Sugar, Juice, and Artificial Sweeteners


Sugar, Juice, and Artificial Sweeteners

Sugar, Juice, and Artificial Sweeteners

Many people know that eliminating sugar is healthy but are unsure whether artificial sweeteners are a harmless substitute.  While the only way to break a sweet-tooth or carb addiction is to remove the TASTE of sweet, you can make better choices when choosing to indulge in sweets.  Research is increasingly showing that all sugars are not created equal:  Fructose, rather than glucose, is the real concern for metabolic syndrome risk because it promotes fat accumulation in the liver.  Avoid concentrated fructose sources whenever possible and keep the following information in mind:

Agave Nectar:  Composed of 90% fructose and 10% glucose, this sweetener has a deceptively low Glycemic Index (GI is measured by blood GLUCOSE concentration).  Agave is worse than High-Fructose Corn Syrup; always avoid this sweetener.

Sucrose (table sugar):  Composed of 50% fructose, 50% glucose.  Refined, raises blood sugar and insulin sharply.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup:  Usually 55% fructose, 45% glucose.  The commercials are right; your body cannot distinguish between this sweetener and other refined sugars.  The problem lies in the quantity of HFCS used in processed foods and beverages.  Unlike glucose, fructose does not elicit satiety signals and following fructose consumption, the body does not recognize calories were taken in.  Therefore, calories consumed in later meals will remain the same.

Fruit Juice:  Gram for gram, fruit juice is more detrimental to your health than soda due to the fructose content.  Eat whole fruit rather than juice.

Honey:  Tastes just as sweet as sugar but contains only 82 g carbs/100 g sample (vs. 100 g carb/100 g for sucrose) and it is unrefined.  The composition varies based on where the honey comes from, but on average, honey is 17% water, 39% fructose, 31% glucose, 1 % sucrose, 9 % maltose and melicitose,  and 3 % ash/other.  Preliminary research suggests the fructose in honey is not as detrimental to the liver as fructose from HFCS or fruit juice.

Sugar substitutes:  Stevia, aspartame, sucralose (Splenda), saccharin, etc.  All these sweeteners are categorized by their sweetness factor, or how many times sweeter than sucrose they taste.  Stevia, for instance, has a sweetness factor of 250x, therefore it can be labeled as non-caloric because only a small amount is needed to achieve flavor.  Some people experience side-effects after consuming these sweeteners, such as headaches, nausea, etc.  Effects of long-term exposure have not been studied for any of these products therefore it is best to use occasionally in small quantities.

Sugar alcohols: Sorbitol, xylitol, malitol.  Similar taste and sweetness compared to sucrose with approximately half the calories.  Metabolized slowly, may cause bloating and diarrhea.

If you’re using small quantities as a sweetener, honey or a sugar substitute/alcohol are your best options.  If you occasionally cave to a soda craving, avoiding HFCS and going for the ‘diet’ variety is a better choice—as long as you drink it with something else that has calories.  Be aware that non-caloric sugar substitutes still elicit an insulin response.  The taste of sweetness is enough to trigger insulin release and, if you’re not consuming food along with it, hypoglycemia will occur followed by an increase in hunger.

by Jessica Kuzma MS,RD