Refined sugar (sucrose), whether granulated or in cubes, is the type of sugar most commonly found in our store cupboards at home. Its white colour is due to the refining process which also unfortunately strips out many of its natural minerals and beneficial properties. Refined sugar is very high in calories.
As the name suggests, this kind of sugar is produced from cane sugar, a type of tropical grass. The cane is crushed to extract the juice which is then boiled down to a thick syrup, dried and pulverised. Although this process leads to the retention of important minerals and vitamins, these are present in very small quantities and do not really make the sugar into a significantly healthier product.
Many people regard honey as an almost magical substance. It is reputed to have anti-inflammatory properties and often used in hot tea to alleviate sore throats. While it's true that honey contains some minerals and enzymes, it also contains 80% sugar and should therefore be consumed in moderation.
The stevia plant from South America is reckoned to be the world's sweetest. What's really special about it, however, is that it contains no sugar and has zero calories. Since it tastes of liquorice, some people find it difficult to accept as a sugar substitute. It is available in its natural form as dried leaves but can also be bought in liquid, tablet or powder form. The industrial processes used to extract the sweetener from the leaves involve the use of a range of chemicals including aluminium salts. There is no consensus on whether the consumption of industrially produced stevia has any detrimental effect on the human body.
Fructose – sometimes referred to as fruit sugar – is present in its natural form in many fruits and vegetables. However, it is also produced artificially and used in a wide range of supermarket items because it is cheaper than ordinary sugar (sucrose). You should exercise caution when consuming foodstuffs which contain artificially produced fructose because in high concentrations it can cause problems in the digestive tract.
This is a white crystalline powder which is also sometimes referred to as birch sugar. Xylitol is often used in lozenges, chewing gum and toothpaste because it is thought to inhibit the development of caries. In high dosages, however, it can lead to flatulence as the sugar alcohol begins to ferment in the large intestine. It is also one of the most expensive types of sugar.
The ingredients of sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharine or cyclamate contain no calories are reckoned to be kind to teeth. They were developed to help people reduce their calorie intake without having to cut back on sweet treats. However, there is disagreement among experts on whether artificial sweeteners can have a carcinogenic effect. Sweeteners are also suspected of having a negative impact on intestinal flora.
The general rule is that individuals should try to keep their consumption of sweeteners and sugars to a minimum, even if one variety is allegedly healthier than another.