What is the difference between the various sweeteners out there? What does it mean when sugars are “naturally occurring” or “added”? See below for our sweet review of sweeteners.
Starting with the basics – naturally occurring sugars are the ones that are found naturally in foods. For example – sugars found in fruits and dairy products. Added sugars include the sweet taste that is added to foods or drinks during processing or preparation of the product. For example – granulated sugar in coffee, brown sugar in cookies, honey in tea, maple syrup on pancakes, etc. The big difference between naturally occurring and added sugars is that the sugars found naturally in fruits, veggies, and dairy contain additional health benefits including vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants.
Is there a difference between the variety of added sweeteners? Or is sugar just sugar? Sugar has many different names that can appear on a food label: dextrose, brown sugar, powdered sugar, corn syrup, fructose, granulated sugar, nectars, and more – there are more than 50 names that notify customer that there is sugar in a product. From agave to maltodextrin, our body metabolizes sugar pretty much the same way. Overdoing your intake of any and all forms of sugar can increase your risk for diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. The newly updated nutrition facts panel now separates the grams of added sugars to help us identify the natural vs added sugars in our labeled food products.
Too much sugar could cause a spike in energy and then steep decline leaving you feeling sluggish, craving more sweets, headaches, and other signs of the “sugar blues.” Looking for a way to rid yourself of the blues? Try these tips:
- Read the Label: now that added sugars are called out, check out the product’s nutrition label and list of ingredients to see what you are consuming before you purchase it. Items like cereals, sauces, dressings, and yogurt can be a sneaky source of lots of added sugars.
- Go Whole: choose foods with less ingredients and jump on the whole food bandwagon. Try making your own granola bars or sauces at home, so you know exactly how much and what goes into them!
- Train your Tongue: don’t give up so quickly! Try unsweetened, or less sweetened items a few times before ruling them out.
- Focus on other Flavors: citrus, vanilla, cinnamon, and cocoa can add a subtle sweet taste without the added sugar.
We can’t forget to mention artificial sweeteners. There are six sugar substitutes that are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – acesulfame potassium, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, and stevia. Artificial sweeteners are chemicals that have been developed to be used in place of sucrose (table sugar) to sweeten foods and beverages. These artificial products are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, so only small quantities are needed, and contribute little energy intake. Regulatory agencies, like the FDA, set a level of Acceptable Daily Intake levels for each sweetener. This would be the highest amount of the sugar substitute that can be consumed safely over a person’s life without any negative effects. This amount will ultimately depend on each individual person and their medical information. The FDA also regulates these sweeteners and reviews them to declare them as “generally recognized as safe.” There are some health concerns when it comes to sugar substitutes, but research is being conducted.
All in all – yes, sugar is sugar. There are some better alternatives when it comes to sweetening your foods. Even though these sweeteners will metabolize the same way, try these options to add some sweetness with whole and natural ingredients:
- Very ripe fruits
- Date sugar
- Dried fruits
- Raw honey
- Pure maple syrup
What is your preferred sweetener?