#3 Sugar: The Truth about Sweeteners

Feb 12, 2014 | Nutrition


I know many of you know the problem with refined sugar (if not read here) but what are the alternatives?

There are SO many sweeteners out there – which one do you pick?

Scroll down to find out what to eat and what to avoid!


What Sweeteners Are Healthy (or not)?


The shops often sell these little boxes of ‘fruit sugar’ which makes it sound almost healthy because surely the fruit from sugar is healthy right? Well not exactly as this is just another form of highly processed fructose, and fructose when eaten in large amounts has a BAD effect on your cholesterol levels.

Cholesterol is a complex thing but from what I can gather we have different types that we need to have different levels of. A high intake of fructose causes an increase in our LDL cholesterol level which are the level we want to remain low. It is also not digested and processed in the same way glucose and some people/doctors believe it is more likely to make you obese/cause weight gain.

If you want to read more then read this as this goes into more depth about fructose specifically, but again it is one of those things that is fine in natural doses (like fructose found in actual fruit) but in the amount that is put into fizzy drinks and processed foods is harmful.


Aspartame (E951)

You have probably heard of this one, as it sometimes makes the news and it a bit controversial.

I personally think aspartame is bad for human consumption, and at 200 times sweeter than sugar is easy to see why the food industry love this chemical sweetener as it is super cheap to use and contains no ‘calories’. So people think that they are drinking/eating something that will not make them fat or harm their health.

Now to balance this out, there are many who say aspartame is completely safe as this BBC news article says.  I am personally pretty sceptical however as it would damage large companies like coke cola massively if one of their main (cheap)  ingredient was found to be toxic to our bodies would it not? Plus from the little I know of how food industries work, making products cheaper, longer lasting and quicker is their aim, not making people healthy and well.

Here is a list of studies relating to aspartame and the negative effects it has had on the animal or human body.

Aspartame is in most diet drinks, or anything that says it is sugar-free but actually tastes sweet. Read some labels and you will quickly see that it is in everything!

I personally would rather drink some real sugar than consume aspartame.


Agave Syrup

This is advertised as a healthy sugar alternative but it is not. It is basically a highly processed (mainly) fructose syrup that is not going to do you any favours! It has no nutritional benefit, isn’t really natural and some experts (like Dr Lustig) believe it to be no better than High Fructose Corn Syrup. Basically don’t waste your money on it.


Sugar Alcohols

These are sugars like sorbitol and basically are sweet alcohols that can’t be completely absorbed in your body which is why they often have a laxative effect if taken in excess. They still cause an insulin spike as the quote below shows.

Sugar alcohols can be identified by the commonality of “ol” at the end of their name, such as xylitol glucitol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, glycerol, and lactitol. They’re not as sweet as sugar, and they do contain fewer calories, but they’re not calorie-free. So don’t get confused by the “sugar-free” label on foods containing these sweeteners. 

One reason that sugar alcohols provide fewer calories than sugar is that they’re not completely absorbed into your body. Because of this, eating too many foods containing sugar alcohols can lead to abdominal gas and diarrhea. It’s also worth noting that maltitol, a commonly used sugar alcohol, spikes blood sugar almost as much as a starchy new potato. source

Again when you read labels you will find lots of sugar alcohols and I personally don’t think they are a great idea. If you suffer from any digestive or stomach issues, or in fact any health issues at all I wouldn’t recommend adding alcohol that can’t be digested into your body to further exacerbate the problem.

There is good research on xylitol specifically. One paper reviews that its supportive of ‘oral hygiene, stimulates the immune system, digestion, lipid and bone metabolism, helps in glycemic and obesity control and reduces ear and respiratory infections‘. So I do consume xylitol in small amounts and it works great in baking and this specific one often doesn’t impact people’s blood sugar. You can now buy it as some supermarkets or in bulk here.

Sucrose (Splenda )

This is often that crazily white and powdery stuff that diet clubs promote and is ‘just like sugar’ which as we have learned is NOT a good thing. This still cause an insulin release and studies show that sweeteners like this actually contribute to type 2 diabetes more than sugar does!

Sucralose (Splenda) is NOT a sugar, despite its sugar-like name and deceptive marketing slogan, “made from sugar.” It’s a chlorinated artificial sweetener in line with aspartame and saccharin, with detrimental health effects to match. source

So there you have a brief insider look at all those sugar alternatives out there.

Also it is worth noting that brown sugar, Demerara or any form of sugar (except muscovado or raw rapudura sugar) is often just bleached table sugar with molasses added back in for flavour and color. The best actual sugar option are raw black strap molasses, or raw rapudura cane sugar – but more on this next week!

What do I use then – you might cry!

Well I will go into more depth on this next week, but I sweeten things with foods that are 100% natural, raw and unprocessed. Maple Syrup (quality stuff), raw honey, fruit and I am experimenting with coconut palm sugar too and researching how this is made. There are also other option which I will share with you next week!

Also remember that these articles are not about putting the ‘fear’ in you. Having a fearful attitude towards food is one of the MOST harmful things we can cultivate in our lives. Fear does not help anything or anyone, but awareness, knowledge and empowered choices do.

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