Let’s talk sweeteners…

Confusion on mass scale

 

I find many people are seriously confused by the terms “natural” and “artificial” when it comes to sweetners. They also are extremely confused on how those sweetners impact their body, blood sugar levels, etc. In this article, I’m going to tackle the issue from the stand point of “natural,” “somewhat processed,” “highly processed,” and “chemical based.” I hope this clears up some of the controversy and confusion I have heard coming back in the form of feedback.

 

Stevia

Stevia is a plant that grows in the southern United States, Mexico and Central America. It is said to be 200 times sweeter than sugar. I’m not sure of that exact ratio, but the green leaf is sweeter than table sugar. This is a NATURAL sweetener. I offered some stevia to a lady a while back, in lieu of sugar for her coffee, and she replied, “I’ll use my Splenda ™ because I don’t use artificial sweeteners.” I started to open my mouth to argue and chose to smile and nod instead. I do not know where she gets her info, but it is wrong!

Now, that being said, there is a raw stevia option and a refined stevia option. The raw stevia, of course, is the dried green leaf and leaf powder. This is not always desirable in foods, as the green color does not fade or go away in cooking. Therefore, the extract is sometimes used. This extract can be liquid or a white powder. This white powder is sold commercially as a sweetener in the baking aisles of grocery stores darn near everywhere! It is sometimes listed under the brand names SweetLeaf ™, Truvia ™ and PureVia ™, just to name a few. Both are the stevia extract and are listed as Rebiana, which is from the Latin name for the stevia plant. So, while this white, or extract form, is slightly more processed than the green, I’m leaving it under natural. Stevia is considered to have zero glycemic impact and zero calories. Even though the US-FDA raided a tea company in the early 1990’s for adding stevia to their teas, since Coca-Cola bought the rights to Rebiana production, it is suddenly ok with the FDA.

Monk Fruit/Lo Han Gou

Monk Fruit has recently made its way on the sweetener mainstream. It is featured in various lo-cal and no-cal diet programs and is said to be extremely sweeter than sugar. Some estimate it to be 150-200 times sweeter. So, a little dab will do. This is a fruit from southeast Asia. It grows kind of like a little melon on trees. created by removing the seeds and skin of the fruit, crushing the fruit, and collecting the juice. It is sold as a liquid and as a powder. It has zero glycemic impact, zero calories and is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the US-FDA based on the slew of scientific research available on it. Nectreese(tm) is monk fruit.

Raw Sugar

This is the actual the sugar straight out of the cane. It has a light brown color. This is due to the presence of the molasses, which has not been processed out of the sugar, yet. While this is a natural sugar, with very little processing, it does impact your blood sugar the same as white sugar! It has slightly less calories (we’re talking ever so slight) and a molasses like taste which white sugar does not have.

Cane Juice

This is a more natural, but still processed, sweetener. In regions like the Indian subcontinent, Egypt, southeast Asia, and the like, Cane Juice is green and is directly expressed from the sugar cane. It is sold as a health drink in some of those places. Most of the US’s sugar now comes from south America. The “evaporated cane juice” seen listed in many health foods is one step shy of table sugar. It contains a teeny bit more vitamins A, C and calcium, but impacts blood sugar the same as white table sugar.

Cane Syrup/Molasses

This one falls under somewhat processed. Cane syrup is cane juice which has been cooked down into a syrup consistency. It has a brownish color and a slightly bitter aftertaste as compared to white table sugar.

Sorghum

Sorghum and molasses are not the same thing. Sorghum is usually less processed than molasses and has a more sweet taste. It also comes from an entirely different plant! Molasses is from sugar beets and sorghum is from sweet sorghum. They are made the same, though. Sorghum is juiced and then the juice is boiled down to a syrup. It usually has no preservatives and is fairly high in potassium and antioxidants. IT does impact the blood sugar, but may be slightly higher on my choice scale than molasses.

