A Complete Guide to Artificial Sweeteners

by Jackie Wicks

Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is even higher in fructose than high fructose corn syrup. A lot higher, usually. Agave nectar can run at 85-90% fructose, which means that only about 1 gram out of 10 can actually supply your body with energy usable right now! The other 9 grams out of 10 will be stored either as glycogen or fat. One teaspoon of agave nectar contains 7 grams of sugar, so for every teaspoon used, a little more than 6 grams are destined for storage.

Agave nectar is heralded as a “low-glycemic sweetener”, but that is solely because it has so little glucose in it. Only glucose affects our glycemic response–fructose does not promote the secretion of insulin. This doesn’t make it any healthier, and the fact is that it may be worse in the majority of cases. Glucose, once in the blood, at least has some chance to be oxidized for energy instead of being packed straight into storage!

Honey

The sugars in honey are about 50% fructose, 41% glucose, and 9% maltose, which is a disaccharide formed of two glucose molecules. When completely broken down, it is about 50% fructose and 50% glucose, which makes it similar in composition to table sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Honey has the benefit of containing trace amounts of plant pollen, which offer trace amounts of some minerals and possibly some relief from allergies. Despite this, honey is still not “healthy”. It is a better choice than the previous sweeteners in many cases, but your body will utilize the sugars in it the exact same as it will from any other sweetener.

Brown Rice Syrup

This sweetener is unusual. Rice contains no fructose, as it is not a fruit. All of its carbohydrates are formed of glucose. In whole-grain rice, that glucose is bound within starch and fiber. To make syrup out of it, rice is cultured in enzymes which break apart the complex carbohydrates into simple sugars. The resulting syrup is slightly less sweet than sugar.

Brown rice syrup is around 3% glucose, 45% maltose, and 52% maltotriose, which is a trisaccharide (three sugars) formed of three glucose molecules. Proponents of brown rice syrup argue that maltotriose is digested and absorbed more slowly than glucose or maltose, so brown rice syrup can sustain you longer. While it may not be digested at 30 calories per minute, it will almost certainly be completely absorbed within 20 minutes, so this is not the same sort of energy buffer as would be supplied by eating a meal of whole grain brown rice.

Because brown rice syrup is 100% glucose when broken down, all of the sugar consumed will be absorbed into the bloodstream, where it is possible it will be completely used for energy. Don’t forget, however, that fructose increases the energy utilization rate of glucose, so even if the fructose itself gets stored, more glucose will get used for energy. Since brown rice syrup has no fructose, the rate of energy usage will be slightly lower, making this a poor choice for resupplying energy while exercising, and only of possible benefit at any other time.

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