Know your sweetener: The myth of "added sugars"

Published online: Oct 11, 2013
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A family trip to the grocery store shouldn't require a degree in food science but sometimes it feels like it, especially for those looking to feed their family with natural products made with real food which would include sugar rather than alternative sweeteners.
 
With multiple sweeteners in the U.S. market, knowing what is used in foods and beverages can certainly be confusing. Most consumers do not know the majority of sweeteners and could not recognize most sweeteners if they read the label.
 
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's ChooseMyPlate.gov website, "Added sugars are sugars and syrups that are added to foods or beverages when they are processed or prepared. This does not include naturally occurring sugars such as those in milk and fruits." A wide and distinct range of sweeteners-from honey to corn syrup to dextrose to maltose-are grouped together under the term "added sugars." It is for this reason, and others, that the Sugar Association has long been on the record as objecting to use of the term "added sugars."
 
The term "added sugars" (commonly referenced as "sugars" or more erroneously as "sugar") is at best, confusing, but also misleading and without scientific justification.
 
That is because not all caloric sweeteners mingled together under the "added sugars" moniker are the same. Consider, for a moment the distinction between sucrose (authentic all-natural sugar) and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). The glucose and fructose in sucrose are naturally bonded together.  HFCS lacks this bond and consequently contains free fructose and free glucose. Sugar and the various formulations of HFCS are molecularly different-they are not the same product; yet HFCS and sucrose are treated as identical products under the "added sugars" designation.
 
The lumping together of sugar with other caloric sweeteners may explain why a recent Harris Interactive poll showed that 75 percent of parents believe U.S. sugar consumption has increased during the past 40 years when per capita sugar consumption actually dropped 35 percent to its lowest levels of the past century.
 
Compounding the problem is a rash of inaccurate, misleading media reports about all-natural sugar. These reports have continually misrepresented the facts surrounding several scientific studies, overlooked differences between all-natural sugar and man-made sweeteners, and ignored USDA data on sugar consumption.
 
Or are they just confused? Either way, we know that sugar has been safely consumed for decades.
 
In the eyes of some, there may be many "added sugars" or "added sweeteners" but we know that only sugar is really sugar.