Powdered sugar, also known as confectioners' sugar or icing sugar, is a finely ground sugar used in baking and desserts. It typically contains around 3% cornstarch to prevent clumping. While powdered sugar adds sweetness with relatively few calories, it provides little nutritional value.
Let's take a closer look at the nutrition facts and health effects of powdered sugar.
The main nutrients in powdered sugar are carbohydrates and sugar. A typical serving of 1/4 cup (30g) of powdered sugar contains:
- 120 calories
- 30g carbs - Mostly from sugar
- 29g sugar - Primarily sucrose with small amounts of glucose and fructose
- 0g protein
- 0g fat
- 0g fiber
- 0mg sodium
The calorie count can vary slightly between brands, ranging from 110-130 calories per serving. However, the carb, sugar, and micronutrient content is fairly consistent.
Powdered sugar is almost entirely made up of carbohydrates. A single serving provides over 100% of the Daily Value (DV) for added sugars. It contains no protein, fat, fiber, vitamins, or minerals.
Key Takeaway: Powdered sugar is high in calories and carbs but offers little nutritional value. A typical serving provides 120 calories, 30g carbs, and 29g sugar.
The main type of carbohydrate in powdered sugar is sucrose, which is a disaccharide made up of one glucose and one fructose molecule.
During digestion, enzymes break sucrose down into glucose and fructose. Glucose enters the bloodstream to be used for energy or stored as glycogen in muscles and liver. Fructose is processed by the liver and used for energy or converted into fat.
Powdered sugar also contains around 3% cornstarch, contributing additional carbohydrates and calories.
The glycemic index (GI) of pure sucrose sugar is 65, medium on the glycemic index. The GI of powdered sugar is slightly lower at around 60 since it contains a small amount of cornstarch.
Foods with a high GI cause faster and larger spikes in blood sugar compared to low GI foods. For people with diabetes, powdered sugar can cause greater fluctuations in blood glucose levels.
The main sweetening power of powdered sugar comes from sucrose. There are 4 grams of sucrose in every teaspoon of powdered sugar.
Sucrose is a disaccharide composed of one glucose and one fructose molecule joined together. It's found naturally in fruits, vegetables, and sugarcane juice. Powdered sugar is made by finely grinding granulated cane sugar until it's a fine, powdery texture.
Powdered sugar contains around 3% cornstarch to prevent caking and clumping. Cornstarch is a polysaccharide made of many glucose molecules bonded together. It's added to improve the texture rather than sweetness.
Aside from sucrose and cornstarch, powdered sugar has trace amounts of glucose and fructose as individual monosaccharides. When sucrose breaks down during digestion, it splits into these simple sugars.
Altogether, a typical single serving of powdered sugar provides 29 grams of sugar - primarily sucrose as table sugar.
Powdered sugar has negligible amounts of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other protective plant compounds:
- 0% DV for vitamins A, C, D, E, B vitamins
- 1% DV for calcium and iron
- 0-1% DV for minerals like potassium, zinc, and magnesium
The lack of micronutrients is because powdered sugar is highly refined. Processing strips away naturally occurring vitamins, minerals, and fiber found in sugar cane juice and molasses.
While the small amount of cornstarch provides a few extra carbs, it does not add any nutritional value.
Overall, powdered sugar should not be considered a source of important micronutrients. It primarily provides calories and sugar.
Effects on Health
Here are some of the ways powdered sugar may impact your health:
- Blood sugar spikes - The high glycemic index can rapidly increase blood glucose. This may be problematic for diabetics.
- Tooth decay - The sucrose sugars can damage tooth enamel and feed oral bacteria.
- Inflammation - Added sugars may increase inflammatory markers like CRP.
- Weight gain - The calories coupled with low satiety can lead to overeating and obesity.
- Fatty liver - Excess fructose from sugar is metabolized by the liver and may promote non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
That said, powdered sugar is not as harmful as high fructose corn syrup or sugar-sweetened beverages. Enjoying powdered sugar occasionally as part of a balanced diet is unlikely to have adverse effects in healthy people.
The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugars to no more than 6 tsp (25g) per day for women and 9 tsp (36g) for men. This allows room for sparing amounts of powdered sugar while keeping added sugar intake low overall.
Key Takeaway: Powdered sugar provides calories mainly from sucrose and has negligible micronutrients. It may negatively impact blood sugar, dental health, and liver health when consumed in excess.
Powdered Sugar Alternatives
Here are some alternatives that provide the sweetness of powdered sugar with less impact on blood sugar:
- Erythritol - Provides bulk and powdery texture with 0 calories and 0 glycemic impact.
- Monk fruit sugar - Contains antioxidants and has no effect on blood sugar.
- Stevia - Extracted from leaves, stevia is 200-350x sweeter than sugar with no calories or carbs.
- Xylitol - Sugar alcohol with 2.6 calories per gram and a glycemic index of 7.
- Allulose - Tastes identical to sugar with 90% fewer calories and low glycemic impact.
When swapping powdered sugar in recipes, you may need to adjust the dry ingredients to account for moisture and texture. Using a mix of erythritol and monk fruit sugar at a 1:1 ratio mimics powdered sugar the closest.
How To Reduce Powdered Sugar Intake
Here are some tips to lower your intake of powdered sugar:
- Use extracts like vanilla, almond, and maple to add flavor rather than just sweetness.
- Mix in cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and other spices to recipes.
- Replace up to 1⁄3 of the powdered sugar called for in recipes with lower-calorie alternatives.
- Opt for dark chocolate with 70% cocoa or higher since it's naturally less sweet.
- Choose fruit as dessert instead of sugar-laden baked goods.
- Avoid buying packaged snacks and desserts with powdered sugar coatings.
- Switch out frosting made with powdered sugar for whipped cream or fruit spreads on cakes.
- Satisfy a sweet craving with a square of quality dark chocolate rather than a sugar overload.
Moderating your intake of refined sugars like powdered sugar can help control calories, stabilize blood sugar, and limit inflammation. But you don't necessarily have to avoid it completely if enjoyed in moderation as part of an overall healthy diet.
Is powdered sugar bad for you?
Powdered sugar is not inherently bad, but it lacks nutritional value beyond calories and carbs. Consuming large amounts can spike blood sugar, promote tooth decay and inflammation, and lead to overeating. But when used sparingly to add sweetness, powdered sugar is unlikely to be harmful.
Is powdered sugar inflammatory?
Powdered sugar has a high glycemic index, meaning it causes rapid spikes in blood glucose and insulin compared to complex carbs that break down slower. Some studies suggest frequent sugar spikes may increase systemic inflammation. But overall, powdered sugar consumed occasionally does not appear to significantly impact inflammation.
Does powdered sugar have carbs?
Yes, powdered sugar is almost entirely carbohydrates. A single serving of 1⁄4 cup provides 30g of carbs, making up nearly all of its 120 calories. 29g comes from various sugars like sucrose, glucose, and fructose. Around 3% comes from added cornstarch.
Is powdered sugar Keto-friendly?
Strict keto diets aim to keep daily net carbs under 20-50g per day. With 30g net carbs per serving, powdered sugar would use up the majority of the carb allowance on its own. There are some lower-carb powdered sugar substitutes made with erythritol that can be used sparingly on keto. But plain powdered sugar itself is not keto-friendly.
Is powdered sugar vegan?
Yes, plain powdered sugar without added ingredients is vegan. Traditional powdered sugar contains only granulated cane sugar ground into a fine powder combined with a small amount of cornstarch to prevent clumping. There are no animal-derived ingredients. However, some flavored powdered sugars may contain milk or egg products.
Powdered sugar is traditionally made from finely grinding granulated cane sugar and adding 3% cornstarch. It provides a sweet flavor with a powdery, smooth texture.
The nutrition facts reveal it is high in sugar and carbs that can spike blood glucose. But powdered sugar is unlikely to cause harm when enjoyed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.
Those looking to reduce calories, carbs, and blood sugar impact can use low-carb sweeteners as alternatives in baking recipes. Overall, being mindful of portion sizes of powdered sugar is key to balancing sweetness with nutrition goals.