Sugar: it seems like it’s the word on everyone’s lips nowadays.

Now, an encyclopaedic new compendium of all things sweet, from A – Z, has been published: The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners, by authors Alan Barclay, PhD; Philippa Sandall; and Claudia Shwide-Slavin, MS, RD, CDE.

Alan,a consultant dietitian who is currently Chief Scientific Officer at the Glycemic Index Foundation, says that what sets this reference guide apart is that it’s the most comprehensive and objective of its kind, while also remaining 100% evidence based.

“We are not trying to either glorify or demonise any particular sweetener, be it ‘naturally’ occurring or ‘artificial’, nutritive or non-nutritive,” notes Alan. “We simply provide the facts, so that individuals can make their own informed decisions about what is best for them.”

Read more in our exclusive Dietitian Connection interview conducted by Laura Byrne DC newsletter editor with Alan, where we ask him about the book’s origins, how dietitians can best leverage the guide – and his thoughts on the “extreme” messages about sugar currently in the media.

Dietitian Connection: What was your inspiration behind writing The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners?

Alan Barclay: The idea popped out when we (Alan and Guide co-author Philippa) were answering a question from a colleague who wrote to us at GI News.

Back in 2013, Chrissy Freer, author of the delicious Supergrains, quizzed us about rice syrup, as magazine editors kept asking her to use it in developing recipes for “healthier” baking. She asked, “Is it actually a ‘healthier’ alternative to sugar or just another fashionable sweetener being touted as sugar free and better for you?” So we wrote a piece for GI News about the current crop of celebrity sweeteners.

Enter our publisher Matthew Lore from The Experiment. He thought there could be a book in this, and encouraged us to expand our story into a comprehensive proposal for an A to Z guide to sugars and sweeteners. (Alan and Philippa brought in co-author Claudia to complete their team).

Once the seed was planted, we indeed felt there was a need to provide science-based information on carbohydrates in general, and sugars and sweeteners in particular.

And, of course, we believe that the focus on the magic bullet, simple “single nutrient” message is the wrong message. It is about overall healthy eating patterns and lifestyle and the enjoyment of good food. We can never get to good diets (or good health) one nutrient (or food) at a time.

We really like Brazil’s new dietary guidelines, which we think sums it all up in three universal golden rules that everybody in the world will benefit from following:

  • Make fresh and minimally processed foods the basis of your diet 
  • Use oils, fats, sugar and salt in moderation when preparing dishes and meals 
  • Limit consumption of ready-to-eat food and drink products.

DC: To the best of your knowledge, is this the first time a single resource on sugars & sweeteners has taken such a broad, global approach?

AB: Yes, we do think it’s a first. And we set out from Day One to make it international because that’s what books are nowadays, thanks to eBooks. In addition, GI News is international. We have a massive number of subscribers to our GI News blog in the US and Canada, and so we always think in terms of calories and kilojoules and metric and imperial measures. We intentionally brought on board a US dietitian (co-author Claudia) to ensure it was as appropriate for their market as it was for ours.

DC: How readily accessible are the many sugars and sweeteners listed in the book?

AB: Alternative sweeteners are becoming increasingly common as the hysteria around sugars in general, and sucrose and fructose, in particular, continues to grow. Many alternative nutritive sweeteners are becoming available in local supermarkets and “health food” shops, most can be purchased online, but we are not aware of one particular shop or website that sells them all.

Many of the non-nutritive sweeteners are only available as manufacturing ingredients – partly because they need to be blended in the right proportions, and often bulked up, to work effectively.

DC: Consumers are often deluged with extreme messaging about sugar nowadays. What are your thoughts on this?

AB: The one-nutrient-at a time approach has been proven wrong. The whole low fat debacle is proof that this approach is a mistake, and it’s a shame that some people have not learned from this.

It’s time we stopped looking for a single dietary scapegoat – the aetiology and management of obesity and its sequelae are complicated, and the whole dietary pattern (including alcoholic drinks) needs to be looked at, not just the bogey nutrient of the day. The radical messaging in the current swath of fad diets and so-called documentaries about sugars is based on poor science, and/or selective quotation of the science, and the authors are confused about total versus added sugars, the different kinds of sugars, and how much people are actually consuming.

We all know there is more than one way to eat well – the Asian diet is quite different from the Mediterranean diet for example with respect to carbohydrate and fat, yet both help people live to a ripe old age and avoid the development of chronic disease.

DC: What’s your advice to dietitians faced with clients who are confused over the role of sugar in the diet?

AB: WHO guidelines advise people to consume no more than 10% of energy from added/free sugars. We have provided a sample meal plan to help people see what this means in real terms. Basically it means it’s okay to have a moderate amount of added sugar as part of a healthy meal, but that foods and drinks high in added sugar (e.g., confectionery, cookies, cakes, desserts and regular soft drinks, etc…) should be saved for special occasions.

In the real world, there is no real reason to obsess over any particular kind of added sugars – if people consume them in moderation (as they should), it doesn’t make a huge difference health wise. It’s only if people consume large amounts of pure sugars on top of their regular healthy diet that health problems can arise.

For example, don’t consume more than 50 grams of pure added fructose per day, or your triglyceride levels will rise. But in the real world, who does anyway? It’s very hard to purchase fructose from supermarkets, it’s sickly sweet – and gives most people osmotic diarrhoea anyway!

As always, ask your patient what they are eating and drinking and if they do need to cut down on their added sugars intakes to reduce the glycaemic load of their diet and/or kilojoules, recommend a sweetener that suits their taste, budget and works with their particular cuisine. One size does not fit all, and variety is the spice of life!

DC: The &#822myth-busting” trivia and anecdotes about sugar you include in the book are both fascinating and often humourous. Can you share a favourite?

AB: In terms of the evolution of the human diet, the overall winner has to be the honeyguide bird. This mutually beneficial relationship is actually a story we have been covering in GI News for about 2 years, when Dr Alyssa Crittenden first published the research. The latest thinking, according to Yale anthropologist Dr Brian Wood, is that “an initial commensal association between hominins (Ardipithecus ramidus or an Australopithicine) and honeyguides arose in the Pliocene.” That’s 3 million years ago. We find this extraordinary.

And the process is fascinating to watch. The honeyguide eats the honeycomb wax and all — and is the only bird that can digest wax, as far as we know.

Related links:

·       BBC Talking to Strangers: honey birds

·       BBC Wildlife Humming birds – David Attenborough

DC: How can a dietitian make the best use of this book and its encyclopaedic information? 

AB: We recommend reading the introduction (pages vii – 12) first; then, their favourite / most talked about sweeteners in Part 1; and finally, the whole of Part 2 and Part 3. We didn’t necessarily think everyone would read Part 1 from A-Z, everything is there as a quick reference guide. We think if dietitians have a copy in their office they can answer just about any question about sweeteners that their patients can ask them.

DC: Can you recommend resources for dietitians who want to stay abreast of current factual, science-based news and research on sugars & sweeteners?

AB: We recommend our own website – – for the latest science on sugars and sweeteners. For general information about carbohydrates, we recommend our blog, GI News.

The Ultimate Guide to Sugars and Sweeteners (Barclay, Sandall and Shwide-Slavin) is available online now at Amazon, Book Depository and Booktopia, including in eBook and Kindle versions. The book will also be in Australian bookshops from late March.

View more about the book on the publisher’s page.