Everyone loves sweets, but it is important to know the different kinds of sugars you are eating.

There are two kinds of sugars: 1) nutritive, or naturally occurring; and 2) nonnutritive sweeteners, also called artificial sweeteners.

Nutritive or naturally occurring sugars:

Sucruose: Sucrose is the most well-known sugar, from which table sugar is derived. Sucrose comes from sugar beets or sugar cane. Sucrose is a macronutrient that provides a quick source of energy, provoking a rapid rise in blood glucose upon ingestion.

Fructose: Fruit sugar is called fructose. Natural sources of fructose include fruits, vegetables (including sugar cane), and honey. It is one and a half times as sweet as sucrose but has the same caloric content. It is absorbed very slowly and hence does not result in a rapid rise in blood sugar.

Lactose: Milk sugar is called lactose, naturally present in milk and milk products. Lactose is a large sugar molecule that is made up of two smaller sugar molecules, glucose and galactose.

Glucose: This is another naturally occurring sugar. It is found in fruits, some vegetables and honey. It results in a quick and significant rise in blood sugar. All the sugars taken in the food are converted to glucose in the body after digestion, and the body uses it as a source of energy.

Maltose: Malt sugar or maltose is the breakdown product of starches. It rapidly breaks down into glucose in the intestine.

Sugar alcohols, also known as polyols, are ingredients used as sweeteners and bulking agents. They occur naturally in foods and come from plant products such as fruits and berries. As a sugar substitute, they provide fewer calories (about a half to one-third less calories) than regular sugar.

Nonnutritive sweeteners:

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes that are calorie-free. They are derived from naturally occurring substances, including herbs or sugar itself.

In the United States, the following sugar substitutes have been approved for use. There is ongoing controversy over whether artificial sweetener usage at high doses poses health risks.

Saccharin is an artificial sweetener, and it has effectively no food energy and is much sweeter than sucrose, but has a bitter or metallic aftertaste, especially at high concentrations. Common sugar substitutes containing saccharine are SugarTwin, Sweet ‘N Low.

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener. The majority of ingested sucralose is not digested down by the body and therefore it is non-caloric. A common sugar substitute containing sucralose is Splenda.

Aspartame is a non-caloric artificial sweetener, approximately 200 times sweeter than sucrose. Equal, NutraSweet and Canderel are some of the common brand names of aspartame.

Acesulfame potassium or Acesulfame K is 180-200 times sweeter than sucrose. Like saccharin, it has a slightly bitter aftertaste, especially at high concentrations, commonly sold under brand names of Sunett and Sweet One.

Neotame is similar to aspartame; it’s made by NutraSweet and is 8,000 times sweeter than sugar.

Stevia derives from the subtropical/tropical herbs known as sweetleaf or sugarleaf. The leaf extracts can be more than 250 times sweeter than sugar but also have a bitter aftertaste.


About the author: Smitha Suresh, RD/LD, is a dietitian at Medical Center of McKinney.