All About Sweeteners
Do Our Bodies Need Sugar?
What Is A Natural Sweetener?
How Do Sweeteners Differ?
Are “Fake Sugars” Dangerous?
What’s The FDA Saying About Sugar?
Find Out How Sweet It Is. . . . Look inside.
TOPIC: All About SWEETENERS
In 2014, the first studies showing the dangers of artificial sweeteners appeared.
The “fake sugars” worsened metabolic syndrome, obesity, and diabetes in the very people fighting these conditions. In one study. healthy persons eating fake sugars for only a week showed signs of glucose intolerance.
FDA Tells Americans To Cut Back On Sugar – FINALLY!!!
At last, the FDA gives some good advice. They are asking us to limit added sugar to no more than 10% of our daily calorie intake.
On average, this is 50 grams of sugar (approximately 3 tablespoons or 1 can of soda). IF taken, this advice could make a huge difference in our the national health.
Right now, average sugar consumption is 100 pounds per person per year. Since this is about 20% of total calories, the FDA recommendation means lowering our sugar intake by half, or 50%.
Sugar is empty calories and has a negative effect on our health. Meanwhile, more than one-third of us are obese – and rates of obesity-related illnesses, including Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease are continuing to increase.
FYI: This new benchmark applies only to sugars added to foods, not to those found naturally in items like fruit and milk.
Keep in mind that even though glucose (blood sugar) feeds the brain, we don’t need sugary foods. Carbohydrate needs are easily met simply by eating vegetables. Fat is the body’s main fuel.
In this issue of Nutrition News, we discuss the best and the worse of the sweeteners – a variety of “nutritive” and “non-nutritive” substances, including artificial sweeteners.1 (See sidebar “Fake Sugars”.)
The Glycemic Index (GI) is included for each sweetener discussed.2 This rating system is based on glucose (pure blood sugar) at 100 points. Scores are as follows: High, above 70 points; Medium, 56 to 69; Low, 55 and below.
FDA Tells Americans To Cut Back On Sugar – FINALLY!!!
1 We believethe majority of readers know the dangers of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) so it is not discussed in this issue.
2 The Glycemic Index (GI) is an indicator of how quickly 50 grams of carbs in a specific food (e.g., bread or ice cream) causes a rise in blood sugar levels. (Fat and protein do not raise blood sugar.)
All GI information provided by The Sugar Sweeteners Guide
Mother Nature’s Finest Sweeteners
In this section, we discuss honey, coconut syrup, and maple syrup.3 No contest here. Though maple syrup seems to demand the most processing, it was being “processed” by indigenous North Americans long before the arrival of Europeans.
Mother Nature’s Finest Sweeteners
3 These are the only nutritivesweeteners weusein our home.
Raw, unfiltered honey is considered the first concentrated sweet known to humans. Honey is the opposite of refined cane sugar in every way except for being sweet. Raw, unfiltered honey actually improves glucose metabolism.
In The Honey Revolution…, authors Fessenden and McInnes reveal these benefits of honey: “lowers blood glucose; lowers HbA1c levels4; lowers triglycerides and raises HDL (“good” cholesterol); is less likely to cause weight gain than processed sugars; improves spatial memory and reduces anxiety; decreases heart disease markers (thromboxanes); improves sleep; and improves fat burning”.
In addition, unlike refined sugar, honey enhances immune function. Further, because of its mineral content, it is alkaline in the body. Most amazingly, true honey can balance blood sugar in individuals with diabetes.
Besides its edible properties, honey is a natural antiseptic, antibiotic, and antifungal. It is sterile and will not support the growth of bacteria or mold. This latter property was dramatically demonstrated when a vessel of honey found in a pyramid at Gizeh still retained its freshness after more than 3500 years! Although it is not a complete food, one could think of honey as pure prana – total life energy.5 GI 50
4 HbA1c is a lab test for people with diabetes that reveals average blood sugar (glucose) levels over the previous 3 months. It is also used to diagnose the disease.
5 For more in depth information, see Nutrition News “Bee Healthy” or read The Honey Revolution.
Coconut palms provide the single most sustainable sweetener in the world, according to the World Bank’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Coconut palms produce an average of 50-75% more sugar per acre than sugar cane and use less than 1/5th the nutrients in production. Reputedly, 100% of the money from growing, harvesting, and primary processing stays in the local community.
In addition, the trees are not destroyed by harvesting, and the palms continue to produce juice for another 20 years. This is contrary to cane which causes an ecological problem because of burning the fields between harvests.
Coconut sugar comes in two forms: nectar and crystals. The nectar is bottled as “syrup” and comes directly from tapping flowering branches. The crystals are dried nectar and, being much more easily handled and transported, are the more economical purchase.
Coconut sugar has a high mineral content and the rich taste of raw cane sugar. (Particularly delicious in pumpkin pie.) GI 35
Because the trees are never cut down, maple syrup is another sustainable choice. The minerals and antioxidants it contains are thought to balance the sweetness effects. This results in a GI of 54.