Maple Syrup

I mean REAL maple syrup here. This is meaning the sap which is tapped from Sugar Maple Trees. Most of the pancake syrup in stores is made from high fructose corn syrup. BE SURE TO READ YOUR LABELS! Usually, the syrup is collected in the autumn,as the sap is returning to the roots. It then is moderately processed by boiling it down into a syrup. You can sometimes find raw maple sap or syrup which has not been cooked down. It does impact the blood sugar same as white sugar, but the raw contains slightly higher vitamin and mineral contents.

Corn Syrup

This is one everyone should know about by now! Corn syrup is made from boiling down cornstarch. Anyone who has ever shucked or picked sweet corn from a garden is familiar with the stick corn starch substance. It is moderately processed and impacts the blood sugar identically to that of white table sugar. It is used in cooking and candy making. In recent years it has been replaced by the high fructose version.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

This is one of the most highly debated sweeteners out there. High fructose corn sugar is chemically altered to be sweeter (the glucose in this one is chemically converted so it has a higher fructose content via an ezymatic reaction) , therefore more addictive, than regular corn syrup. It is used in everything from jams and jellies, to baked goods, to soda pop. Dentists hate it as it contributes to dental cavities and it can be deadly for diabetics. It has been used since the middle 1970’s, so it is not a new thing. There is a huge debate on its safety. It has an impact on blood sugar just like table sugar. I stay away from this as much as possible!

Agave Nectar

This is from two types of agave plants which are common in South America, one of which is the one the distilled spirit tequila come from. The nectar is processed much the same way as corn syrup: plant is crushed; the juice cooked down; etc. However, it is slightly lower on the glycemic scale as it contains more fructose than glucose which is the opposite of corn syrup and it’s high fructose version. So, it is moderately processed.  It is sweeter than sugar and should be used in reduced amounts when following sugar measurements in recipes.

Xylitol

Xylitol is found in woody parts of some plants. It is a sugar alcohol. It can be made from birch bark and corn stalks. It is sweet and is safe for use in things such as chewing gums. It has been found to help prevent tooth decay. This is because it is not converted to the simple sugars in the mouth like regular sugar, etc. It is in some sugar free foods, but it has been found to produce painful gas and digestive upset in large quantities when taken internally. It is sometimes used in medicines as it can be antibacterial. It has zero glycemic impact and is generally not used in baking, etc

Erythritol

Another sugar alcohol, it is naturally occurring in foods like pears, soy sauce, wine, sake, watermelon and grapes. It is not quite as sweet as sugar (sources site 60-80%) and has zero glycemic index. It is the easiest to digest of all sugar alcohols and is made by a fermentation process from corn. The US-FDA says it is GRAS and has not been found to be linked to cancers, like most sugars. Just a note: sugar alcohols are NOT alcoholic and will not make you drunk. Some people do develop a bit of gas and/or diarrhea from excessive intake of them.

Honey

Honey is a sticky substance made by bees. It is very high in vitamins and enzymes when in its raw form. However, the pasteurization process kills many of these. It should NEVER be given to a child under the age of two years, due to aggravating possible allergies and/or medical conditions. It is extremely high in sucrose and can have a similar impact on blood sugar as white sugar. There are those who say that impact is dependent upon the source. Since most commercially available honey has been heated to destroy pathogens, the B vitamins which possibly buffer the sugar spiking effects are cooked away. I am a huge proponent of using locally collected honey. Support your local apiary! NEVER spray bees! Call an exterminator who works with a beekeeper to determine which type of bees they are and can remove them. Honey bee populations in the world are declining. They are integral in the pollination of crops. While this is completely true and I love my locally collected honey, it still must be used in moderation and never given to small children.

Fructose

Fructose is fruit sugar. Think concentrated grape juice, cooked raisins, etc. It is sugar and raises the blood sugar accordingly. White table sugar is about half fructose and half glucose.

Sugar

White table sugar is highly processed. It was once natural, and the processing turns it into a sweetener which tastes great. It is about 50/50 fructose and glucose.  Brown sugar is just white sugar which has molasses dumped back over it. This is why it cakes and packs so well. It definitely has an elevation effect on blood sugar levels. Sucrose is the technical name for table sugar.

