Episode 140: Sugar Alternatives... The Good, The Bad, and the Yucky.
Sugar alternatives. They seem like a good idea... Some boast they don't raise your blood sugar. Many have zero calories. Sounds like the perfect weight loss ingredient, right?
Well, the truth is... it depends.
Because just like not all carbs are created equal, not all sugar alternatives are created equal. And while some are perfectly safe to enjoy in small amounts, others should be avoided like the plague.
So here are some things I want you to keep in mind before we dive into specifics.
- Artificial sweeteners train our taste buds to want sweeter and sweeter foods. Artificial sweeteners range from 200-700 times sweeter than table sugar, making it harder for us to taste or enjoy the natural sweetness found in foods like fruit, grains, and some vegetables.
- "The results of a randomized trial suggest artificial sweeteners may increase BMI, weight, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes, although more information is needed to be conclusive." -Dr. Axe
- The studies that show artificial sweeteners to be safe don't take into account the ever-growing portion sizes in America.
- Even though in the short term, artificial sweeteners don't raise your blood sugar, they have been linked to glucose intolerance and conditions that lead to high blood sugar levels.
- Don't be tricked by brands that say they're removing aspartame or high fructose corn syrup or other dangerous ingredients from their products. Oftentimes they replace it with a just-as-dangerous ingredient that simply isn't recognized as dangerous by the public yet.
- "Research shows that artificial sweeteners don’t satiate you the way real foods do. Instead, you end up feeling less satisfied and more prone to eating and drinking more, resulting in weight gain." -Dr. Axe / NCBI
Aspartame (Equal and Nutrasweet)
- 600 times sweeter than sugar
- It originated as an insecticide compound, so it comes as no surprise that it can have a toxic effect on the body. It's made by replacing some of the atoms in sugar with chlorine.
- A 2018 study published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases showed that Sucralose intensifies gut inflammation in mice that have different forms of inflammatory bowel diseases. - Dr. Axe
- "In June 2014, the Center for Science in the Public Interest placed Splenda in its “caution” category, pending a review of a medical study that found it could be linked to leukemia in mice." -Dr. Axe
Saccharin (Sweet N Low)
- 200-700 times sweeter than sugar
- "It's believed that saccharin contributes to photosensitivity, nausea, digestive upset, tachycardia, and some types of cancer." -Dr. Axe
- In the 1970's, products containing saccharin had to have a warning label because of its potential connection to cancer.
- If gut health is important to you (and it should be), stay away from xylitol and other sugar alcohols (ending in -itol). These artificial sweeteners are not tolerated well, especially by those with sensitivities and can lead to bloating, gas, cramping, and diarrhea.
Those are artificial sweeteners, and frankly, there isn't a place for them in a healthy diet.
But that doesn't mean your dreams of a zero calorie sugar substitute have been dashed. There are a few options you have that you can feel fairly safe consuming (as usual, not in excess).
Stevia (proceed with caution)
- 200-400 times sweeter than table sugar.
- The one thing I like about stevia is it is not an 'artificial sweetener' which is a synthetic sugar substitute. It is a more natural sugar alternative that is derived from the stevia leaf. But proceed with caution because...
- It does have potential gastrointestinal side effects like gas, nausea, and bloating.
- It is part of the same plant family as daisies, sunflowers, and chrysanthemums, and can cause allergies in those who are allergic to said flowers. - Medical News Today
- "As a type of steroid, steviol glycosides can interfere with hormones controlled by the endocrine system. A 2016 study found that human sperm cells exposed to steviol experienced an increase in progesterone production." Medical News Today
- Often times it isn't pure stevia, it's combined with other artificial sweeteners.
Monk Fruit (in my book, the winner of zero-calorie sweeteners)
- 150-200 times sweeter than table sugar
- There are no known side effects, but it also is relatively new to the market and needs more long-term studies.
- "The fruit’s mogrosides (the compounds that give it its sweetness) are said to be anti-inflammatory, and may help prevent cancer and keep blood sugar levels stable." -Healthline
- The only downside is it's tough to find pure monk fruit sweetener. It's often paired with sugar alcohols.
What do I prefer to use as a sweetener as a health coach??
- Coconut sugar actually retains some nutrients from the coconut palm including zinc, iron, calcium, potassium, and short chain fatty acids which are beneficial for the gut. Though you won't find these beneficial nutrients in large amounts in coconut sugar, so don't confuse this for a 'health food'. It still is a type of sugar and should be treated as such.
- It contains the fiber inulin which helps stabilize blood sugar.
- Takeaway: it's basically a less processed, mildly more nutritious form of regular sugar.
Maple Syrup (my go-to coffee sweetener)
- It contains nutrients like calcium, potassium, iron, zinc, and manganese.
- It raises blood sugar less than table sugar.
- 24 different antioxidants have been found in maple syrup (the darker, Grade B syrups are higher in antioxidants than their lighter Grade A counterparts)
- Note: Make sure what you're buying is actually maple syrup and not maple-flavored syrup.
- "Although honey raises your blood sugar level just like other types of sugar do, the antioxidants it contains may help protect against metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. Researchers have found that honey may increase levels of adiponectin, a hormone that reduces inflammation and improves blood sugar regulation" -Healthline
- "According to one review, honey may help lower blood pressure, improve blood fat levels, regulate your heartbeat, and prevent the death of healthy cells — all factors that can improve your heart function and health (6Trusted Source )." -Healthline
- Raw honey contains propolis which may improve cholesterol.
- It contains antioxidants that can help reduce inflammation.
So alllllll of that to say, our approach to sugar alternatives should be fairly common sense: less processed = good, more processed = bad, whole-food based = good, artificial = bad, eaten in moderation = ok, eaten in excess = not ok.
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