Sweeteners come in many forms - table sugar, honey, corn syrup, aspartame, etc. - encompassing both natural sugars and artificial sweeteners. The word "sugar" refers to a carbohydrate group, including monosaccharides and disaccharides, whose names end with the chemical suffix "-ose".
Monosaccharides - also known as simple sugars - include glucose, fructose, and galactose.
- Glucose occurs naturally in plants, as a product of photosynthesis. Most of the carbohydrates we eat are converted to glucose by the body during digestion.
- Fructose is found in fruits, some vegetables, cane sugar, and honey. The sweetest sugar, it is commonly found in food products as a component of table sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
- Galactose makes up lactose (milk sugar) along with glucose.
Disaccharides are formed by combining two simple sugars, and include sucrose, maltose, and lactose.
- Sucrose comes from sugar cane and sugar beets, and can also occur naturally in other plants. Sucrose is formed by combining glucose with fructose.
- Maltose forms when grains germinate (especially barley), and consists of two glucose molecules.
- Lactose is naturally occurring milk sugar, and includes glucose and galactose.
Sugar alcohols are another type of naturally occurring sweetener, although they can also be manufactured. They are often used in place of table sugar in processed foods as a thickener or sweetener, sometimes in conjunction with an artificial sweetener since they are not naturally as sweet as table sugar.
Because sugar alcohols have a lesser effect on blood glucose than table sugar, they are popular as a sugar substitute in products for people on low-carb diets or diabetics. Common sugar alcohols include xylitol, sorbitol, glycol, erythritol, glycerol, and isomalt.
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic (man-made) sugar substitutes, although they can be derived from natural sources. They tend to be more intensely sweet than natural sugars, and are low- or no-calorie, making them popular with people monitoring their sugar intake.