In addition to having a long history of safe use in foods and beverages, the safety of sugars has been extensively studied. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has examined information related to the safety of a number of sugars, including high fructose corn syrup (glucose, fructose) and maltodextrin (glucose), and has accepted them as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS).

Caloric sweeteners are carbohydrates, one of the macronutrients needed to sustain life (the others are proteins and fats). Nutritionally, a compound is considered a carbohydrate if it contains carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen and has twice as many hydrogen atoms as oxygen and carbon. In the diet, carbohydrates include a broad range of sugars, starches, and fiber, including those found in fruits, vegetables, grain foods, many dairy products, and caloric sweeteners. Like most carbohydrates, caloric sweeteners yield four calories (17 kilojoules) per gram.

During digestion, the body breaks down carbohydrates into their “simple” sugar components. Most starches break down into glucose, while the sugars in fruits, sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup have both glucose and fructose components. Once broken down, the glucose and fructose are absorbed into the bloodstream and transported to body cells to be used as energy. The body quickly moves absorbed glucose from the bloodstream into cells through the action of the hormone insulin. Fructose is usually converted to glucose in the liver and, unlike glucose, does not require insulin to be metabolized by the body. Glucose is the main energy source for the brain, central nervous system, and red blood cells. Glucose also can be stored as glycogen (animal starch) in the liver and muscle, or, like all excess calories in the body, converted to body fat.

The terms “added” and “naturally occurring” are sometimes used to differentiate the source of sugars found in foods and beverages. However, the body makes no such distinction during digestion, absorption and metabolism. The body cannot tell whether the source of the glucose and fructose it absorbs came from honey, maple syrup, a piece of fruit, a piece of sugar cane, table sugar, a cookie, a soft drink, or other food sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup.