Marketing and a public relations campaign between manufacturers of two types of sweeteners leave many consumers confused about the health effects of each product.
Laura King, a registered dietitian at Western Baptist Hospital, said high fructose corn syrup has become a common ingredient in many products because of its low price. Cane sugar has become a less common option, but has returned to some products over concerns that corn syrup is harder for the body to process than sugar.
“One is not necessarily any healthier than the other,” King said.
Sandra Farthing, a registered dietitian at Lourdes, said the American Medical Association recognizes no studies that shows either sweetener is better or worse than the other.
“They’re just two different types of sugars,” Farthing said. “One is made from corn starch and converted to fructose and glucose. The other, table sugar, is sucrose. When the body consumes either, both get converted to glucose. In the end it’s same.”
King said the two products have little difference per serving in calories. A smaller amount of high fructose corn syrup is needed to sweeten a product. Both sugars are highly processed before being added to foods or sold as sweeteners.
“The American Heart Association says women should have no more than 100 calories of added sugar in their diets per day. That’s six teaspoons. It recommends no more than nine teaspoons or 150 calories for men. Now that can be the just one can of soda,” King said.
Farthing encouraged consumers to check food labels for nutritional information. While all foods contain some type of sugar, the amount can be important, plus the inclusion of fiber. In addition to digestive benefits, fiber also can lower cholesterol levels and causes a person to feel fuller faster. Exercise can also reduce the amount of sugar stored in the body. Even products promoted as sweetened with fruit juices contain the same type of sugar in HFCS, fructose. They do not have the fiber and other nutritionally needed substances as whole foods.
“Fresh fruits and vegetables are the best choices. I recommend carrots or even a small serving of corn as a better choice than candy,” Farthing said.
King said HFCS is found in some unexpected places. Salad dressings high in sugar or HFCS may add empty calories to a nutritious meal. She suggested vinegar is a better alternative. Some ketchups are also high in sweeteners, and should be eaten in moderation. While fast food restaurants have not eliminated some of the least-healthful meals, they are presenting some more healthful alternatives such as salads and fruit.
Farthing said artificial sugar substitutes do not come with a full understanding of their effects on human physiology. Some people experience an intolerance to artificial sweeteners.
“Soda is not a substitute for water or a small amount of juice,” Farthing said. “Water is best for hydration. Sodas are empty calories that can lead to wait gain. There is no nutritional value to diet soda.”