the Many Names of Sugar

Aug 27th

Sugar comes in many forms.  Sometimes we do not know there is sugar in things because they are disguised under names we do not recognize.  Some sugars are better than others.  Honey and pure Maple Syrup are believed to have vitamins, nutrients and antioxidants. Table sugar on the other hand has been highly processed and stripped of most of its nutrients. No matter what form you chose to use all of the types of sugar need to be used in small amounts.  I have included a list below of common sugar names that you might find in packaged foods and recipes.  Some will be familiar and some will not; Dextrose, Sorbitol, mannitol, malitol and xylitol and names we would not recognize off the bat. Xylitol for example shows up in chewing gums.  This list will help us all become better nutrition detectives and label readers.  What are my goto sources of sugar?  When I do use sugar I buy raw or locally produced Honey, pure Maple Syrup, unbleached organic cane sugar,  or Sugar in the Raw.  When baking, many recipes can swap out the sugar for natural apple sauce or dates.  I will still use the organic cane sugar in some baking when my kids just won’t go for the more natural sources but I limit items like muffins and scones so they are more of a treat than a staple.

Don’t we need a little sugar in our diets?  Yes, our bodies do need a little sugar to supply our glycogen stores for our body to function properly.  But, if we eat fruit and veggies, we get all the sugar our bodies needs.  Athletes need to replenish their Glycogen stores quicker and differently than most people.  This does not mean your 9 year old needs a big ol’Gatorade after they have played an hour of soccer.  A banana and water is still the best post sport recovery for the average kid.  High school and adult athletes are a discussion for another day.

So get familiar will all the names of sugar and gear up to live a healthier lifestyle!

Agave: Agave nectar is a sweetener commercially produced from several species of agave, including Agave tequilana and Agave salmiana. Agave syrup is sweeter than honey and tends to be less viscous. Agave doesn’t contain a lot of glucose, it contains more fructose than any other common sweetener.  People who eat a lot of agave are at risk for weight gain, especially belly fat. The second is that agave may actually increase insulin resistance for both diabetics and non-diabetics.

Brown sugar consists of sugar crystals contained in molasses syrup with natural flavor and color. Some refiners make brown sugar by adding syrup to refined white sugar. It is 91% to 96% sucrose.

Confectioner’s sugar, or powdered sugar, consists of finely ground sucrose crystals and mixed with a small amount of cornstarch.

Corn syrups, produced by the action of enzymes and/or acids on cornstarch, are the result of splitting starch. Three major producers’ contain 42%, 55% and 90% fructose. Dextrose comprises most of the remainder.

Dextrose, or glucose, is also known as corn sugar. It’s commercially made from starch by the action of heat and acids, or enzymes. It is sold blended with regular sugar.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener made from cornstarch. The amounts of fructose vary with the manufacturer. An enzyme-linked process increases the fructose content, thus making HFCS sweeter than regular corn syrup.

Honey is an invert sugar formed by an enzyme from nectar gathered by bees. Honey contains fructose, glucose, maltose and sucrose.

Invert sugar is a mixture of glucose and fructose. Invert sugar is formed by splitting sucrose in a process called inversion. This sugar prevents crystallization of cane sugar in candy making.

Lactose, or milk sugar, is made from whey and skim milk for commercial purposes. It occurs in the milk of mammals. The pharmaceutical industry is a primary user of prepared lactose

Levulose, or fructose, is a commercial sugar much sweeter than sucrose. Its sweetness actually depends on its physical form and how it’s used in cooking. Fructose, known as a fruit sugar, occurs naturally in many fruits.

Maple Syrup/Sugar: Maple sugar is what remains after the sap of the sugar maple is boiled for longer than is needed to create maple syrup Once almost all the water has been boiled off, all that is left is a solid sugar.  By composition, this sugar is about 90% sucrose, the remainder consisting of variable amounts of glucose and fructose.

Raw sugar consists of coarse, granulated crystals formed from the evaporation of sugar cane juice. Raw sugar contains impurities and cannot be sold in grocery stores due to FDA regulations.

Sorbitol, mannitol, malitol and xylitol are sugar alcohols or polyols. They occur naturally in fruits and are produced commercially from such sources as dextrose. Xylitol is a sugar alcohol made from a part of birch trees. Sorbitol, mannitol and malitol are about half as sweet as sucrose. Xylitol has a sweetness equal to sucrose.

Sucrose, or table sugar, from sugar cane or sugar beets consists of two simple sugars, glucose and fructose. It is about 99.9% pure and sold in either granulated or powdered form.

Turbinado sugar is raw sugar that goes through a refining process to remove impurities and most of the molasses. It is edible if processed under proper conditions; however, some samples in the past contained trace contaminants.


Adapted from Institute of Integrative Nutrition and Dietary Sugar and Alternative Sweeteners by Janice R. Herman, PhD, RD/LD, Nutrition Education Specialist

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