In an effort to control the ‘sweet tooth’ and reduce sugars in their diet, many people are turning to sugar substitutes.
Many of the no calorie sweeteners appear healthy, but really are deceptive, often containing ingredients which are detrimental to health. With a plethora of choices on the market, I have rounded up short list of the top categories of sugars and sweeteners to help guide your choices, as seen on my segment on the WCNC Charlotte Today Show.
Sugar substitutes are food additives use to mimic the sweet taste of sugar, without and calories. I have divided them into three categories and focused on the types most commonly found in foods and commercial products.
Three categories of sugar substitutes:
- Artificial sweeteners and Sucralose
- Sugar Alcohols
- Natural sweeteners
These are the category of sweeteners chemically derived entirely from artificial sources in a laboratory setting and are the absolute worst of all things sweet!
Many of these ‘old school’ sweeteners have been around for decades; they have no nutritional value and numerous studies show how detrimental they are to health. Quite frankly, I am amazed they are still on the market, and should be avoided at all costs!
The most common of these chemical sweeteners is aspartame, saccharin and acesulfame K. Not only are these available as brand name sweeteners, but are also included in products such candies, chewing gum, soda, medications, vitamins and toothpaste.
Aspartame for example is a neurotoxin, as numerous studies have shown it can impair memory and increase neurotoxins in the brain. (1.) Pregnant or breast feeding? You will want to avoid this sweetener at all costs, as numerous studies have shown that aspartame consumption sets up the infant for a metabolic disorder later in life. (2.)
- Acesulfame K (Sunnette, Sweet Safe)
- Aspartame (Equal/NutraSweet)
- Advantame, contains phenylalanine, found in candies and gums
- Neotame, not used in foods often
- Saccarin (Sweet’N Low)
- Cyclamates, used in pharmaceuticals and manufactured goods
- D-Tagatose (Sugaree)
The next product, sucralose really is a category of its own, and a prime example of a sugar substitute derived from a natural source, that is so chemically altered that it no longer resembles a natural product.
Derived from sugar, through a multi-step process a substance is created that is 600 time sweeter than sugar and cannot be absorbed by the human body, the most common brand is Splenda.
Unfortunately, the damaging health effects of this product are numerous, it has been shown to metabolize and accumulate in the fat cells (making you gain weight!), cause liver damage, detrimental to gut health and so much more. (3)
Recently, a version of Splenda is available with added fiber, and packaging alluding to a ‘natural’ product with health benefits, in effect ‘greenwashing’ the product, making it appear healthy when it is in fact not. The corn fiber is most likely from GMO corn, and maltodextrin is a corn derived starch commonly used as a thickener, filler or preservative, that can have the side effect of digestive upset.
Sugar alcohols are derived from fruits and berries where the carbohydrate has been altered through a chemical process. The sugar alcohols commonly found in foods are erythritol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, xylitol, isomalt, and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH).
Sugar alcohols are not well absorbed by the small intestine (4), so fewer calories enter the body. The downside is that these products may have a laxative effect and disrupt the gut ecology; those with digestive conditions should be cautious of foods containing sugar alcohols.
Xylitol- Corn vs Birch derived; popular notion prevailed that xylitol derived from the birch tree was superior to that derived from the corn husk. Research (5) has shown that the end product is molecularly exactly the same. The proteins from the corn product do not remain in the end product, which alleviates fears of allergies.
Natural sugar substitutes are derived from compounds extracted from fruits and vegetables. The term ‘natural’ origin can be a little misleading, as this does not necessarily mean these are healthy, depending on the chemical synthesis used in the process.
From the remote mountains of Southern China, comes this small melon like fruit, named ‘Monkfruit’ after the Buddhist monks who first cultivated the plant over 800 years ago.(6)
Monkfruit is 150 to 200 times sweeter than sugar and has zero impact on blood sugar levels. At this time, no adverse effects cans be found, some report an unpleasant aftertaste if used in larger quantities.
I have found monk fruit to yield the best results of all non-nutritive sweeteners, when used in small amounts. Most monk fruit products on the market are packaged with erythritol, Smart Monk have products made with 100% monk fruit, which I used in my Coconut Avocado Key Lime Pie recipe.
Stevia is processed from the dried leaf of the stevia plant and is 250 times sweeter than sugar. In large quantities it can have a bitter aftertaste, I recommend using it with a touch of honey or maple syrup to cut down the overall sugar load and diminish the taste. Be wary of stevia blends, many of them contain sugar alcohols, the packaging my appear deceivingly healthy’!
My stevia brand of choice is Sweetleaf stevia, with no added sugar alcohols.
Whichever sweetener you choose, remember that the taste for sweetness needs to be kept under control. Excess sweetness in the diet, from real or artificial sources, can set you up for further cravings.
Want to know more about sugars and carbohydrates? This topic is so important we dedicate a whole module to this in the Flourish 180 Wellness Class.
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