What is Sugar? by PharmD Candidate V. Chyan


Carbohydrates, or sugars, are made up of molecules that are known as monosaccharides (mono=one, saccharide= sugar compound). These monosaccharides are simple sugars and consist of glucose, fructose, and galactose. The 3 molecules are the building blocks of carbohydrates. Glucose can be found in a variety of food and fruits and is primarily used in the body for energy. Fructose, or fruit sugars, is found in honey, fruits, and some vegetables. Galactose is primarily found in milk.

When two of these molecules link together, this is known as a disaccharide (di=two, saccharide=sugar compound).  An example of this is sucrose, which consists of glucose plus fructose. Sucrose is known as table sugar (beet, cane sugar). Lactose, which is glucose plus galactose, is found in milk products. Maltose, which is glucose plus glucose, is found in yeast-fermented products such as breads and brews.

Polysaccharides (poly=many, saccharide= sugar compound), or complex sugars, are formed when many simple sugar units are linked together. Examples of these include starch, dietary fibers, and glycogen. Starch is found in breads, pastas, rice, and potatoes. The dietary fibers include cellulose, and pectin. Cellulose is found in plant products like wheat, rice, vegetables, and rye. Pectin, another dietary fiber, is available in fruits, like citrus, and oats and beans. Glycogen, unlike other polysaccharides, is found in human and animal bodies. Glycogen is a storage sugar that is used in times when the body is low on glucose and energy.

Type of Sugar Examples Where found in nature
Simple Sugars (monosaccharides) Glucose Variety of foods, primary source of energy in human body
Fructose Fruit, honey, some vegetables
Galactose Dairy products
Disaccharides Sucose (glucose+fructose) Beet/cane sugars, table sugar
Lactose (glucose+galactose) Milk sugar
Maltose(glucose+glucose) Molasses, yeast-fermented breads and brews
Complex Sugars(Polysaccharides) Starch Potatoes, breads, pasta, rice
Cellulose Wheat, rye, rice, vegetables
Pectin Citrus, fruits, oats, beans
Glycogen Human and animal bodies(stored and made in liver)

Types of Sweeteners

Sweeteners are sugars that are added to edible products that may or may not already have natural sugars. There are generally 2 classes of sweeteners: nutritive and non-nutritive.

Nutritive sweeteners can provide nutrition or energy (calories). These sweeteners are usually mono and disaccharides and have 4 calories per gram. Examples include: corn syrup, agave nectar, honey, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, molasses, and maple syrup. Corn syrup is generally made up of glucose molecules. The difference between corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup is that high fructose corn syrup is made via chemical processing that converts the glucose molecules to fructose molecules. The end product is sweeter, which allows manufacturing companies to use less syrup to achieve the same sweetness.

Another nutritive sweetener group is sugar alcohols or polyols.  These provide anywhere from 1.5 to 3 calories per gram. Sugar alcohols have fewer calories because they are structurally different from normal sugar.  This means only some of the compound can be broken down or metabolized by the body. Therefore, the body cannot extract as much energy from it. Sugar alcohols do not contain ethyl alcohol which is found in alcoholic beverages.  Examples include: xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol, and maltitol. Products containing sugar alcohols include toothpaste, mouth washes, cough drops, chewing gums, and some candies.

Nutritive Sweeteners Calories per gram Examples
Mono and disaccharides 4 Corn syrup, molasses, honey, brown sugar, turbinado sugar, agave
Sugar alcohols 1.5-3 Xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, sorbitol


Non-nutritive sweeteners are artificially made and do not provide energy or calories. The reason why there are zero calories is because the structures of these sweeteners cannot be broken down by the body. This group is generally much sweeter than normal sugars. All sweeteners listed below are approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low®, Necta Sweet®, and Sweet Twin®), is one of the oldest artificial sweeteners ever made. It is in foods, beverages, pharmaceutical products, and gum. This sweetener is stable at baking temperatures and is around 200 to 700 times sweeter than normal sugar.

Acesulfame-K or acesulfame potassium (Sunett®, Sweet One®, Sweet & Safe®), is made up of organic acid and potassium. This is found in oral hygiene, pharmaceutical products, and boxed good packages. This sweetener is stable at baking temperatures and is 200 times sweeter than normal sugar.

Sucralose, or Splenda®, is made up of sucrose molecules that have been modified to contain chlorine molecules. The chlorine makes the body unable to break down the compound. This is found in a variety of beverages and foods. Sucralose is stable at baking temperatures and is 600 times sweeter than normal sugar.

Aspartame (NutraSweet®, Equal®, Sugar Twin®) consists of two amino acids which are building blocks of protein. These amino acids are aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Aspartame is found in food and beverage products but is however unstable at baking temperatures. Therefore it is not found in boxed baked goods or dry mixes. Products containing aspartame must have a warning label for people with phenylketonuria. Phenylketonuria is a genetic disorder where the body lacks the normal amount of a certain enzyme that breaks down phenylalanine. Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than normal sugar.

Neotame is a fairly new additive that is 7,000-13,000 times sweeter than normal sugar. Since it is new, it does not have a brand name. Neotame has a similar structure to aspartame except it contains very small insignificant amounts of phenylalanine. Therefore, neotame products do not need a warning label. Neotame is found in some packaged foods and beverages.

Stevia, or Truvia®, consists of stevioside molecules which are extracted from the Stevia rebaudiana, an herb from the chrysanthemum plant family. Stevia products are found in a variety of foods, beverages, and pharmaceutical products. This sweetener is stable at baking temperatures and is 10 to 15 times sweeter than sugar.

Non-nutritive Sweeteners Brand Names How much Sweeter than Sugar
Saccharin Sweet ‘N Low®, Sweet Twin®, Necta Sweet® 200-700 times
Acesulfame-K Sunett®, Sweet One®, Sweet & Safe® 200 times
Sucralose Splenda® 600 times
Stevia Truvia® 10-15 times
Aspartame NutraSweet®, Equal®, Sugar Twin® 200 times
Neotame No brand name 7,000-13,000 times







Are Artificial Sweeteners Safe?

There is some controversy that artificial sweeteners have been linked to cancer. However, in 2009, the National Cancer Institute found that there is no clear evidence or studies that show FDA-approved artificial sweeteners are associated with cancer risk in human beings.

What is used at Mixtures Pharmacy

Mixtures Pharmacy and Compounding Center mainly compounds with stevia, acesulfame-K, and regular table sugar. Here at the facility, xylitol is also sold but is not used in any of the compounding products. If you have more questions or concerns about the sugars used here, feel free to speak with one of the pharmacists.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *