Sugar! It’s a hot topic. Are natural sugars better for you than artificial sugars? Is it okay to eat fruit? What are sugar alcohols and are they safe? All of these questions are legitimate; but sometimes, they can be a bit confusing to answer. There are many different types of sugar, and things mainly boil down to artificial versus natural sugars.
What is an artificial sugar?
According to The Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the two types of sugar are high-intensity sweeteners and sugar alcohols. High-intensity sweeteners are commonly used as sugar substitutes or sugar alternatives. These sweeteners are many times sweeter than sugar, while contributing few or no calories when added to foods. Six artificial sugars are currently approved by the FDA: saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose, neotame, and advantame. These sugars range from 200 to 20,000 times sweeter than sucrose or table sugar.
Sugar alcohols are the second type of artificial sugar. Some common examples of sugar alcohols are sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and erythritol. Sugar alcohols can also be used as a sugar substitute, but their sweetness level varies. Sugar alcohols can be 25 to 100 percent as sweet as sucrose. Typically, you can find these types of sugars in “sugar-free” products like gum, cough drops, beverages, and candies. Sugar alcohols are even lower in calories than high-intensity sweeteners. Moreover, the bacteria in the mouth are unable to metabolize sugar alcohols, so they do not promote tooth decay – the reason dentists recommend sugar-free gum.
Artificial sweeteners are generally well-tolerated by most individuals. In fact, even those with gastrointestinal symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea, or abdominal pain may tolerate artificial sugars. For individuals with congenital sucrase-isomaltase deficiency (CSID), more commonly known as sucrose intolerance, artificial sweeteners are generally well-tolerated because they don’t have sucrose in them.
When introducing an artificial sweetener, follow the general rule of start low and go slow. Add small amounts into your diet to see if you tolerate the sweetener. You may even notice that you tolerate one type of sweetener better than another.
While artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols are usually tolerated in those with gastrointestinal symptoms, for some, these sugars can cause gastrointestinal upset. For more information on how sugars are digested, click here.
What is a natural sugar?
Like artificial sugars, there are many different types of natural sugars. Naturally occurring sugars are found in various food products, including dairy, fruit, vegetables, and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice. Natural sugars are broken into two groups: monosaccharides and disaccharides. Monosaccharides are simple sugars that include fructose, galactose, and glucose. Disaccharides, or two-sugar molecules linked together, include sucrose, maltose, and lactose. Natural sugars are present in many foods, like the sugar found in oranges or the sweetness found in carrots. Sugars like glucose, fructose, and sucrose can also be added to food as an ingredient.
Some packaged products have sugars added to them. You can identify the sugars on the food label as ingredients like corn syrup, glucose, brown sugar, corn sugar, sucrose, fructose, maple syrup, molasses, or others. The human body breaks down all sugars into the simple molecule known as glucose, which can be used as energy or stored for later.
For an individual with gastrointestinal symptoms like chronic diarrhea, gas and bloating, or abdominal pain, the sugars known as glucose, fructose, and lactose are usually well-tolerated. But the sugars known as sucrose and maltose can cause symptoms. If an individual is unable to tolerate sugars like sucrose and maltose, they may have CSID and follow a low-sucrose diet on the advice of their physician.
Artificial sugars and natural sugars both have advantages and disadvantages. Those individuals with gastrointestinal symptoms need to pay close attention to how their bodies react to these sugars and consult their physician if they suspect they have a disorder caused by either of these two types of sugar.
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