The skinny on sugars

High-fructose corn syrup versus table sugar.

Overall, Americans consume too much addedNUTRITION FACTS LABEL sugars from a variety of sources. By reducing the amount of sugar you consume, you will protect your immune system – which in turn will protect you from developing a wide variety of chronic diseases. The damaging effect of too much sugar in the diet contributes to weight gain, diabetes, impaired immune system and chronic diseases.

High-fructose corn syrup is a corn-based sweetener. It’s almost an equal blend of glucose and fructose and can be bought only by food manufacturers. The use of high-fructose corn syrup increased greatly around 1975 because of its low cost, and in the ensuing years it has replaced sucrose as the primary sweetener in processed foods.

High-fructose corn syrup and table sugar (sucrose) are similar in chemical composition. Both products are used as sweeteners. Both contain fructose and glucose and are metabolized in a similar way by the body. Each contributes the same amount of energy (four calories per gram or 16 calories per teaspoon).

Rather than basing all the focus on which sweetener is better or worse, it’s more important to know how to identify the amount of sugar found in, or added to foods. You must also consider your own dietary needs and restrictions by discussing with your physician.

Helpful tips

  • Read the “Nutrition Facts” panel. The line for sugar contains (both the natural and added types) total grams of sugar. Process foods may contain a high amount of added sugar.
  • Limit intake of honey, syrup and molasses, as these are very concentrated forms of sugar.
  • Be on the lookout for ‘added sugars,’ sweetening ingredients such as brown sugar, fruit nectar, cane juice, agave nectar, raw sugar or fruit juice concentrates.
  • Watch for ingredients ending in “ose,” such as maltose or sucrose, and high fructose corn syrup.
  • Take sugar (white and brown) off the table — out of sight, out of mind!
  • Be aware of the beverages you drink. Beverages have an effect on your weight and blood glucose. Zero calorie or very low calorie drinks such as; water, unsweetened teas, coffee, diet soda other low calorie drinks and drink mixes are best. To learn more about healthy beverage choices visit the American Diabetes Association – What Can I Drink?
  • Limit sugary desserts and snack foods.

Regarding chronic health factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease, there are dietary concerns surrounding all (natural sugars and high fructose corn syrup) sugar. For those with chronic conditions it is best to discuss dietary concerns with your physician.

To learn more about how sugar affects nutrition visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Carbohydrate page.

To learn more about dietary guidelines and chronic disease visit

To learn more about nutrition, health and health education programs visit the Michigan State University Extension Food & Health page.

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