Sweeteners: The Good, the Bad and the Nasty
In an effort to reduce sugar consumption, many people reach for artificial sweeteners. The goal, oftentimes, is to lose weight or to simply reduce their dependence on sugar.
So it is surprising to many that artificial sweeteners do not accomplish either, and can actually harm these efforts.
Artificial sweeteners are, by definition, NOT natural, and not recognized by your body as “food.” The health problems associated with saccharine, aspartame, sucralose and other artificial sweeteners are many. But, there are other options!
Better Options: Natural Sweeteners
Too much sweetener – in any form – is not going to contribute to your wellness or fat loss efforts. However, there is certainly room for some of these natural options in a well-rounded, healthy diet (including options for diabetics):
- Raw Honey and Pure Molasses – always look for the raw, pure versions by reading the label; these are wonderful sugar substitutes in cooking, baking, and even in coffees and hot teas. They are all still sugars, so it’s not a free-for-all, but these are sweeteners as nature intended, and your body will recognize them as such.
NOTE: Agave Nectar – naturally-sourced and yet, NOT recommended. Agave has more fructose (90%) than high-fructose corn syrup (55%) and is usually highly processed at very high heats, thus making it a refined sugar with far fewer nutrients. Reach for any of these better options shown here, and don’t be deceived by the so-called “healthy snacks” made with agave nectar.
- Coconut Nectar– this was a delicious find! Coconut nectar comes from coconut trees. The process is a bit similar to that used in cultivating maple syrup, but with less processing. The sap is minimally processed at low temperatures and contains only 10% fructose. Coconut nectar does not have a coconutty taste, and I use it in place of syrup with paleo protein pancakes and other baked treats. It’s pricey, but one bottle lasts a very long time. And, it’s still sugar, so don’t freebase the stuff!
- Stevia – Stevia is actually an herb – you can buy the plant, or, like me, go for convenience and buy pure Stevia in powder (in packets) or liquid form. I use the liquid form, and rely on xylitol (see below) for baking/cooking. Stevia has a bitter taste if you use too much. Per the ADA, it is safe for diabetics. Make sure you pay attention to the brand, though – “Truvia” is owned by Coca-Cola, and some say it’s not nearly as pure as other brands, like NuNaturals.
- Xylitol– Despite the chemical-agent name, Xylitol is naturally found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables, as well as fibrous material such as corn husks and birch. Per the ADA, it is safe for diabetics. I buy mine in a bag like this one– it looks like sugar! – and use it for baking, cooking, even coffee. [And, by “baking,” of course, I mean, “assembling things that take no more then 5 minutes and then possibly heating them up.”] The point is, this stuff is useful in lots of ways and doesn’t have the bitterness of stevia.
For long term health, make the switch to real food, including real sweeteners!
If you want to know more about why you should avoid the fake stuff, read on…
Dr. Scott Olson, ND (www.ProHealth.com) provides these details:
Breaking Your Addiction
The first thing to know about artificial sweeteners is that they do nothing to break your addiction to sweet-tasting foods.
Sugar addicts are a unique group of addicts, in that they want to stop their addiction, but only if they have a good substitute. This is a little like recommending that an alcoholic drink non-alcoholic beer in order to break their habit. Most people see how silly that might be, but then still want a good sugar substitute.
What you need to know is this: Continually eating sweet foods will keep the craving for sugary foods alive. This means that any tempting sugar foods you run into (at the office, a birthday party…) are all fair game; and out the window goes the reason why you started using artificial sweeteners in the first place.
It has been shown that the use of artificial sweeteners can actually cause you to consume more calories than if you weren’t eating them in the first place.
The reason artificial sweeteners may be causing you to overeat is not clear, but it may be enough to understand that your body does not like to be tricked. Artificial sweeteners trick your body into believing that you are going to be eating foods, but you are not.
The most likely cause of overeating with artificial sweeteners is the body’s insulin response. Your body’s response to a sweet taste in your mouth is to release insulin. When insulin is released, it pushes blood sugar lower. This lowered blood sugar may be the root of the reason why you are more likely to eat more: lower blood sugar means you feel hungry.
Almost every artificial sweetener has been a by-product of chemical experiments where the person doing the experiments accidentally tasted the chemical they were working with and noticed it was sweet. These sweeteners are the byproduct of chemical experiments and are not a food. These sweeteners are new chemicals and our bodies are confused about what to do with them.
We normally talk about side effects of drugs, but artificial sweeteners also have side effects that range from headaches, to diarrhea, to neurological problems and a host of other symptoms. Aspartame alone was once the most complained about food additive on the planet.
Worse than side effects is the possibility that many of these artificial sweeteners have been linked to diseases. Saccharine may cause bladder cancer, aspartame is broken down in the body to methanol (a known toxin), and other artificial sweeteners are no better – and are under investigation for a variety of disease connections.
* Scott Olson, ND, is a naturopathic doctor specializing in nutritional medicine and diet. Dr. Olson’s research-based book Sugarettes: Sugar Addiction and Your Health – is now available on Amazon. To read more of his articles about sugar’s association with illness – as well as the first chapter of Sugarettes, visit his website (http://olsonnd.com)
Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is generic and is not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat or cure any illness, condition, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.