Book Review: The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 04 February 2015.
Tagged: artificial sweeteners, guides, nutrition, sugar, sugar substitutes, sweetener

Book Review:  The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners
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What’s the difference between muscovado, turbinado, demerara and rapadura sugars? Have you even heard of half of them? What is panela? And how is it different to evaporated cane juice? How can a white powdered sweetener like stevia or monkfruit that is produced in a factory be called ‘natural’? The answers to these sweet questions – and lots more - are in this great new book.

Everything sweet from Agave to Xylitol

I enjoyed reading ‘The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners’ by Alan Barclay, Claudia Shwide-Slavin and Philippa Sandall. I found it very thorough, with plenty of detail, nutrition facts and figures, and the odd wry comment to give the subject a touch of humour and even at times a little sarcasm. I learned a lot about the taste, history, use and nutrition of so many sweeteners from golden syrup to jaggery to palm sugar.

This not a book to read from cover to cover but more of a look-up reference guide to check something out quickly. With 185 A-to-Z entries from agave to xylitol and everything in between, it covers each sugar and sweetener in the same precise logical structure.

Well-organised entries

For example, for a shortish entry on high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), this book starts with the basic differences between corn syrup (made from maize or corn starch) and cane sugar. Then it details how HFCS differs from ordinary corn syrup and lists the three types of HFCS – HFCS-55, HFCS-42 and HFCS-90.

Next it tracks the rise in consumption of HFCS in the US since the 1970s, which has run parallel to the rise in obesity there up until 2000. Then it shows how HFCS is NOT used in Australia for food and beverage production so it’s unlikely to be factor in the obesity problem here.

Then, as for all sweeteners it covers, the book gives you the GI value or an estimate if the product has not been tested by the internationally accepted standardised method. Here they give a GI of 56 for HFCS-55 based on the GI of its two component sugars glucose and fructose.

Finally, if you don’t want to read the text, you can see the details of this sugar ‘at a glance’ with a brief bullet list of its component sugars, its sweetness relative to sucrose, its Calories per teaspoon and any health concerns. It also gives information on additive numbers and regulations for the sweeteners e.g. the sweetener xylitol has the additive number 967 or in EU countries E967.


Here is a brief list of the Contents contained in this book’s 279 pages:


Covers seeking sweetness, measuring and counting, a list of acronyms used and a run-down on the Glycemic Index (GI).

Part 1 A to Z

A to Z entries for sugars and sweeteners

This is the biggest section of the book, almost 200 pages. It covers absolutely every sugar (including unusual ones such as birch sugar, coconut sugar, date sugar, grape syrup or saba, honey, lucuma, panela, pomegranate molasses, rice malt syrup) as well as sweeteners (such as stevia, monkfruit, aspartame, acesulfame or sucralose) and the sugar alcohols or polyols (such as xylitol, sorbitol, erythritol and mannitol) used in ‘diabetic-friendly’ chewing gum and lollies.

Part 2 Health Matters

Outlines how added sugar equals added calories digested

Health issues related to sugar e.g. diabetes

Special diets


Part 3 Test Kitchen

Two classic recipes are tested in a test kitchen substituting various sugars and sweeteners for cane sugar.


Appendix: Brand names of high-intensity sweeteners



The authors

The three authors are all experts in the GI and/or dietitians and so are well qualified to write about sugars and carbs. Alan Barclay has worked for Diabetes Australia and is a consultant and CSO of the Glycemic Index Foundation. Claudia Shwide-Slavin is a registered dietitian and diabetes educator in New York who has undertaken research into diabetes and sweeteners. Philippa Sandall was editor of the University of Sydney Human Nutrition unit’s GI News newsletter and co-authored several books on the Glucose Revolution.

The bottom line

I can see this comprehensive book making its way onto the shelves of every dietitian, chef, home science teacher and foodie. It is comprehensive and thorough in its coverage of 185 different sugars and sweeteners. With its easy-to-read layout and engaging non-judgemental text, I’m sure it will be turned to for help on all matters sweet and sugary. It’s not anti-sugar but makes it clear – sensibly and with evidence - that we would all do well to cut back though not necessarily cut it out.

Publisher: The Experiment Publishing, NY, USA

ISBN: 97816-15192168

Paperback: 279pp

Price: US$15.95 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indiebound, Powell’s &

Also available at the Book Depository here with free world-wide postage (Affiliate link) or Booktopia here.

Catherine Saxelby About the author

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