Sugar, Syrups, Molasses and Sugar Alcohols: What’s the difference?

sugarThe Sugar Free Institute uses the word “sugar” as a catch-all term to include all types of caloric sweeteners that are added to foods by individuals or by food manfacturers. Sugars that occur naturally in fruits, vegetables and dairy products are okay as long as they have not been concentrated into juices or syrups. The term caloric means the substance provides energy or calories. The term sweetener means the substance adds sweeteness to the taste. The presence of caloric energy and sweetening properties are two common features shared by all caloric sweeteners. This is a list of the most common caloric sweeteners.

SUGAR: Granulated table sugar is the most commonly used caloric sweetener. Chemically, table sugar is half glucose and half fructose. Most people aren’t aware that table sugar is half fructose. The presence of two different molecules, glucose and fructose, is why table sugar is referred to as a disaccharide. The prefix “di” means two. The suffix “saccharide” comes from the Latin word zuccarum or Arabic word sukkar, which both mean sugar. Once sugar is digested and appears in your blood, it’s called glucose or blood sugar.

imagesThere are several types of sugar and many names for sugar. These include sucrose, raw sugar, organic sugar, brown sugar, confectioner’s sugar, crystallized sugar, refined sugar, turbinado sugar, cane sugar, invert sugar, dextrose and more. Every kind of sugar is made in the same way: by refining or processing sugar cane or beets. All types of sugar have relatively the same caloric content, the same glycemic index and the same impact on blood sugar and triglycerides. Sugar is sugar, no matter how brown or natural it may appear and no matter what the labeling on the package says.

Table sugar has a glycemic index around 60 (depending on who’s doing the measuring). Anything over 59 is considered a high score. That said, table sugar probably has a lower glycemic index than you might expect. Most people assume that sugar has a score of 100, which is the score for straight glucose. The lower score is due to the fact that fructose is NOT measured on the glycemic index and the presence of fructose actually lowers the glycemic index. This is why the glycemic index is such an imperfect and incomplete tool.

There are 16 calories in one teaspoon of sugar and 4 calories in one gram of sugar. Like all processed caloric sweeteners, table sugar has no fiber, no protective qualities and no nutritional value. It is not needed by the body and is not missed by the body after it’s been removed from the food supply.

HFCS1SYRUP: There are many different types of syrups including corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), maple syrup, rice syrup, agave syrup (or agave nectar), cane syrup. Like table sugar, all types of syrups are a combination of glucose and fructose, but the proportion of glucose to fructose varies based on the type syrup.

Syrups that have a very high fructose content, such as agave syrup, have a correspondingly low glycemic index. This gives the false impression that agave syrup and other high fructose products are a healthier choice for a sweetening agent. They’re not. Burn this into your mind and never forget it. Glucose raises blood sugar, which increases insulin production, which makes you fat and sick. Fructose increases production of triglycerides and LDL cholesterol, which makes you fat and sick. Glucose and fructose are both equally undesirable in large quantities.

High Fructose Corn Syrup was introduced into our food supply in 1978. It quickly became the most popular sweetening agent because it’s cheaper to produce than sugar and because it’s easier to integrate into products. Of course, people liked the sweet taste, too. The recipe for HFCS typically varies from 42% to 65% fructose. On rare occasions, the food manufacturer identifies the amount of fructose in the recipe by adding the percentage as an extension on the HFCS acronym. It would appear as HFCS-55 or HFCS-65 or HFCS-42.

The glycemic index of fructose varies depending on the amount of fructose in the recipe. HFCS-90, for example, has a low glycemic index of around 30. We already discussed how a high proportion of fructose drives down the glycemic index. HFCS-55 would have a glycemic index slightly lower than table sugar, around 58, which is considered moderately high. HFCS has exactly the same calories as table sugar, which is 4 calories per gram or 16 calories per teaspoon.

Syrups that are more viscous tend to have a slightly higher calorie count. Maple syrup, for example, is 17 about calories per teaspoon. Agave syrup is about 20 calories per teaspoon. Cane syrup also has about 20 calories per teaspoon.

