The real deal on sugar and sweeteners
Feel guilty every time you enjoy something sweet? Do you think having diabetes equals no sugar? You are not alone. However, many scientific studies over the past 20 years clearly show that a moderate amount of sugar (e.g. 30–50 grams or 6–10 teaspoons a day) in diets for people with diabetes does not adversely affect blood glucose levels nor lead to unwanted weight gain. Keep in mind, however, that this moderate amount includes all sources of refined sugar you consume – white, brown, raw, treacle, golden syrup, soft drinks, desserts, cookies, breakfast cereals or a teaspoon of sugar added to a cup of tea or coffee.
The sugar veto for people with diabetes has helped create a huge market for alternative sweeteners from aspartame (Equal/Nutrasweet) to stevia. In the first of a three-part series, Dr Alan Barclay checks out the pros and cons of the tabletop sweeteners you will find in your supermarket (including sweeteners primarily used to sweeten low-calorie commercial products). This month he looks at nutritive sweeteners.
Nutritive sweeteners are simply those that provide some calories (kilojoules) and, as the name suggests, nutrients. Highly refined sweeteners like white sugar (sucrose or fructose) provide calories and carbohydrate but little else. Less refined sweeteners like raw sugar, Logicane™, honey, golden syrup, pure (100%) maple syrup and agave also provide small amounts of calcium, potassium and magnesium. These sweeteners provide around 4 grams of carbohydrate and 14 calories (60 kJ) per level teaspoon. Remember, small amounts do add up – particularly when included in soft drinks (6–8 teaspoons of sucrose per cup/250 mL/9 fl oz) and cordials (5–6 teaspoons of sucrose per cup).
GI values range from a low of 19 for fructose to a high of 100 for glucose. While the GI of a typical blended honey is similar to that of white sugar, some of the Australian pure native floral honeys like yellow box, red gum and iron bark honey do have low GI values (35, 46 and 48, respectively), but they are not always available. The new sugar Logicane™ has a much lower GI than regular white sugar (50), and most of the other nutritive sweeteners with the exception of fructose.
Table sugar or sucrose (white, raw or brown) is the second sweetest after fructose, is the best value for money and is the easiest to use in cooking. And because it generally has a lower GI than the refined flour, it can actually lower the GI of recipes for baking, especially if you choose Logicane™. However, it is much more expensive.
The sugar alcohols, such as sorbitol, mannitol and maltitol, are generally not as sweet as table sugar, provide fewer calories and have less impact on blood glucose levels. To overcome their lack of sweetness, food manufacturers usually combine them with non-nutritive sweeteners to keep the calorie count down and minimise the effect on blood glucose levels. However, most have a laxative effect and may cause wind and diarrhoea if consumed in large quantities.
Used in sensible quantities, fructose certainly rivals table sugar as a good all-round sweetener. It stands out from the crowd, being sweeter than sugar, providing the same number of calories, but having only one-third the GI. So you can use less fructose to achieve the same level of sweetness, and as a result, consume fewer calories and experience a much smaller rise in your blood glucose levels. Its main drawback is cost.
There is some evidence that moderate (less than 50 g, or 10 teaspoons, per day) to high (100 g, or 20 teaspoons, or more, per day) consumption of fructose can raise triglyceride levels and increase the risk of weight gain, but most people do not normally eat anywhere near this amount – even those living in the United States.
Click for a complete guide to nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners along with the brands that carry the GI Symbol.
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Dr Alan W Barclay, PhD
CSO, Glycemic Index Ltd
Phone: +61 2 9785 1037
Mob: +61 (0)416 111 046
Fax: +61 2 9785 1037