A sweet surprise from the science of sweeteners


The source from which sugar comes from determines whether or not the it’s bad for us. (Moyan Brenn/Creative Commons Flickr)

We all know that sugar is bad for us, especially in excess. This is supposedly the same stuff found in fruits and vegetables, but why is it so bad for us? In this edition we will be exploring the science and nutrition surrounding sweeteners that we have become all too familiar with as a country.

In recent years, the demonizing scope of the consumer has been locked on high fructose corn syrup, after it had its way with fat content. Ironically many studies show that unbalanced diets of sugar will make you put on more weight than fats, depending on their composition. But if all sugars have the same caloric input then why should we care what form they come in? We asked our Nutritionist friend Erin Kammerer practicing in Albany, New York to help clear up some of the common mistakes.

The sugar packets seen at restaurants are refined sugars which are made by extracting the sugar from plants like sugarcane and sugar beets. (Steve Snodgrass/Creative Commons Flickr)

Here is what she has to say about this common controversial confectionary tool: “Many people believe all sugars are created equal, but that’s not the case. All sugar is digested and used as fuel for the body, but not all sugar is digested or absorbed in the same way, it all depends on the source. Natural sugars are those that are found naturally in foods like dairy products (lactose) and fruits (fructose). These sugars come with extra nutritional benefits like vitamins, fiber, protein and antioxidants depending on the particular food. Refined sugars are made by extracting the sugar from plants like sugarcane and sugar beets. This sugar is the type you would find on the table at a restaurant and use in baking in your home. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) that you see in the vast majority of processed foods from the store is chemically produced from corn rather than being refined from sugar cane. Refined sugar and HFCS are often added to food products to increase sweetness and flavor, but adds nothing but calories to the food. They are quickly digested and released into the bloodstream, and often do not keep you full for longer because of this. In contrast, naturally occurring sugars take longer to break down because of their more complex chemical makeup and other components such as fiber and protein that often accompany them.”

These aspects have been researched much closer throughout the last decade due to the increase in diabetes and obesity in the citizens of our nation. According to Robert Lutsig, an authority on and advocate against processed sugars, the way that our bodies metabolize these sugars is the dangerous part. We can consume 100 calories of glucose in the form of starch from potatoes or bread or 100 calories from HFCS and the effects are very different.

Glucose is processed by every cell in the body, which is a more controlled release of energy as opposed to the fructose component of HFCS that is processed primarily by the liver. In liquid form, this can overwhelm the liver and causes it to convert most of that energy into fat. This also creates what is called insulin dependency, which has been speculated to be a huge component of heart disease and failure as well as diabetes and the beginnings of cancer, not to mention the addictive qualities of sugar.

So next time you go for something sweet, just be sure you know what is going into your body and how it can affect you. When it comes to commercial products, cane sugar is better than HFCS but processed sugars should be minimized as much as possible to maximize your longevity and overall health.

Dan Wood is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at daniel.wood@uconn.edu.

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