What role does sugar play in our diet?

What role does sugar play in our diet?

Article from MedicineNet.com

Sugar and its role in our diet has, indeed, become a controversial topic. Many have blamed the rise in overweight and obesity in our country on sugar. Our intake of sugar has increased, but so has our intake of artificial sweeteners. Are either or both to blame?

The dietary guidelines state that we are to choose beverages and foods to moderate our intake of sugars. Limiting your intake  or avoiding foods with high amounts of added sugars is the best way to control your intake. When reading the ingredients on a food label, you must read carefully. Ingredients are listed in order of the amount used in the product. When a product contains a large amount of sugar, it can be hidden in the ingredients by using lots of different kinds of sugar. For example, if the product has 1 cup of sugar and that was the highest ingredient, sugar would be listed as the first ingredient. This can be avoided by using smaller amounts of different sources of sugar and listing them lower in the ingredient list. Here are the most common sources of sugar found on food labels:

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn sweetener
  • Corn syrup
  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Fruit-juice concentrate
  • Glucose
  • High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Malt syrup
  • Molasses
  • Raw sugar
  • Sucrose
  • Syrup

The safety of our food and what goes in it is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). When you read the ingredients on your food labels you, will notice things that are not from your basic food groups. In the United States, sweeteners fall under the Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) list or as food additives.

What are nonnutritive sweeteners?

The use of nonnutritive sweeteners began with the need for cost reduction and continued on with the need for calorie reduction. It is interesting that artificial sweeteners were actually chemicals being developed for another purpose when the researcher tasted it and found that it was sweet. Between 1999 and 2004 more than 6,000 new products containing artificial sweeteners were launched. They are found in so many products now that people can be consuming them without even knowing it.

The names of the five FDA-approved nonnutritive sweeteners are saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, and neotame. The facts about the safety of these artificial sweeteners are not clear cut. There tends to be a split in the medical community for being for or against their use. Each side has compelling points and that is what you will read under the pros and cons.

Next weeks, we will go into the pro’s and cons.

What are sugar alcohols?
Sugar and sugar alcohols are each considered nutritive sweeteners because they provide calories when consumed. Sugar alcohols, or polyols, contain fewer calories than sugar. Sugar provides 4 kcal/gram, and sugar alcohols provide an average of 2 kcal/gram (range from 1.5 kcal/gram to 3 kcal/gram). Contrary to their name, sugar alcohols are neither sugars nor alcohols. They are carbohydrates with structures that only resemble sugar and alcohol.

Foods that contain sugar alcohols can be labeled sugar-free because they replace full-calorie sugar sweeteners. Sugar alcohols naturally occur in many fruits and vegetables but are most widely consumed in sugar-free and reduced-sugar foods. The sweetness of sugar alcohols varies from 25% to 100% as sweet as table sugar (sucrose). The amount and kind being used will be dependant on the food. The following table lists the details on each of the sugar alcohols.

Sugar Alcohol Calories/Gram Sweetness Compared to Sucrose Sources
Sorbitol 2.6 50% to 70% Sugar-free hard and soft candies, chewing gum, flavored jam and jelly spreads, frozen foods, and baked goods
Mannitol 1.6 50% to 70% Chewing gum, hard and soft candies, flavored jam and jelly spreads, confections, and frostings
Xylitol 2.4 100% Chewing gum, hard candies, and pharmaceutical products
Erythritol 0.2 60% to 80% Confectionery and baked products, chewing gum, and some beverages
Isomalt 2.0 45% to 65% Hard and soft candies, ice cream, toffee, fudge, lollipops, wafers, and chewing gum
Lactitol 2.0 30% to 40% Chocolate, cookies and cakes, hard and soft candies, and frozen dairy desserts
Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH) 3.0 25% to 50% Sugar-free foods and candies, and low-calorie foods
Maltitol 2.1 90% Sugar-free chocolate, hard candies, chewing gum, baked goods, and ice cream
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