Sucrolose

Sucrolose is marketed under the brand name Splenda ™. While it has been marketed as being from sugar, it is not sugar when it is done. This is a highly chemical substance. It basically sticks chlorine atoms into what was sugar. While that means nothing to the regular person check this out. Research published in Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2013 found that sugar substitutes with sucralose are linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and obesity. This is NOT NATURAL STUFF!

Aspartame

I remember when this stuff first came out. When I was little, early 1980’s maybe (ssshhhh….no one needs to calculate my age now), almost every postal patron in the United States received a sample of gum balls in the mail. All marked with that red and white pinwheel showing it contained NutraSweet ™. This is also what is in Equal ™. It seems to stimulate the same taste buds as sugar, kind of. It is used in a variety of foods, beverages, desserts, sweets, breakfast cereals, chewing gums and weight-control products. It is also used as a tabletop sweetener. It has been thought to possibly be linked to migraines, cancers, and more. While there are conflicting studies , there is hard science in a study released in recent years stating diet sodas and artificial sweeteners make you fatter by increasing hunger! There are also independent studies showing it interferes with brain functions. As a migraine sufferer, I will tell you I get fewer when I stay away from this stuff. Check out more here http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2016/01/12/aspartame-effects.aspx

Acesulfame Potassium

This sweetener is chemical, period. It contains methylene chloride. It is found in many “diet” and “low-cal” foods, including chewing gum, drinks, yogurts, etc. Many times it is listed as just Acesulfame-K or Ace-K. It is thought by some sources to be the sweetener  least regulated by the US-FDA. It, too, kills off beneficial bacteria in the gut, leading to false hunger and lending to obesity. “Long term exposure to methylene chloride can cause nausea, headaches, mood problems, impairment of the liver and kidneys, problems with eyesight and possibly cancer. Acesulfame-K may contribute to hypoglycemia.” (http://www.fitday.com) Early studies on this substance linked it with cancer in lab rats. Learn more: http://www.naturalnews.com/041510_Acesulfame-K_methylene_chloride_carcinogen.html#ixzz48DTpyfal

 

Saccharin

Who remembers the soft drink TAB? Do they still make that stuff? It used to carry a warning label stating that the ingredients “may cause cancer” in lab rats. The more current studies now touted by the FDA state that artificial sweeteners are ok to use and do not cause cancer (specifically those studied were brain and bladder cancers). However, the threat to the beneficial bacteria of the gut is very real from the artificial, chemical based sweetener just as much as it is in the two previously listed. Some find the taste of this product to be bitter. It is sold unde rthe trade name Sweet&Low ™.

 

My Conclusions….

And these are JUST my conclusions. You can make up your own mind.

While I understand wanting to not miss certain tastes and flavors in your life, I have made a conscious decision to avid the more heavily processed and chemical sweeteners. Period. IF any of you know me, in person, you have been eating stevia, monk fruit, agave nectar and other natural sweeteners. Congratulations. You didn’t even notice!  I FEEL BETTER when I stay away from these more chemical based sweeteners. I find I have less migraines. I find I crave them less and less the longer I am away from them. I have friends who cannot even eat or drink a minute quantity of these for fear of becoming physically ill.

WHY BOTHER WITH THE CRAP WHEN THINGS LIKE STEVIA AND MONK FRUIT ARE READILY AVAILABLE?

It just seems silly to me to allow yourself to be a guinea pig for chemical sweeteners when we have perfectly good ones to use. If you cannot find stevia and monk fruit in your stores, contact me. I” point you to reliable sources. I use sugar occasionally, honey sometimes, whatever is available and as natural as possible. The human body was built for variety. Mix it up a bit. Enjoy the variety. Find your own favorite. Just drop the the chemicals. Don’t be a guinea pig.

CHECK OUT THIS STEVIA NO-BAKE CHEESECAKE RECIPE

 

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