MOLASSES: Molasses is a thick dark brown juice/syrup that’s a by-product of the sugar-refining process. The quality of molasses depends on the type of sugar-refining process used, whether the source of sugar is cane or beets, and the amount of sugar being extracted from the plant source. Molasses has a high mineral content of calcium, magnesium and iron. The term molasses is derived from the Latin word for honey, which is mel.

Molasses has a glycemic index around 58 or 60, which is a moderately high to high score. There are 20 calories in one teaspoon of molasses and 5 calories in one gram of molasses.

TREACLE: Treacle is another syrup made from sugar. It’s very similar to molasses, but about half as thick.

HONEY: Honey is a sweet, thick, fluid substance made from bees extracting nectar from flowers. The quality and viscosity of honey varies depending on the flower source, water content, temperature, pollution and dust. Honey contains many beneficial antioxidants and is 38% fructose, 31% glucose, 7% maltose and 17% water.

Honey has a glycemic index of 55, which is moderately high. There are 18 calories in one teaspoon of honey and 7 calories per gram.

MALTOSE: Also known as malt sugar, maltose is a disaccharide made from two glucose molecules which eventually create starch. Maltose is an important component in the brewing of beer. Multiple units of glucose can be linked to create maltodextrin, a maltose product that’s frequently used to add substance or filler to artificial sweeteners and to make them measure equal to sugar.

LACTOSE: Also known as milk sugar, lactose is found in milk and other dairy products. Lactose is a disaccharide made from glucose and galactose. The word lactose comes from the Latin word lactis, which means milk. People with lactose intolerance do not produce enough lactase, an enzyme in the small intestine, which is needed to digest lactose.

Sugar-Alcohol-ExplainedSUGAR ALCOHOLS: In laymen’s terms, a sugar alcohol can be thought of as a half-sugar. This is because most sugar alcohols typically have about half the sweetness and half the calories of sugar. So, for example, in terms of sweetness sugar alcohols are anywhere from 50% to 75% as sweet as sugar, and in terms of calories, they’re anywhere from 2.0 to 2.6 calories per gram instead of 4.

The name sugar alcohol reflects it’s a substance that partly resembles sugar and partly resembles alcohol, but it’s neither a sugar nor an alcohol. You cannot get drunk from consuming sugar alcohols, and it’s less likely you’ll get fat, either. Chemically, sugar alcohols are compounds known as “polyols,” and it’s easy to identify sugar alcohols because of the common “ol” ending. Popular sugar alcohols include erythritol, maltitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. Maltitol is typically used in No Sugar Added (NSA) foods. Erythritol and/or xylitol are sold in the grocery store as alternatives to sugar and are often the dominant ingredient in stevia blends.

Sugar alcohols are made from corn, some other starch or tree bark that’s been chemically treated with enzymes. The treated substance then undergoes either a hydrogenation process of a fermentation process. Most sugar alcohols are made through the hydrogenation process. Erythritol is the only sugar alcohol made through fermentation, and this is why it may cause less intestinal distress than the other sugar alcohols.

Intestinal distress is the politically correct term for having a laxative effect. This happens because sugar alcohols are not fully absorbed or digested by the body. Users report intestinal problems such as cramping, farting, pooping and extreme diarrhea. To prevent this, always observe the maximum recommended serving size and portions. Most likely, this will be under 2 ounces, but always read the package for specific guidance.

Like sugar and syrups, sugar alcohols are highly processed substances, but they can be legally be referred to as “natural” because they’re derived from a plant-based source. Keep in mind that use of the word “natural” has nothing to do with the amount of processing used to make the food.

Warning Notes:
1. Xylitol, one of the most popular sugar alcohols, is toxic to dogs.
2. Ethylene glycol and methanol are two non-consummable, highly toxic sugar alcohols that are used in antifreeze.

Maximum daily guidelines varies by gender and whether or not you want to lose weight.
For women: 25 grams of added caloric sweeteners per day
For men: 40 grams of added caloric sweeteners per day
For dieters: 15 grams of added caloric sweeteners per day

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