Over the last 10 years, my aversion to processed sugar has grown to the point where I very rarely have any, excluding the rare treat of course. But this leads to a number of issues. There are so many products out there that have “no added sugar” on the label, yet when you read the ingredients they are no better, and sometimes worse than the products containing sugar. Sugar substitutes are marketed on the fact that they contain no calories, yet still give us that sweet taste we all crave so much. So this leads to a question, which sugar substitutes should you use, and which should you avoid.
Really they can be put in to 3 groups which I call Chemical Substitutes, Sugar Alcohols, and Naturally Derived Sweeteners.
Let’s start with the first group, Chemical Substitutes:
These are exactly what the name implies. Chemicals that are made in a science lab. Nothing to do with food at all. There are many issues with these so I won’t bore you by listing them all, but here are just a few – diarrhea, enlarged liver and kidneys, lower red blood cell count, pregnancy issues, cancer, skin irritations, dizziness etc. I think you get the picture. Artificial sweeteners of this kind should, in my opinion, be banned. They are of no benefit, do not aid in weight loss as they can trick the body into thinking it is getting sugar, and when none arrives, causes a sugar craving!
Products to look out for are – Sucralose (955), Aspartame (951), Acesulfame K (or acesulfame potassium) (950), Saccharin (954) and all the brand names they are sold under like Splenda, Sweet N Low, Equal, Nutra Sweet. These are just a few but just make sure you check ingredients of any suspect product and if in doubt, don’t touch it. You will generally find these in diet soft drinks and many other diet or sugar free products.
Sugar alcohols are a funny one, as they aren’t really a sugar and they aren’t really an alcohol. They taste very sweet and the calories from them are null and void. The reason being that they don’t actually get absorbed into your system through the intestines. They just pass straight through. Sounds great, apart from the fact that they have nasty habit of fermenting in your intestines as they pass through, causing symptoms ranging from excess gas, to severe stomach cramps depending on the quantity and type of sugar alcohol consumed.
Look out for products like Xylitol (967), Manitol (421), Maltitol (965), Sorbitol (420), Erythritol (968) etc. They are in many diet or sugar free products out there, so like I stated previously, check the ingredients first, or suffer the consequences. I got caught out once with an energy bar I used on a long run. Within a short period of time, let’s just say Shaun, who was running behind me at the time was not a very happy boy! It was only later I realised that I had eaten a cocktail of sugar alcohols!
Naturally Derived Sweeteners are a mixed bunch. Some I recommend, but most are just rubbish and will sabotage your health.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is among the worst you can have. To call it natural is a bit of a stretch, but it is extracted from a natural food and has to fit in somewhere. The problem with it is the high levels of fructose as the name suggests. Fructose is a low glycemic sugar, just a little too low though. When we eat most sugars, there is an insulin response in the body, of healthy individuals, to process the sugars. Fructose by itself does not cause this insulin response, so the body can’t properly process fructose on it’s own. The only thing it does, is store it in the liver. This is a contributor to an issue called fatty liver which can also be an issue with heavy drinkers of alcohol. Another one which many health professionals recommend is Agave Syrup made from the Agave Cactus. Very similar to HFCS in it’s make up, and although not as well publicised in its negative health effects, I believe many people will start warning against it in the next few years.
There is a product on the market that has been around in South America for centuries, but really only becoming commercially popular now. It’s the one I use on the rare occasion that I use a sweetener. It’s called Stevia. Basically it is a zero carb sweetener from a plant that is far more sweet than sugar, but also much more expensive. There have been some negative reports on it, but their concerns are more based around fearing that fatty foods with stevia added will be viewed as healthy. I have no problem with that as I love high fat foods, as long as it’s natural fat as I firmly believe sugar/carbs are the root of the obesity epidemic, not fat.
I will give one warning regarding the use of Stevia. The first time I used it, I was making a cheesecake and it said to use a few drops of Stevia liquid. Without reading the box correctly, I thought “That can’t be enough” so I used a 2 teaspoons. It was only after this that I noticed on the box it was the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of sugar that I had put in 3 small cheesecakes! The taste was not pleasant. It does have a bit of a bitter taste to it, but those who have read my post Bitter and Twisted, will know this is not really a bad thing.
Give it a try and let me know what you think…
P.S. If there are any topics you would like me to discuss, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org