Be Smart About Your Sweeteners

December 21, 2010 at 11:59 am 1 comment

The diet world is filled with mysterious sugar substitutions, and the health world with “natural sweeteners.” Research shows us though, that people experience fewer sweet cravings when they stop using artificial sweeteners, and they don’t of themselves cause more weight loss. But if you want to sweeten and still lose fat, opt for stevia or sugar alcohols and here’s why:

Stevia is from the plant stevia rebaudinana, called “sweet leaf,” it is completely natural, is 300 times sweeter than sugar (a little goes a long way!), and does not aggravate insulin (thus no fat storing message to your body). It has a slightly bitter aftertaste, so if you dislike artificial sweeteners like aspartame, then stick with the sugar alcohols.

 Sugar Alcohols

Found in many low carb or sugar free products, these sweeteners have little or no effect on insulin and are from natural sources. While digestive disruption is not unheard of, if you incorporate them slowly into your diet most adapt without issue.

First, xylitol: derived from birch tree bark or corn husks, it’s typically used 1:1 as a substitute for sugar.  This sugar alcohol (naturally found in fruit) also slows stomach emptying – helping you feel full quicker. It also helps prevent dental cavities, sinus and middle ear infections. Chew xylitol gym and use xylitol nasal spray if you are prone to sinus infections.

Erthritol has a slight vanilla taste, is about 70% as sweet as regular sugar and can help support healthy intestinal bacteria. Sold under several brand names including Zerose, Sweet Simplicity and Truvia (in combination with stevia).

Finally, malitol and sorbitol are found in many sugar free products and these two cause the most digestive disturbance (bloating and laxative action) – so go slow.

The Natural Sugars

Natural products are teeming with so called healthy “sugar” – evaporated cane juice, molasses, maple syrup, barley malt, malt syrup, fructose, crystalline fructose, date sugar, fruit juice concentrate, brown sugar, raw sugar, sucanant, turbinado sugar, honey and agave syrup. Touted as healthy alternatives, when it comes to insulin they behave almost just like regular sugar, so they are bad news for fat loss. Two of these sweeteners, honey and agave, deserve a closer look:

Honey is 30% fructose and 50% glucose (white sugar is 50% glucose and 50% fructose). Its insulin response is ideal post workout – just the right amount to lower cortisol, so add a bit to a post workout recovery shake.

With its low Glycemic Index (GI score), agave has received a lot of attention as a healthy sugar alternative. It’s low GI because it is nearly all fructose (90%) and GI only reflects glucose loads in the blood, not fructose levels. This 90% fructose content makes it very similar to a decidedly unhealthy sweetener: high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). A large amount of fructose a problem because it doesn’t require insulin (as glucose does) which leaves it in the bloodstream longer, possibly generating more free radicals. Also, because it doesn’t need insulin for metabolism it can be tough on the liver to deal with a large amounts of fructose.

The Chemical Sugars

In many “diet” foods, the biggies are acesulfame, saccharin (Sweet-N-Low), aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet) and sucralose (Splenda). Acesulfame is terribly lacking in safety research.  Both saccharine and aspartame have at least some research linking them to cancer.

One of the biggest problems with aspartame is its potent neurostimulant properties, as it’s made from aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Its combination with caffeine in most diet sodas, make it a tough habit to kick and causes withdrawal symptoms such as headaches, nausea and irritation.

Finally, there’s sucralose (brand name: Splenda), which touts hundreds of studies that show its safety. However, with its close chemical resemblance to common pesticides, I think it warrants scrutiny and caution.

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Entry filed under: Eat Better.

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