FFE Magazine

How safe is your choice of sugar?

Brown sugar, white sugar, and artificial sweeteners are probably not new to you. Sachets of these are practically in every restaurant and café. The interesting part is that most of us cannot tell the difference between the sweeteners (besides their colours of course), and how each affects us.

The variety of sugars in the market is more confusing than ever. All differ in their appearance, taste, nutritional value, and claims of providing superior dietary benefits. Surely, they are all sugar but knowing which one to choosemight make a difference in your health and overall well-being.

To help you decide what sugar you should be using, here are some general facts about your common sweeteners.

White Sugar

> White sugar is the most commonly found in food and beverages, and the easiest sugar to produce.

> Also known as refined white sugar because it undergoes complete refinement process, where any unwanted substances are removed.

> White sugar is crystallized sucrose often extracted from sugar canes or sugar beets. When you consume sucrose, your body breaks it down, absorbs it immediately into your blood stream, and uses it for energy. This is a rapid process and the reason why you have a phrase called “sugar rush” – foods (donuts, ice cream, etc.) with high sucrose content can significantly increase your blood sugar.

> White sugar provides energy but has NO nutritional value. It does not contain any vitamins and its minerals (traces of iron, potassium, zinc, manganese, copper and selenium) are insufficient, making less than one percent of a person’s RDA or Recommended Dietary Allowance.

> A teaspoon of white sugar contains about 16 calories while 1/4 cup contains about 194 calories

> Two of the most popular white sugar varieties are granulated Sugar or table sugar, and lump sugar or sugar cubes. Granulated sugar is an all-purpose sugar that is easily measurable and quickly dissolves in liquids. Lump Sugar or sugar cubes, on the other hand, is regular white table sugar that has been pressed into lumps and held together by sugar syrup.

Brown Sugar

> Brown sugar is really just white sugar combined with a little amount of molasses (a dark and sweet byproduct when sucrose is extracted from sugar canes or sugar beets), which also gives brown sugar its distinct colour and rich flavour.

> Brown sugar is also not fully refined, or washed off its other substances.

> Due to the presence of molasses, brown sugar holds a slightly higher amount of minerals (calcium, potassium, copper, manganese, and iron) as compared to white sugar. However, these minerals are in miniscule amounts and provide no significant health benefits.

> Brown sugar also contains niacin and vitamin B6. One serving of brown sugar contains about 1% niacin, 2% vitamin B6.

> A teaspoon of brown sugar contains about 17 calories while 1/4 cup contains about 209 calories.

> Two of the most popular brown sugar varieties are Light Brown Sugar and Natural Brown sugar. Light brown sugar contains about 3.5% of molasses and is commonly used for baking. Natural Brown sugars contain most of the molasses residues left from the refining process. They are slightly larger sugar crystals with a coarser texture. Turbinado and Muscovado are some examples of natural brown sugars.

Artificial Sweeteners

*Artificial Sweeteners are synthetic substances used to replace the common sugars (white and brown). They are lesser in calories and thus are more fitted to those who have dietary restrictions.

*Artificial sweeteners may be found in commercially processed foods and beverages, or may be combined with other starch-based sweeteners.

*Artificial sweeteners do not cause blood sugar spikes.

*There are 5 types of artificial sweeteners, namely:

Acesulfame K – Acesulfame K or acesulfame potassium is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It has no calories because it is not metabolized or broken down by the body. Possible hazards related to acesulfame K is an increased risk to cancer since it contains the carcinogen methylene chloride. Studies have shown that long-term exposure to methylene chloride can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects and visual disturbances. Popular acesulfame K sweeteners include Sunett, Sweet One, and Sweet & Safe.

Aspartame – Aspartame is probably the most used artificial sweetener in the world, as well as the most controversial. It is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is broken down or metabolized by the body, thus containing four calories per gram when consumed. Since the 1980s, several studies have shown that there is a link between the consumption of aspartame and the generation of brain tumors, though nothing is conclusive. According to a 2001 study from Headache, the phenylalanine component in aspartame negatively affects neurotransmitters. That is why those prone to headaches and migraines are advised to avoid food and beverages with aspartame. Popular aspartame sweeteners include NutraSweet, Equal and Sugar Twin brands.

Neotame - Neotame is the newest artificial sweeteners in the market. It has the same components of aspartame but is about 40 times sweeter, and about 8,000 times sweeter than sugar. It can also be broken down by the body, but since only miniscule amounts of neotame is needed to act as a sweetener, it essentially provides no calories. Past studies have shown that neotame is even more dangerous than aspartame because it doubles its toxicity, though it has yet to be proven.

Saccharin – Saccharine’s sweetness ranges from 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar, depending on how it is used. Since it is approves as a dietary sweetener, its use is limited to beverages and tabletop products. Since it cannot be digested, it also holds no calories. In the 1970s, saccharin was associated with bladder cancer but has since been cleared safe for consumption. A popular saccharin sweetener includes Sweet ‘n Low.  

Sucralose – Sucralose probably has the closest taste to sugar than other artificial sweeteners. Succralose is partially made of natural sugar, and undergoes a process called chlorination (wherein chlorine atoms are added to natural sugar). It cannot be broken down and does not hold or provide calories. It is about 600 times sweeter than sugar. Studies have shown that succralose can be linked to cancer primarily because of the addition of chlorine atoms (chlorine is a carcinogen), yet nothing has been proven yet. A popular sucralose sweetener is Splenda.

Many consume artificial sweeteners thinking they are the healthier options because they contain minimal or no calories at all. However, studies have shown that when you give your body sweet food or beverages without the calories, your body craves and binges on the real sugar more. This is because artificial sweeteners do not signal the same satiety hormones as sugar.

So which sugar should you use?

White sugar and brown sugar are inherently the same.  With hundreds of studies over artificial sweeteners, no one can fully conclude if their benefits exceed their health risks and vice versa. The bottom line? Reduce your sugar intake. Sugar is sugar no matter what form it takes, and according to your recommended dietary allowance, your body only needs 30 grams or 6 tablespoons of sugar (for women) / 45 grams or 9 tablespoons of sugar (for men) a day anyway.


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