While there are many types of sugars, some are sweet somethings, others are sweet nothings. Here are the more common sugars you will see in the ingredients list on a product label.
Knowing what they are and their nutritional value will help you make wiser choices.
Glucose is the simplest sugar and the most rapidly absorbed into
the bloodstream. Glucose is often called dextrose when it is added to foods. The
body eventually breaks down all sugars and carbohydrates into glucose, which is the
form in which sugar enters cells to be used for energy.
Sucrose (otherwise known as table sugar) is composed of one
molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose. This is the white sugar that
comes in many forms, such as powdered or granulated. It is usually made from
refining extracts of sugar beets or sugar cane.
Fructose is one of the main sugars found in fruits and honey. It is
often preferred to straight glucose and sucrose as an energy source, since it is
absorbed more slowly into the bloodstream and, therefore, has a less erratic effect on
blood sugar levels. It is a popular sweetener.
Lactose is the primary sugar in dairy products and is composed of
one molecule of glucose and one of galactose. Because of its galactose content, it is
more slowly absorbed into the bloodstream than pure glucose and is therefore more
blood-sugar-friendly. Unlike glucose, which is quickly and easily absorbed through
the intestines, lactose requires an enzyme in the intestines, lactase, to break down the
sugars and allow absorption. People who are lactose-intolerant don't produce enough lactase to break down milk sugars. The lactose
ferments, causing gas and diarrhea.
Maltose is composed of two molecules of glucose and is the
sugar found in barley malt and some cereals. The maltose in beer causes a rapid rise
in blood sugar.
Corn syrup is a sugar extracted from corn. Being extracted
from corn doesn't make it any healthier than ordinary table sugar. Syrups are really
sugar concentrates and one tablespoon of syrup, corn or maple, contains about twice
the amount of calories as a tablespoon of granulated sugar. While syrups do contain
traces of a few minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, iron, potassium, and sodium,
they essentially have the same nutritional value as sugar. Because corn syrup is
cheap to produce, it is the most popular sweetener for beverages, and even some
juices. Yet, because of its high calorie content, it is seldom found in diet drinks.
People who are allergic to corn should check labels carefully, since corn syrup will
trigger their allergies.
High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener
containing 40 to 90 percent fructose and a carbohydrate extract from corn. This is a
popular and inexpensive sweetener in cereals and sodas.
Molasses is a thick syrup, a byproduct of the sugar-refining
process. Yet, unlike ordinary table sugar, molasses contains other valuable nutrients
besides carbohydrates. The darker the molasses, the greater its nutritional value.
Blackstrap molasses, for example, is a valuable source
of calcium, iron, potassium, and also contains traces of B-vitamins.
Brown sugar is simply ordinary table sugar made brown by
adding molasses. Because of the added molasses, brown sugar contains a trace more
nutritional value than white sugar, but not enough to make it any more valuable as a
source of nutrients.
"Raw" sugar is more about a marketing gimmick than about a
nutritional difference. The term "raw" implies a more natural sugar. Yet, raw sugar
is nothing more than crystallized, refined white sugar with a touch of molasses left
in. Because raw sugar appears in larger crystals than the refined granules of ordinary
table sugar, it seems more healthful. But this belief has no basis in fact.