The consumption of sweeteners in the United States increased from about 14 million tons in 1979 to about 22 million tons in 1999. Included in this category of sweeteners are sugar, corn sweeteners, honey, maple syrup, and other edible syrups. The per capita consumption of added sugars went from 27 teaspoons (108 grams) per person per day in 1970 to 32 teaspoons (128 grams) per person per day in 1996, according to U.S. food supply data. What is staggering to consider is that noncaloric sweeteners, such as aspartame and sucralose, are not included in these calculations.


Any nutrition or biochemistry book will tell you that “sugar” refers to many kinds of “caloric sweeteners”—caloric, because they have calories. Sucrose itself is a double sugar (disaccharide) composed of two single sugars (monosaccharides), one of them glucose (blood sugar) and the other fructose (fruit sugar). In sucrose, the glucose and fructose sugars are stuck together. In high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other sweeteners made from corn, the glucose and fructose are separate. Because enzymes in the digestive tract quickly split sucrose into its constituent sugars, your body can hardy tell the difference. Sucrose is common “refined” table sugar which is the product extracted from sugarcane and sugar beets.

Sucrose, fructose, and glucose are sugars. One or another of these sugars, singly or together, also show up in foods as dextrose (another name for the glucose derived from corn), fruit juice concentrates, honey, molasses, and, of course, high fructose corn syrup and other sweeteners. All are sugar(s).

Sucrose, maltose, and lactose are broken down into their constituent sugars in the small intestine. Glucose is the primary form of sugar that enters the bloodstream. In fact, most of the content of other sugars is converted to glucose at the surface of the intestine or in the liver. Complex carbohydrates, or starches, are composed of many simple sugars joined together by chemical bonds. These bonds can be linked in a serial chain, one after the other, as well as side to side, creating branches.

The more complex a carbohydrate is, the more slowly it is broken down. Some carbohydrates are complex in a way that the body cannot digest them. These carbohydrates are a major component of fiber and generally pass through the digestive tract unabsorbed. More and more research on heart disease, various forms of cancer and diabetes indicated that complex carbohydrates, including high fiber foods, should form a major part of the diet.


Bill Haney

In the Dominican Republic, a tropical island-nation, tourists flock to pristine beaches unaware that a few miles away thousands of dispossessed Haitians have toiled under armed-guard on plantations harvesting sugarcane, much of which ends up in U.S. kitchens. They work grueling hours and frequently lack decent housing, clean water, electricity, education or health care. Narrated by Paul Newman, The Price of Sugar follows Father Christopher Hartley, a charismatic Spanish priest, as he organizes some of this hemisphere's poorest people to fight for their basic human rights. This film raises key questions about where the products we consume originate and at what human cost they are produced.