Thursday, 9 October 2008

Sugar, Sugars and Sweeteners - The Definitive Guide

Introduction
Sugar the Nickname vs. Sugar the General Term
Artificial vs. Natural
Nutritive vs. Non-nutritive Sweeteners
The Definitive List
Notes on the How the List was Compiled
Introduction
With so many different types of sweetener being added to our food and drink these days and with so many different names being used for each, it can be a minefield to unravel the definitions and understand the implications for our health. I have spent the last week creating a structured, definitive list and some clear definitions. The aim is to evolve this page into a one-stop shop for understanding sweeteners and their effects.

This is work-in-progress document. I will regularly improve and refine the notes on each sweetener and record the changes as they happen in the comments. If you see something you believe to be incorrect or have additional information that would improve the page, add a comment yourself, including (if possible) a reference to support the change. I will review any comments and make changes as appropriate.
Sugars vs. Sweeteners
Sugars are carbohydrates that have particular molecular characteristics – there are many varieties and they have widely differing properties. Sweetener is a more general term, referring to any substance that can be used to make something taste sweeter. This includes some sugars - for example, glucose. Other sweeteners, such as Aspartame, are not sugars.

N.B. Strictly speaking all carbohydrates are sugars, but we do not need to worry about that here.
Sugar the Nickname vs. Sugar the General Term
This can be confusing for newcomers to the topic and is the most important to get straight from the start. As mentioned above, there are many kinds of sugar. However, when people talk about ‘Sugar’, especially in the context of food, they are often referring to Sucrose, one particular sugar. Certainly when you see the word in the list of ingredients for a product, this is what it means. Sucrose has acquired the nickname ‘Sugar’ over the years because it is the most commonly used sugar. It has acquired many other names too, as you will see in the definitive list.

A good illustration of this is a dried fruit like figs. You will not see the word ‘Sugar’ in the ingredients list of a packet of dried figs - yet in the nutritional breakdown it might say Carbohydrate, of which sugars – 65g. This is because whilst there is no sucrose in the figs, there is naturally occurring fructose and glucose – which are themselves sugars.
Artificial vs. Natural
The term natural sweeteners is typically understood to mean substances that can already be found in plants or animals, unlike artificial sweeteners, which cannot. Often, natural sweeteners only occur in very small amounts in nature and undergo much processing before they find their way into our foods.

For example, fructose is a natural sweetener – it is responsible for some or all of the sweetness in most fruits. However, it is also found in high fructose corn syrup, a highly processed sweetener derived from corn. Likewise, Tagatose is found in small amounts in dairy products, but used as a sweetener in concentrated form.

Acesulfame potassium (also known as Acesulfame K, Sunett, Sweet One or E950) is an artificial sweetener, often found in canned drinks marketed as being sugar free. It was formulated by a German chemical company and is not found in plants or animals.
Nutritive vs. Non-nutritive Sweeteners
The definition of nutritive sweeteners is that they have calories, whereas non-nutritive sweeteners do not. However, this is broad distinction and not always clear; it should not be taken as a guide to whether a sweetener is the right choice, because within these categories there are wide variations.
Nutritive Sweeteners
There are two ‘families’ of nutritive sweeteners - sugars and sugar alcohols.

Sugars – this family of sweeteners is commonly found in (and extracted from) naturally sweet foods; as such they are also classed as natural sugars. Their names usually end with –ose; for example, Sucrose, Glucose and Fructose. Glucose is found in many fruits and along with fructose is responsible for their sweet taste. Sugars tend to be the highest calorie sweeteners and some of them have been implicated in causing or exacerbating health problems such as tooth decay, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Sugar Alcohols – this family of sweeteners have names that end in -ol; for example, Sorbitol and Xylitol. Sugar alcohols are classed as natural sugars - Xylitol, for example, is found in some fruits and vegetables as well as in the bark of the Birch tree. Most sugar alcohols have fewer calories than sugars because they only partially digest. This can have intestinal implications and common side-effects of over consumption include diarrhoea and flatulence. However, their low impact on blood sugar, reduced calories and the fact they do not cause tooth decay makes them a widely-used substitute for sugars.

Sugar alcohols are hydrogenated disccharides. I am not sure whether this classifies them as a carbohydrate or not. If you know, please comment!

