Myths about Sugar and Sweeteners

Myth: eating sugars is bad for dieting and significantly reducing sugar intake leads to healthy weight loss
Some diets, such as the South Beach Diet and Atkins Diet, ask participants to severely limit carbohydrates. The low-carb craze has sparked a lot of controversies and many doctors have warned that low-carb diets can actually be dangerous.

Much of the weight initially lost on a low-carbohydrate diet is water weight, not fat loss. And often the weight is quickly regained as soon as dieters resume eating carbohydrates. Instead of chasing a quick fix from a trendy diet plan, it’s a better idea to focus on getting more exercise and eating less.

Slow and steady weight loss is more likely to be sustainable, and a moderate diet and exercise plan will help ensure the body still meets its daily nutrient needs. Cutting out too much food could lead to muscle loss. Staying consistent and balanced is key to reaching your weight goals.

Myth: all maple syrup is organic
Maple syrup has been produced the same way for centuries. First, a “tap” is inserted into a maple tree near the ground. Sap from the maple tree flows out through the tap and into a collection bucket. Because the sap is mostly water, it is then boiled until the water evaporates. The remaining liquid is maple syrup.

In order for maple syrup to be labeled organic, several criteria must be met that not all producers go through. Certain chemicals can’t be used in tree tapping or in managing the forests. The numbers of taps in a tree must also be limited so that the health of the trees can be sustained.

Myth: honey is less fattening and healthier than table sugar
Some people incorrectly believe that honey is healthier than table sugar or high fructose corn syrup. Honey contains trace amounts of amino acids, vitamins, and minerals that other sweeteners lack.

You would have to consume enormous amounts of honey on a regular basis to receive any significant benefit from these nutrients.

The truth is that honey, table sugar, and high fructose corn syrup all contain the same number of calories: four per gram. But because honey is denser, one tablespoon of honey contains more calories (64) than a tablespoon of granulated sugar (46).

Weight gain is, ultimately, a matter of “calories in” versus “calories out.” The balance (or imbalance) of energy determines weight gain or loss. If you eat too much honey, you will gain weight—just as you will if you eat too much table sugar, or too much of any other food.

Myth: eating “local” honey will get rid of seasonal allergies
The old wives’ tale that eating local honey will get rid of seasonal allergies comes from confusion about different kinds of pollens. The theory is that because bees use pollen to make honey, eating a little bit of local honey helps your body build a tolerance and avoid an allergic reaction to local pollen. This is not true.

The type of pollen that bees use to make honey is different from the kind of pollen that causes allergies. Bees use pollen from flowers, which is sticky and not blown around with the wind. Pollen from trees, grasses, and weeds is light and easily blown around—and that’s what makes you reach for the tissues every spring.

Myth: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is actually “high” in fructose
Corn syrup, like the kind you might find in your kitchen cabinet, is unlike table sugar because it contains no fructose. In order to make corn syrup taste more like the sugar we’re used to, scientists developed a method of naturally boosting the amount of fructose in corn syrup to make it comparable to table sugar.

Calling HFCS “high” in fructose is a misnomer because it has no more fructose than table sugar or honey. Specifically, there are two common types of HFCS (HFCS-55 & HFCS-42) that contain 55% fructose and 42% fructose, respectively. The remainder is made up of glucose.

For comparison, table sugar from sugar beets or sugar cane is composed of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose. HFCS-55 has a similar fructose ratio to honey.

Myth: overweight people tend to consume more sugar than lean people
Some research demonstrates that lean people actually eat more sugar (and less fat) than obese people. A 2005 study in Obesity Reviews found that in 91% of countries examined, overweight youth consumed sweets less frequently than normal-weight youth.

Myth: sugary sweeteners are “empty calories”
Fundamentally, all sweeteners are carbohydrates. Whenever we eat foods with carbohydrates, such as table sugar, honey, or a potato—the body breaks these foods down into usable energy.

Sugar itself generally has trace amounts of nutrients, but people rarely eat spoonfuls of sugar by itself. Sugars like glucose or fructose are often part of foods like fruits, which contain a variety of vitamins and other nutrients.

Myth: brown sugar, “sugar in the raw,” and honey are healthier than normal table sugar
Brown sugar is just white sugar with molasses. The added molasses does provide a few trace nutrients not found in white sugar, but these nutrients are too few to provide any nutritional benefit. The same is true for honey and its trace nutrients.

The simple truth is that sugar is sugar. All different kinds of sugar are broken down into simple molecules that the body uses as energy.

Myth: eating sugary sweeteners causes diabetes
Diabetes is the result of either the body not making enough insulin or of its cells not responding to insulin. The myth that eating too much sugar causes diabetes probably came from doctors ordering diabetic patients not to consume any sugar. However, the American Diabetes Association notes that “this is not true.”

Sugar is sugar. The body treats sugars all the same. Whether you eat a simpler sugar, such as fructose, or a more complex carbohydrate like starch, the body will digest them all the same.

Sugar is a basic fuel for the body. Consuming sugar in moderation is good for the body and is an easy source of energy. However, eating too much sugar (such as by eating too much of any food) can lead to weight gain.

Myth: sugary sweeteners are bad for your teeth
Almost any food left on your teeth for too long will lead to tooth decay over time. This includes candy, bread, and even fruit. The best way to prevent tooth decay is to practice good dental hygiene. Brush and floss twice a day and, of course, visit your dentist regularly.

