Sugar Rant

Monday’s question about malt syrup touched a nerve in me. Not the question, the syrup. Or rather, some of the people who buy the syrup. They’re not all care-free, life-loving baker types like you and me. Some of them are hard-core health-junkie sweet haters. So depending on who you happen run into there in the sweetener section at the co-op, you can be subject to an awful lot of chest thumping about the evils of table sugar.

So let’s look at sugar for a moment. Table sugar is known as sucrose. It’s a disaccharide, which means a molecule of sucrose is made up of two molecules of simpler sugars (in this case, one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose). It is considered by some to be the mother of all evil. It’s so simple a sugar, so the argument goes, that it’s absorbed too fast by the body, which causes sugar “highs” and “lows” and stress on the major organs.

Leave aside that there’s no real scientific evidence for this. Let’s now look at maltose, the primary sugar in “healthy” malt syrup. Some claim its “healthiness” lies in the fact that it is more complex than table sugar, which means that the body has to “do work” on it, which means that it is absorbed into the body at a slower rate. Nonsense. Maltose, like table sugar (sucrose) is a disaccharide. Just like sucrose, it’s made up of two molecules of simple sugar (in this case two molecules of glucose), which means that the body does no more “work” to break down a molecule of maltose than it does on a molecule of table sugar. More than that, according to health junkie logic, maltose may be even worse for you than table sugar, since after it’s sliced in two by hydrolysis, what you’re left with are two molecules of glucose, which the body soaks up in a nano-second. Table sugar breaks down into one molecule of glucose and one molecule of fructose, and fructose at least takes a little more time for the body to absorb.

Now, I wouldn’t pretend to be a biochemist (well, OK, yeah, I might pretend to be one, but only at one of my wife’s faculty cocktail parties, and then only if I was feeling really, really insecure), but it seems to me that maltose offers no real advantages for the metabolism.

My personal theory is that alternative sweetener types assume that malt syrup must be better for you because it doesn’t taste as sweet. If it doesn’t taste as sweet, there must be less sugar in it, right? Nope. Wrong again. Different sugars, because of the way their molecules are constructed, have different effects on our taste buds, but that doesn’t make them any less sugar. Pure fructose, for example, tastes about 20% sweeter than table sugar, while glucose tastes about 30% less sweet. Maltose, 55% less sweet. But regardless of whether you pour pure liquid fructose or simple healthy malt syrup on your pancakes, you’re still getting the very same amount of sugar.

So you see my conundrum. Whether to sit there and listen to another tirade about table sugar and the collapse of the human metabolism, or produce a roll of duct tape and shop, for once, in peace. What to do…what to do…

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