Myths and Truths About Sweeteners (Part 2)

November 22, 2010

Last week I shared with you some of the top 10 sweeteners myths and I set the record straight with the facts. Here are the rest of the top 10 list.

  1. High fructose corn syrup is much worse for the body than table sugar (sucrose). This myth that some sugars are better for you than others has been disproved by many studies that have looked at the effect of sugars on levels of blood glucose,  insulin, ghrelin (a hormone that increases appetite), leptin (a hormone that decreases appetite), and triglycerides. The result: there were no significant differences in the metabolic effects of HFCS and sugar.
  2. Foods sweetened with sugar are healthier than foods with HFCS. As I mentioned in last week’s post, HFCS and sucrose are nearly identical in composition — ~50% fructose and ~50% glucose. They both provide 4 calories/gram. Once they are absorbed into the bloodstream they deliver the same sugars within the same time frame and to the same metabolic pathways.
  3. Obesity is caused primarily by HFCS. This myth makes me crazy! In my opinion, no one thing is the primary cause of obesity. In fact, since 1970, energy (calorie) intake has increased by 515 calories/day, whereas sweetener intake has only increased by 58 calories/day. Clearly sweeteners do not deserve all of the blame. Most of the increased calories come from added fats, flour, and cereal products. Keep in mind that weight gain is due to the imbalance of calories in vs. calories out. We need healthier diets, but people also need to get up and exercise!
  4. Sugar is natural, other sweeteners are too processed. Table sugar comes from sugar canes, beet sugar comes from beets, HFCS (now being called corn sugar) comes from corn, etc. All of these are natural, unprocessed ingredients.
  5. The body does not handle all sugars the same way. Experts agree that all sugars are nutritionally the same and that the body handles them in the same way. Multiple studies in 2007 tested the effect of beverages sweetened with sucrose and HFCS on fullness and found that the effect was similar for both beverages.

The bottom line from these myths is that sweeteners are all relatively equal and one should not be deemed worse or better than another. Sweetened foods should be enjoyed in moderation and the primary focus of one’s healthy diet should be fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.

Has your opinion of sweeteners changed from reading these myths and truths?

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  1. I echo your frustration with people saying HFCS causes obesity! If we replaced all HFCS with sugar, do people really think the obesity epidemic would be cured? It’s all about moderation. Thanks for the very informative post.

  2. Nice job! What great information. Now will you do something about the virtues of 100% juice? If I have one more person – especially the media – say juice is not good “because of all that sugar,” I’m gonna scream.

    1. Thanks Pat! These topics cause so much confusion for consumers. When will people stop with the “bad” vs “good”? I really wish that the food labels would be changed to separate out sugar into added and natural sugar – this way when it comes to juice, people can see what they are getting.

  3. Hi Jessica
    I’m sorry, I’m on the opposite side of the net.
    #2 .The CRA preaches that HFCS is compositionally the same as sucrose,
    with respect to the fructose:glucose ratio. Go to ADM’s website they
    make Cornsweet 90 which is essentially HFCS-90. This intensely sweet HFCS is used for direct human consumption. In a recent USC study, Dr. Goran’s team found that three different bottled sodas (Coke Pepsi, and Sprite) had 65% fructose. This represents 18% more fructose than the HFCS-55 they claim is used to sweeten soda. It would appearthe CRA is monkeying around with the %fructose. The average consumer is not aware of this and feels safeguarded when told that all sweeteners, HFCSs, honey, sucrose are nutritively equivalent, that they all have 4 cal/g. Unfortunately, our livers can tell the difference.
    Cynthia Papierniak, M.S.

    1. Cynthia,
      I respect what you are saying; however, there are multiple limitations to the USC study, starting with the fact that there were only 23 samples of sugar-sweetened beverages analyzed, each sample was only tested once, and they were all from one region (East LA). As I am sure you know, the larger the sample size and the more times a sample is tested, the more accurate the results will be. The bottom line of this study you mention is that more research needs to be done on this subject, and there are many more studies that show that the HFCS in foods and beverages is equivalent to table sugar.