace amounts of nutrients; mostly sucrose

                                RAW

                                0.97

                                Hn

                                Honey

                                Has antioxidants, but may contain pesticides; dangerous for infants

                                0.5

                                Yc

                                Yacón syrup or powder

                                High in fiber; daily intake might cause weight loss

                                  300

                                  St

                                  Stevia leaf powder

                                  Not approved as a food additive, but can be bought as a supplement

                                    Less than 1

                                    Lu

                                    Lucuma powder

                                    Anti-inflammatory; sometimes processed with tree nuts/peanuts

                                      300

                                      Mk

                                      Monk fruit, Lo han

                                      Ancient Chinese sweetener; sometimes "cut" with dextrose

                                          OTHER REFINED

                                          50

                                          Li

                                          Glycyrrhizin, Licorice

                                          Treats hepatitis in Japan; in excess, might cause high blood pressure

                                            480

                                            Re

                                            Rebaudioside, Truvia, SweetLeaf

                                            Not adequately tested, says one group

                                              SUGAR ALCOHOL

                                              0.8

                                              Ml

                                              Maltitol, SweetPearl

                                              Has less of a cooling effect than other sugar alcohols

                                              0.4

                                              Lt

                                              Lactitol, NH4-Redox

                                              Derived from whey

                                              0.6

                                              Gy

                                              Glycerol, glycerin

                                              Keeps foods moist; high doses cause nausea and dizziness

                                              1

                                              Xy

                                              Xylitol, Xylosweet

                                              Good for teeth; as sweet as sugar

                                              0.6

                                              Sb

                                              Sorbitol

                                              Prolongs food shelf life; some people allergic; not for irritable bowels

                                              0.6

                                              Mn

                                              Mannitol

                                              Hard coating for pills; very large doses can damage kidneys, heart

                                                0.7

                                                Er

                                                Erythritol, Zsweet

                                                Good for teeth; large doses cause nausea

                                                    SYNTHETIC SUGAR ALCOHOL

                                                    0.6

                                                    Is

                                                    Isomalt

                                                    Used to make edible decorations
                                                    A recent study found that SaccharinSucralose and Aspartame can upset the balance of intestinal flora, causing glucose intolerance in mice and in some humans tested.

                                                    The structure of sweets

                                                    Sugars are ring-shaped molecules made of  carbon, oxygen and  hydrogen. Carbohydrates exist as simple sugars (one ring), double sugars (two linked rings) and starches (multiple linked rings). The body’s cells use the simple sugar glucose as a source of fuel.
                                                    Sucrose, or table sugar, left, is a double sugar of glucose bonded to fructose. Our bodies produce an enzyme that breaks that bond. High-fructose corn syrup is a liquid solution of unbonded glucose and fructose, with a higher percentage of the latter. Glucose supplies energy for brain and muscle cells. Fructose is converted by the liver into fat.
                                                    Sugar alcohols are almost as sweet as table sugar. Found naturally in small amounts in fruits, they can have a cooling effect in the mouth and don’t cause tooth decay, but in excess they can cause digestive distress.
                                                    Xylitol, below, synthesized from corncobs and birch trees, can help remineralize tooth enamel.
                                                    WARNING: Even in small amounts, xylitol, which is often found in chewing gum and candy, is poisonous to dogs.
                                                    Other sweeteners are derived from either natural sources or laboratory experiments. Although their safety is questioned by some researchers, the Food and Drug Administration regards them as safe.
                                                    Sucralose is made by removing three oxygen atoms from sucrose and substituting three chlorine atoms.

                                                    Sorting the sweetness

                                                     Sweetener in category.  Marginal; small amounts.  Has opposite effect.  Some uncertainty; debatable.

                                                    Low in calories

                                                    We need calories to drive our metabolism, but too many calories can lead to trouble. People seeking to reduce calories from sweeteners might turn to some of these.

                                                    Safe for diabetics

                                                    There are more natural alternatives than artificial ones for diabetics and hyperglycemics who want to satisfy a sweet tooth without raising blood glucose levels.

                                                    Contains nutrients

                                                    Vitamins, minerals, enzymes and other healthful compounds are more likely to be found in raw or slightly processed sweeteners, all of which are derived from plants.

                                                    Good for the gut

                                                    A healthy gut is good for the whole body, so a sweetener that promotes desirable intestinal bacteria can also alleviate some of the guilt associated with enjoying dessert.

                                                    May taste bad

                                                    Some compounds can trick our tongues into firing sweet signals, but in high concentrations they can yield a bitter experience.

                                                    Disrupts metabolism

                                                    Consuming too much sugar can lead to obesity, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and high blood pressure. Some artificial sweeteners might also mess with metabolism.

                                                    Promotes tooth decay

                                                    Most natural sugars fuel bacteria, which release acid that causes tooth decay. But some sweeteners are actually good for teeth.

                                                    Unstable in heat

                                                    The last thing a baker wants is for a recipe’s sweetener to break down into undesirable or dangerous substances while in the oven.

                                                    Can upset digestion

                                                    Less-digestible sweeteners might be good for some bacteria in the gut, but too much of a good thing can lead to nausea or diarrhea.

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