On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Food Always Tops Supplements, No Matter the Form

DEAR DR. BLONZ: Is there an optimal form for a dietary supplement? Both my husband and I are over 60, and I was wondering if our bodies might better assimilate our daily vitamins and minerals from a capsule, tablet, gel cap, liquid or powder. -- S.I., Dallas

DEAR S.I.: "Food first" is the manta to be understood here. The overall quality of your diet is more important than the use of a product meant to "supplement" (not replace) what you eat. Once that concept has been digested and fully assimilated, the response to your question comes down to a matter of personal preference.

With few exceptions, taking supplements at mealtime makes sense, as there is all the churning and physical mixing of digesting a meal gives the vitamins ample opportunity to dissolve and be absorbed. I have heard that some people don't "trust" tablets because they feel they will pass through without dissolving, but reputable companies formulate their products to dissolve. If you have specific questions on that matter, put them to the company you are considering. Ask them to provide data on whether their pills, tablets, etc. will, in fact, dissolve when used as directed.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: My questions relate to caloric sweeteners. I read that fructose is sweeter than sucrose, so fewer grams of fructose are needed to achieve an equivalent sweet taste. Is this the case? What is the difference in sweetness between sugar, "invert" sugar, honey, agave and high-fructose corn syrup? -- K.E., Phoenix

DEAR K.E.: There are definite differences in the level of perceived sweetness between the various caloric sweeteners. Sucrose, or table sugar, is a double sugar, with each glucose bonded to a fructose. It gets broken apart during digestion by an enzyme. Sucrose serves as the sweetness standard, being assigned the relative sweetness value of 1.0. Fructose, also called fruit sugar, has a sweetness of 1.7, which means it is 70 percent sweeter than sucrose on a weight basis. So, when compared to sucrose, less fructose is needed to achieve an equivalent level of sweetness. The natural sweetness of fructose highlights one of the advantages of eating fresh fruits: You get plenty of sweetness per calorie, and you also get the other nutrients and phytochemicals found in the fruit.

Glucose by itself is less sweet than sucrose, having a relative sweetness of 0.7. Agave syrup has some glucose, but it is mostly fructose, so it will be sweeter than sucrose. Corn syrup is predominantly glucose; however, when being made into high-fructose corn syrup, a portion of it gets enzymatically changed into fructose. Invert sugar is sucrose that has been enzymatically split into its glucose and fructose components. It is similar to honey in that both are composed of equal parts glucose and fructose; however, with honey, those pieces are never linked together.

The similarity between invert sugar, honey, high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose is that they are all made up of glucose and fructose. The difference is that with all of these except sucrose, the glucose and fructose are not bound together. This affects the degree of sweetness, with the unbound glucose/fructose sweeteners having a relative sweetness of up to about 1.3, or 30 percent greater than that of sucrose.

Send questions to: "On Nutrition," Ed Blonz, c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.