Myth: some sugars are “more natural” than others
All major caloric sweeteners require some processing before use. This includes table sugar, honey, brown sugar, and high fructose corn syrup. After all, sugar cubes don’t grow on trees.

The Food and Drug Administration considers cane sugar, beet sugar, honey, and high fructose corn syrup “natural.,” meaning it contains nothing synthetic or artificial (including all sorts of color additives of any source) and nothing was added.

Myth: nutritive sweeteners can be easily replaced without significantly changing foods
Sugar does more than just make food sweet. Nutritive sweeteners (those with calories) are used for browning baked goods such as scones or bread. They give texture to candy and help keep food from going stale. Sugar can even help keep flowers fresh.

Along with being a source of quick energy, the American Dietetic Association recognizes that sugars add “taste, aroma, texture and color” to foods.

Nutritive sweeteners also act as a preservative, help bread dough to rise, cancel out harsh and bitter tastes in foods, and help foods retain their moisture. Replacing sugar in a recipe can lead to unexpected results, as many amateur chefs have discovered.

Myth: fructose in fruits means they’re bad for you
Apples and papayas actually contain a higher percentage of fructose than sweeteners like honey or high fructose corn syrup. But saying that fruits are bad for you would turn the food pyramid on its head. Along with modest amounts of sugar, fruits contain essential nutrients like vitamin C, fiber, and potassium.

Myth: molasses is better for you than other sweeteners
Molasses can be made from sugar beets or sugar cane, just like table sugar. The juice from the plants is pressed out and then boiled to create molasses.

Molasses is a source of vitamins and minerals such as calcium, potassium, and iron. But the amount of these nutrients in molasses is not significant enough to make a difference in your diet unless you eat an abnormal amount. If you eat too much molasses, of course, you will gain weight. The same goes for eating too much of any calorie-containing food.

Myth: sugars in fruit and fruit juices are “better for you” than sugars that come out of a bag or packet
Sugar Is Sugar. Our human body has the capacity to break down various carbohydrates and then produce the identical thing in our bloodstreams: glucose. All over the world, different sorts of sugar are used commonly. But as New York University nutritionist and author Dr. Marion Nestle admits, “the body can hardly tell them apart.”

Some fruit juices used “stripped juice” from grapes, pears, or apples. That juice is stripped of its flavor and is effectively sugar water added to other juices like raspberry or cranberry juice to boost their sweetness. Stripped juices are often found in so-called 100 percent fruit juice drinks.

Myth: the color of honey is an indication of its quality
The U.S. Department of Agriculture classifies Honey into seven categories by color: white, water-white, extra-white, white, amber, light-amber, extra-light amber, amber, and dark amber. Beekeepers use the Pfund grade to analyze the exact categories of their honey.

The color of honey is determined by the different flora that is used by the bees in making honey. Honey can become darker with storage or lighter after it granulates. The factors that are used for grading the quality of honey include the aroma, flavor, clarity, and absence of defects.

Generally, lighter kinds of honey have a milder flavor and darker kinds of honey have a bolder flavor, similar to the differences among maple syrups. The coloring is an indicator of the different tastes of honey, but it does not indicate quality. Some people enjoy dark beers more than light beers, just as some people enjoy the taste of dark (or light) honeys more than other kinds. It’s simply a matter of preference.

Myth: agave nectar is a byproduct of tequila production
This myth is interesting given the process for making tequila. Tequila is made by harvesting agave plants and pressing out the juices into vats. Then yeast is added to ferment the juice.

Tequila production uses juice from the blue agave, but agave nectar can come from the juices of other kinds of agave plants as well. Agave nectar is made by filtering the juice through enzymes and then heating it. This process is very different from the fermentation that results in a bottle of liquor. Unlike high fructose corn syrup or sugar, agave nectar is actually 70 percent fructose.

Myth: hereditary “fructose intolerance” is a serious illness similar to lactose intolerance, affecting millions of Americans
Hereditary fructose intolerance (HFI) is a serious hereditary disorder marked by an inability to digest fructose. HFI is a rare genetic condition affecting fewer than one in ten thousand people.

Lactose intolerance is the inability of the body to digest lactose, a common sugar found in milk. Lactose intolerance is also linked to genetics. Between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant–at least 1,000 times the number who have HFI—but most of those cases are extremely mild.

Myth: maple syrup producers make more “low quality” dark syrup because it costs less to produce

This myth comes from a misunderstanding of how maple syrup is produced. Maple syrup comes from “tapping” trees so that a syrupy liquid flows out and can be collected. Early in the sugaring season, the syrup is lighter. As the season continues and the days get warmer, the syrup becomes darker.

There’s no rule of thumb for how much light and dark syrup is produced in a season. Some seasons see mostly light syrup, while others see more dark syrup.

A key difference between dark and light maple syrups is the taste. Dark syrup has a bolder taste with more caramel flavor. It’s often used for cooking, baking, and flavoring special foods. Lighter syrups have a milder, more delicate flavor.

Myth: carob is healthier than chocolate
Carob comes from a Mediterranean tree and is often used to substitute chocolate. Carob powder is similar to cocoa powder.

Some people believe carob is a healthier alternative to chocolate. While carob is not containing theobromine (the chemical which js making chocolate toxic to our dogs) or caffeine. Carob does contain similar amounts of sugar, calories and saturated fat compared to chocolate.

Whichever you choose to eat, it’s important to remember that both carob and chocolate should be consumed in moderation.