Sugar and Glycemic Index - Different Sweeteners Compared

Sugar and Glycemic Index - Different Sweeteners Compared

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Sugar and Glycemic Index - Different Sweeteners Compared

My particular view on sweeteners is that they are drugs that just so happen to be legal. Like many drugs, sugar isn't necessarily bad unless you consume too much. When you ingest sugar, it gets released into the bloodstream and your blood sugar level rises. Your pancreas then secretes insulin to stabilize this blood sugar level and excess much of the sugars get moved to the liver where it can be further processed or excreted with urine. The way in which your pancreas excretes insulin is called the insulin response and putting too much stress on it can wear it out. This can lead to things like weight gain and long term risks like diabetes and hypoglycemia if left unchecked.

Glycemic Index

It's a good idea to keep tabs not only on how much sweeteners you're consuming but the types of sweeteners you're consuming as well. Different sweeteners also have different densities of beneficial nutrients but the levels are too small to be of a substantial health benefit; you're far better off just not eating sugar if you're that concerned with minute amounts of nutrients. Sweeteners have different levels of glycemic index, or GI which is a measurement of how quickly they get incorporated into the bloodstream.
Glycemic Index is measured between 0 and 100 of how fast carbohydrates raise blood glucose levels. The faster carbohydrates break down and raise blood sugar, the higher the glycemic index. Low glycemic index foods are usually preferred because they raise blood sugar levels more slowly and are less detrimental to the insulin response. Foods that have a GI of 70 or more are considered to be high. 

The Agave Syrup issue

I said that "Low glycemic index foods are usually preferred". It's not as cut and dry as you may think. Looking at the chart, you may think that agave syrup is obviously a proper choice in regards to including it in your diet as a sweetener. Unfortunately, some sugars that are low on the GI scale are low because instead of getting processed in the lower intestine, like most sugars, they get processed by the liver like alcohol. Agave syrup falls in this category and the concern is that when it gets processed in the liver, the liver converts it to fat and places it in the bloodstream. Due to this, I don't recommend agave syrup as a sweetener. 

Learn more about the pitfalls of agave syrup.

Different sweeteners have different GI levels. Below is a chart to see where your favorite sweetener places on this scale.

Sweeteners and Glycemic Index

SweetenerGlycemic Index
Agave Syrup11*
Brown Rice Syrup25***
Barley Malt42***
Maple Syrup54*
Blackstrap Molasses55***
Corn Syrup75***
Turbinado Sugar65***
White Sugar80***
High Fructose Corn Syrup87***

*These values are gathered from University of Sydney's Glycemic Index Database at
**These values are gathered from
***These values are gathered from

Note the high GI of high fructose corn syrup. As of this writing, an increasing number of prepared foods are including high fructose corn syrup due to its affordability. Due to its high GI most health professionals recommend reducing high fructose corn syrup intake as much as possible.

Keep in mind that regular white sugar tends to have the best flavor in baked goods because it's the most neutral. Using a sweetener other than what a recipe was designed to use usually results in compromising flavor in the baked item. Turbinado sugar isn't as high as refined sugar on the GI scale and tends to not 'color' your baked item's sweetness profile too excessively. It's used frequently in my kitchen.

If you have a sweet tooth it's a good idea to reduce excess high glycemic foods in your diet when convenient, get plenty of exercise and pay attention to protein intake to balance blood sugar levels. Remember that both sugar and moderation are best used in moderation.

Lollipops by Dhammza via Flickr

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