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Published: Tuesday, 4/18/2000

Sweet low-down on varietyies of sugar, substitutes

Just what is the skinny on sugar? There's white, brown, raw, or sugar substitutes - just how does one decide when to depart from refined sucrose?

I have been pondering that question ever since I received a sample of Grandma Kate's No-Sugar Sweetener with Coleen Howard's The Diabetic Dessert Cookbook.

"It is made from beet sugar," said the author in Boring, Ore. "The sugar portion is removed, which leaves the bulk (fiber), and then it is processed."

The sugar is enzymatically transformed into isomaltulose. It is then hydrogenated to produce Isomalt, a patented product produced in Germany, according to Mrs. Howard, whose recipes were tested with the product. It has no calories.

Isomalt had been sold to commercial bakers for years in 55-pound bulk packages, she said. Now she sells it by mail order in 12-ounce lots for $3.75. In this area, grocery stores such as Chief in Wauseon, Napoleon, and Defiance, and Ray's in Lima are carrying the product for about the same price.

Blade recipe tester Linda Deubner baked a basic oatmeal cookie with refined white sugar, Grandma Kate's No-Sugar Sweetener, and Florida Crystals, a light brown milled cane sugar, which has the same number of calories as sugar. The result was strikingly similar in all three.

As with many of these sugar substitutes, understanding what this product is and does calls for a scientific mind.

Sugar is processed from sugar beets or sugar cane. The extraction or purifying process separates the natural sugar stored in the cane stalk or beet root from the rest of the plant material. The Sugar Association considers the two chemically identical.

Raw sugar is the intermediate product in sugar cane production. It is tan and coarse, and requires further purification before it is used.

Brown sugar consists of sugar crystals coated in a molasses syrup with natural flavor and color. Turbinado sugar is raw sugar that has been refined to a light tan color.

Health food stores carry items such as Florida Crystals, sucanant, sorbitol (sugar substitute), Stevia (a supplement), turbinado, fructose (a byproduct of fruit or honey), lactose milk sugar, and organic sugar.

Whatever sugar or sugar substitute is used in baking, there are still calories and carbohydrates in the finished product, according to Laurie Bowers, registered diet technician at Defiance Hospital, where cookbook author Howard spoke last December.

"Consumers need to be cautious," said Ms. Bowers. "They need to ask, is the recipe is truly carbohydrate-free? We worry more about carbohydrate-counting today than sugar. We look at total carbohydrate, which incorporates sugar, carbohydrate, and starch. We check the amount of carbohydrate in each meal."

Into this mix is aspartame (Nutrasweet), which is used in soda pop, but not in cooking. Duane Jackson, buyer for the Chief and Ray's supermarkets, said Isomalt is similar to Splenda, which is found in Diet Royal Crown Cola. After perusing the diet pop varieties at a local supermarket, I found that Diet RC Cola was one of the few products not using aspartame.

"Splenda is a low-calorie sugar called Sucralose," said Gina Hollenweger of Royal Crown's consumer affairs department. "We decided to give consumers a second choice other than aspartame, which some people can't have for health reasons." Aspartame contains phenylalanine, which individuals with phenylketonuria (a genetic disorder that affects metabolism of phenylalanine) have to be cautious with.

The American Dietetic Association says that consumers can enjoy a range of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners when consumed in moderation with a nutritious diet.

Once again, reading labels is the only way to understand what you are purchasing. Ask questions and don't hesitate to use those toll-free phone numbers on labels to get answers.



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