The truth about sweets

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The holiday season is coming up and that means more ‘sweet treats’ at gatherings. But there are additives in these ‘sweet treats’ that are not so sweet when it comes to your health…What do all these sweeteners mean? Which one is safer to consume?

The main types of sugar sweeteners are table sugar (also known as sucrose), high fructose corn syrup, Agave syrup, fruit juice, and honey. They are all primarily made up of two simple sugars called glucose and fructose. Fructose is perceived by the tongue as being 230% sweeter than glucose.

Table sugar is made up of 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Regular corn syrup has no fructose and isn’t very sweet so manufacturers chemically converted about half of the glucose into fructose and call it high fructose corn syrup. So the funny thing is that high fructose corn syrup doesn’t have more fructose than table sugar. Honey also has the same amount of fructose as table sugar as well while Agave syrup and apple and pear juice actually have more fructose than high fructose corn syrup.

Some recent evidence suggests that fructose causes more abdominal obesity than other sugars. Abdominal obesity isn’t as healthy as hip obesity because fat in that abdomen makes hormones that are not heart healthy. Average Americans get too much of both types of sugars in our diet currently.

There is a tradeoff. Juice has more calories per glass than soda and can actually pack on the pounds faster but they also have vitamins, minerals, and other healthy substances you don’t get in soda.   The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly believes there should be no juice for kids under 6 months of age and older kids should preferentially eat fruit instead of drinking juice to get the fiber. If you cannot eat fruit, limit the amount of juice to one 8-16 ounce glass a day before switching over to water.

Table: Percent of simple sugars from main sweeteners occurring as fructose or glucose.

Sugar Fructose Glucose Other sugars
Table Sugar 50% 50% 0
Honey 50% 44% 6%
Corn syrup 0 35% 0
High Fructose Corn Syrup-42 42% 53% 5%
High Fructose Corn Syrup-55 55% 41% 4%
Agave Syrup-42 55% 45% 0%
Agave Syrup-90 90% 10% 0%
Fruit Juices (Apple-Pear-Grape) ~70% ~30% 0%
Milk 0% 50% 50%

References: WebMD and Wikipedia


Michael White; Dept. Of Pharmacy Practice, UConn School Of Pharmacy