An example of how these categories can blur is the sugar alcohol Erythritol. It does not get absorbed by the gut at all and therefore has no calories - yet as a sugar alcohol it is classed as a nutritive sweetener.
Non-Nutritive Sweeteners
For the most part, non-nutritive sweeteners are artificial sweeteners. Examples are Aspartame (Phenylalinine), Saccharin and Sucralose. The reasons why a non-nutritive sweetener might not provide calories include:
  1. It does not digest, but passes through unchanged – for example Saccharin
  2. It digests, but has no calorific value – for example sucralose
  3. It does digest and does have calories, but is so sweet that the amounts required to sweeten a product are tiny – for example Neotmame, which is 10,000 times sweeter than sucrose.
Non-nutritive sweeteners are typically found in products marketed as sugar-free. In some cases (for example, Aspartame) there have been studies that suggest large quantities can be harmful when fed to rats.

One non-nutritive sweetener that is not artificial is Stevia. It's a non-nutritive sweetener because it is not metabolised by the body, but it is also a natural sweetener, since it can be found in the South American stevia plant.
The Definitive List
Bear in mind that the word you are searching for could occur in more than one place – for example, Honey contains fructose and glucose, so it is listed under ‘Also found in…’ for both Glucose and Fructose.

Sweeteners in bold have separate posts written about them which can be reached by expanding the row then clicking on the link inside.

Use your browser’s ‘Find’ function to locate the sweetener you are looking for. CTRL + F is the shortcut for this – alternatively, it can be found under Edit in the menu.

Chemical NameAlternative NamesAlso found in...
Acesulfame KAcesulfame Potassium, Sunett, Ace K, E950
TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener; also used in oral hygiene products
NotesIt is 200 times sweeter than sucrose and is not metabolised so no effect on blood sugar. Does not cause damage to the teeth
AlitameAclame
TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIt has negligible calories because it's 2000 times sweeter than sucrose so hardly any is required to sweeten products.As a result, there is no real effect on blood sugar. Although from the same chemical family as Aspartame, it does not cause Phenylketonuria.
AspartameTropicana Slim, Equal, NutraSweet, Canderel, E951
TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIn a small number of people it causes Phenylketonuria, a condition that affects the brain. It has the same calories by weight as sucrose but in reality the calories it adds to foods are negligible because it's 180 times sweeter so hardly any is needed to sweeten a product. It does not damage teeth or significantly affect blood sugar.
MoreSpotlight on Aspartame
Cyclamate Assugrin, Sucaryl, Sugar Twin
TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIt has no calories (and therefore no effect on blood sugar) because it is not metabolised. It is 30 times sweeter, by weight, than sucrose.
ErythritolZeroseFruit
TypeNatural, Sugar Alcohol, Nutritive
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIt is three quarters as sweet as sucrose by weight but has almost no calories in spite of the fact that it does get absorbed. However, the absorption is mostly by the large intestine so unlike with some other sugar alcohols, there is not a laxative except in large doses. Does not affect the teeth. No significant effect on blood sugar
FructoseFruit Sugar, Levulose, LaevuloseFruit, High Fructose Corn, Syrup (Isoglucose), High Fructose Glucose, Any Concentrated Fruit Juice, Any Fruit Syrup, Inverted Sugar (Reducing Sugar), Inverted Sugar Syrup / Trimoline, Sucrose Syrup, Golden Syrup, Honey, Agave Syrup, Carob Powder, Gur, Jaggery, Panella, Rapadura
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesConsuming fructose in the form of moderate amounts of fruit is considered safe. In more concentrated forms such as syrups, excessive consumption can cause health problems. Fructose does not raise blood sugar as much as other sugars like glucose and is therefore often recommended for people who need to control blood sugar. However, ironically there is evidence that regular consumption of large amounts of fructose can lead to insulin resistance, which is often the problem already faced by people who need to control blood sugar. It can only be metabolised by the liver, which develops fatty deposits when consumption is excessive. It has also been linked to heart disease and obesity by a number of studies. Like sucrose, fructose causes tooth decay.
GalactoseBrain Sugar, GalactanDairy Products, Sugar Beets
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
Uses
Notes
GlucoseDextrose, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Dextroglucose, Dextrose Monohdrate, Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup Solids, Corn Starch, Glucose Syrup, Isomaltose, PolycoseFruit, Agave Syrup, Inverted Sugar (Reducing Sugar), Inverted Sugar Syrup / Trimoline, Sucrose Syrup, Corn Sugar, Golden Syrup, Honey, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Carob Powder, Gur, High Fructose Glucose, Jaggery, Litesse, Panella, Rapadura
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener and also used in oral hygiene products
NotesConsuming glucose in the form of moderate amounts of fruit is considered safe. Glucose causes sharp increases in blood sugar and is the benchmark for the glycemic index which measures the effect a food or drink has on blood sugar. In concentrated forms such as syrups, excessive consumption is likely to cause health issues and has been linked to heart disease and obesity as well as a number of other conditions. Like sucrose, glucose causes tooth decay.
Glycerol

TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener; also used in pharmaceutical products
NotesIt has the same calories as sugar but is not as sweet and has no effect on blood sugar. It also does not promote tooth decay
Inulin
Chicory, Chicory Root, Fruits/vegetables/Grains (in varying amounts)
TypeNutritive, Natural
UsesThis is a family of substances, some of which are used as a sweetener - they are also used to replace fat or flour in some foods
NotesThey are believed to have probiotic qualities and have little effect on blood sugar. Inulin is effectively a fiber, not a carbohydrate and has around a quarter of the calories of sucrose. It supposedly increases the absorbtion of calcium from other foods.
IsomaltPalatinose, IsomaltuloseDiabetiSweet
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIt has half the calories of sucrose by weight, does not promote tooth decay and does not raise blood sugar significantly. As with most alcohol sugars, it can have a laxative effect in large doses
Lactitol

TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesMainly for sweetening food - often found in 'sugar-free' candies, cookies (biscuits), chocolate, and ice cream
NotesIt has just over half the calories of sucrose by weight but is less than half as sweet. It supposedly has probiotic qualities and oes not cause tooth decay. It has a low effect on blood sugar but reportedly causes problems for lactose-intolerant people.
LactoseMilk SugarMilk
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesNot a commonly used sweetener, although it is sometimes combined with other sweeteners or used in homeopathic remedies
NotesLactose intolerance can affect some people, which leads to digetive and other problems when dairy foods are consumed
MaltitolMaltisorb, Maltisweet
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesUsed in 'sugar-free' hard candies/sweets, chewing gum, chocolates, baked goods and ice cream
NotesIt is about three quarters as sweet as sucrose by weight and has half to three quarters the calories by weight. It has a reduced effect on blood sugar and does not damage teeth.
Maltose
Barley Malt Syrup, Brown Rice Syrup, High Maltose Corn Syrup, Corn sugar
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
Notes
MannitolMannite, Manna SugarHydrogenated Glucose Syrup,
Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener, especially minty products
NotesLike most sugar alcohols, it can have a laxative effect and does not raise blood sugar.
Neotame

TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIt has negligible calories because it's 10,000 times sweeter than sucrose by weight so hardly any is required to sweeten products. Thus, there is no real effect on blood sugar. Although from the same chemical family as Aspartame, it does not cause Phenylketonuria.
Saccharin
Sweet'n' Low
TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesUsed to sweeten drinks, candies, medicines and toothpaste
NotesIt as no calories because it's not metabolised and so has no effect on blood sugar. It is 300 times sweeter than sucrose by weight.
SorbitolArlexVarious Fruits and Berries, Hydrogenated Glucose Syrup, Hydrogenated Starch, Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate, Litesse
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener, particularly diet foods. Also used in minty/ dental products and medicines
NotesIt has about three quarters the calories of sucrose. Like most sugar alcohols, it can cause a laxative effect. It has a reduced action on blood sugar but there have been some concerns about excessive consumption by diabetics causing other health problems.
SteviaStevia rebaudiana, Stevioside, Rebiana, sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, TruviaThe leaft of the stevia rebaudiana plant.
TypeNon-nutritive, Natural
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener, particularly diet foods.
NotesStevia is typically up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar but is regarded as being effectively zero calorie.
MoreArticle on Stevia at Felix's Kitchen
SucraloseSplenda, SucraPlus, E955
TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIt has zero calories, although some of the products that use it, such as Splenda, apparently contain some calories because the use bulking agents. It is 600 times sweeter than sucrose by weight and does not cause tooth decay
SucroseSaccharose, Sucanat, Sugar, Granulated Sugar, Refined Sugar, Brown Sugar, Cane Juice, Evaporated Cane Juice, Evaporated Cane Sugar, Cane Sugar, Raw Cane Sugar, Demerera, Muscovado, Turbinado, Cane syrup, Beet syrup, Baker's Sugar, Bar Sugar, Barbados Sugar, Berry Sugar, Chinese Rock Sugar , Confectioners Sugar, Gemsugar, Polincillo, Rock sugar, WasanbonMolasses, Maple syrup, Maple Sugar, Carob Powder, Date Sugar, Gur, Jaggery, Palm Sugar, Panella, Rapadura, Sucrose Syrup
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesAlthough probably still the most commonly used food and drink sweetener, it is increasingly being replaced by other alternatives. It raises blood sugar rapidly and causes tooth decay. It has been implicated in a number of health issues. For example, there is evidence to suggest it has addictive qualities and that it may cause vitamin B defficiency. Excessive, long term consumption has been linked to heart disease and obesity
TagatoseNutrilatose, TagatesseDairy Products (in small amounts)
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener and also used to add creaminess to foods
NotesIt has less than half the calories of sucrose (due to partial absorbstion in the gut) but is almost as sweet by weight. It does not have a significant effect on blood sugar and is not damaging to teeth. It apparently has probiotic effects.
TrehaloseMycoseVarious Plants and Animals (in small amounts)
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesUsed in food and cosmetics
NotesIt is half as sweet as sucrose by weight, but contains the same number of calories by weight. It is also an antioxidant and has only a small effect on blood sugar.
XylitolBirch Sugar
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesSweetening minty products and dental products
NotesIt has less than half the calories of sucrose and has no effect on blood sugar
MoreSpotlight on Xylitol
Notes on the How the List was Compiled
  1. The first column contains the chemical names for sweeteners.
  2. The Alternative Names column contains either nicknames for that sweetener or substances that are mostly made up of that sweetener and therefore amount to the same thing.
  3. The Also Found in column includes foods, drinks, plants or animals where there are significant amounts of the sweetener to be found – except in some cases, where the amounts are small this is indicated in brackets.
  4. If there is missing information this is because I could not find it - for example, the effects on teeth is mentioned for some sweeteners but not others.
Introduction
Sugar the Nickname vs. Sugar the General Term
Artificial vs. Natural
Nutritive vs. Non-nutritive Sweeteners
The Definitive List
Notes on the How the List was Compiled

10 comments:

Sue said...

Thanks for that.

Methuselah said...

Thanks to Jimmy from Livin' La Vida Low-Carb for recommending this guide and also mentioning it on Low Carb Examiner!

Methuselah said...

Content Update: today I modified the fructose notes to also mention that when large amounts are regularly consumed it can promote insulin resistance, avoidance of which (ironically) is often the reason people choose fructose over something like glucose, which has a more profound effect on blood sugar and therefore can also cause insulin resistance.

This update comes after I read the section on sweeteners in Dr Eades' book The Protein Power Life Plan, which I highly recommend.

Methuselah said...

Content Update: Updated the definition of Sugar Alcohols to mention that they are hydrogenated disccharides and invite comments as to whether this means they are carbohydrates.

sarah said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Xylitol = toxic for dogs.

My Year Without said...

I have copied the list of names of sugars and added it to my blog, giving you credit and making a link, of course!

Thanks for making this important list available.

Methuselah said...

MYW - thanks for the credit. I am due for a 'spotlight' post soon - just deciding which one to go for. Seems like Stevia would be a topical choice, since it has just been approved by the FDA...

Nutrition said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ucE9HC2LbFk&feature=PlayList&p=DBA02DD311F1D505&index=0&playnext=1#t=7m50s


http://www.imminst.org/forum/index.php?act=findpost&hl=stevia&pid=361247
Stevia induces an insulin response. In absence of sufficient glucose, this can cause hypoglycemia and trigger further food cravings.
Study - Stevioside acts directly on pancreatic β cells to secrete insulin:Actions independent of cyclic adenosine monophosphate and adenosinetriphosphate—sensitivie K-channel activity
Study - Mechanism of the Hypoglycemic Effect of Stevioside, a Glycoside of Stevia rebaudiana

Anonymous said...

So is Stevia the safest alternative to sugar or is there something better?

Blog Widget by LinkWithin