Just when you thought you couldn't possibly memorize one more name for sugar, there's another to add to your vocabulary: invert sugar.
Making the occasional appearance on nutrition labels, invert sugar is a liquid sweetener used to maintain moisture in processed foods. But invert sugar isn't all that different than the sugar you have in your cabinet.
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What Is Invert Sugar?
If you've ever eaten flavored yogurt, ice cream or granola bars, chances are you've had some invert sugar. Invert sugar, also known as inverted sugar, is a liquid form of sugar added to many processed foods to help slow sugar crystallization and retain moisture, according to the Sugar Association.
Sugar inversion happens when standard table sugar (called sucrose) undergoes a chemical reaction with water called hydrolysis, says Shena Jaramillo, RD. Boiling sugar and water splits sucrose into its two components, glucose and fructose, making liquid or invert sugar. Glucose and fructose molecules are attached in standard sugar, while invert sugar is made up of split glucose and fructose molecules.
As with most forms of added sugar, invert sugar masquerades under a variety of names, including:
- Inverted sugar
- Invert sugar syrup
- Simple syrup
- Sugar syrup
Invert Sugar in Food
Invert sugar helps retain moisture in desserts and can be found in a variety of processed foods. It also dissolves well in liquid, making it more favorable for sweetening beverages like soda, Jaramillo says. Because it slows sugar crystallization, invert sugar can also deliver a smoother texture when it's added to food products. Invert sugar can also be used in place of other liquid forms of the sweet stuff, like corn syrup.
You may find invert sugar in:
- Pastries and baked goods
- Ice cream
- Flavored yogurt
- Flavored coffee
Read more: A Detox Plan to Kick Your Sugar Habit for Good
Invert Sugar vs. Table Sugar
Invert sugar actually isn't too different from standard table sugar. The biggest difference might be their forms: You'll find table sugar in granules, and invert sugar is a liquid.
Another difference is in taste: Invert sugar is a little bit sweeter than standard sugar, as it's higher in fructose, according to the Sugar Association. Generally, fructose is sweeter than glucose or sucrose.
Invert sugar clocks in pretty similarly to all other sugar when it comes to calories though, Jaramillo says. Standard sugar delivers about 15 calories per teaspoon (a teaspoon equals 4 grams), while most invert sugar has about 16.
Different brands of invert sugar have slightly different calorie counts:
Eating Added Sugar
All sugars you eat can be categorized as either naturally occurring or added, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). Naturally occurring sugars are, well, natural; they're found in foods like fruit (in the form of fructose) or milk (as lactose). On the other hand, added sugars are mixed in when foods are processed.
Added sugars show up on nutrition labels under an array of names, including invert sugar, high fructose corn syrup or molasses, among many others. Recognizing sugar in its various forms can help you make sure you're within the daily added sugar limit.
Women should stay below 6 teaspoons (around 24 grams) of added sugar per day, while men should aim for a maximum of 9 teaspoons (36 grams) per day, according to the AHA.
In moderate quantities, invert sugar, like all added sugars, can be a part of a balanced diet, Jaramillo says. But as much as possible, satisfy a sugar craving with natural sweets, like fresh fruit.
"It's certainly OK to have a tasty treat like sorbet, which frequently contains invert sugar, on occasion," she says. "However, opting for whole fruit will still give you a sweet treat while also providing plenty of antioxidants and fiber. Invert sugar will not provide the nutritional benefits that fruit can."