Approximately five gallons of sap are in a pint of syrup. This is 65% sucrose and 35% water. Purchase “Pure Maple Syrup” or you could be buying corn syrup with as little as 3% maple syrup. Buy organic and avoid formaldehyde and other chemicals used to keep tap holes open longer.
The national symbol of Canada is the maple leaf, and with good reason. Canada produces nearly all of the world’s maple syrup with the Canadian province of Quebec producing 90%!
More Whole Food Sweeteners
Further sources of sweetness come from fruit trees and grains. They are designated nutritive because they contain calories and nutrients. All are low on the Glycemic Index (GI).
Date & Fruit Trees
Date sugar is one of the least processed, most natural sweeteners available. It is simply dried, ground dates, retaining all their nutrients and fiber intact. Date sugar doesn’t dissolve, but is delicious in baking and crumb toppings. GI <50.
White grape, pear, and pineapple juice concentrates are the most widely used fruit juice concentrate sweeteners. This is because their flavors are easily disguised.6 If you choose to use a fruit juice concentrate sweetener, use organic brands, or you risk pesticide residues.
Date & Fruit Trees
6 One year, I made jam using grape juice concentrate. I found it gave the jam an undesirable flavor. Since then, I’ve left the use of fruit juice concentrate to the experts.
Going With The Grain
Grains are the epitome of carbohydrate so it is no surprise that they can be processed to provide sweeteners. Barley, oats, rice, and sorghum are used.
• Barley malt syrup is processed from sprouted barley, forming a molasses-like syrup about half as sweet as sugar. (Dried, it becomes malted milk powder. Unfortunately, the big name brand is mixed with wheat flour.) Complex sugars make the syrup relatively slow to digest. Check on the label for no corn syrup or refined sugar. GI 42
• Brown rice syrup is made by adding a small amount of sprouted rice or barley to cooked brown rice. The rice becomes a butterscotchy golden syrup, also about half as sweet as sugar. It has the lowest GI only 25.
• Oat syrup is non-GMO, vegan, and made in the USA. Its appeal may be based on price since the US produces a very large annual oat crop. GI 55
• Sorghum syrup, traditional in the South, is the third largest cereal crop in the US. Of African origins, it is delicious as pancake syrup and as a base for pecan pie. GI 50
Sugarcane is the world’s largest crop with an annual harvest of 1.69 billion tons. It is a member of the grass family (Poaceae), along with corn, wheat, rice, sorghum, etc. Anciently called “reeds that produce honey without bees”, sugar was a luxury until the 1700s.
All of us have been warned about the dangers of white sugar.7 In the body, it breaks down into glucose and fructose. Glucose is the standard for sweetness with a GI at 100 points. White table sugar has a GI of 70.
Ironically, raw sugarcane juice is good for us. Delicious and 100 percent fresh grass, it is a drink and not a sweetening agent. Like wheatgrass, it is nutritious and alkalinizing with chlorophyll, minerals, and proteins. GI 43
• Raw organic cane sugar. Unlike the processing of white sugar, when the cane is crushed, the molasses is not removed. Further, the cane juice is not spun but dried slowly to retain more plant material.
White cane and beet sugars are 99.9 percent sucrose while low-processed cane sugars contain four percent minerals.8
Studies with one well-known organic brand have shown that this scant 4% significantly slows the rise blood sugar. For raw organic or low-processed cane sugar, GI is 55.
• Molasses is a by-product of refining sugarcane. Blackstrap molasses is the last spin and the least sweet. Because it contains measurable amounts minerals, it is more nutritious than most sweeteners. GI 55
FYI: Did You Know?
1) Turbinado and demerara sugar are closer to refined sugar than to raw sugar.
2) Unless it’s certified organic, powdered sugar usually contains GMO cornstarch.
3) Vegans, choose unrefined cane sugar or other sweeteners because refined sugar is filtered through animal bone char to remove impurities.
4) To substitute for sugar, use applesauce, mashed ripe banana, or pureed dates, raisins, or prunes, and adjust the liquid in the recipe.
7 Read the award-winning Nutrition News issues “Perils Of Sugar”.
8 If you buy white sugar, be sure the packaging says “cane sugar”, “organic”, or Non-GMO Certified. Otherwise, the sugar is processed from GMO sugar beets.
What Are Non-Nutritive Sweeteners?
These are sweeteners with few calories and little or no nutritional value.
Currently, yacón (yah-CONE), stevia, and lo han fruit (monk fruit) are the only “natural” low cal sweeteners on the market.
Yacón syrup is a breakthrough sweetening agent from the Andes. Extracted from the roots of the plant Smallanthus sonchifolius, yacón syrup has an almost nonexistent GI of 1 (one), and is also the richest known source of the prebiotic FOS, FructoOligoSacharrides.9
Further, a study by Genta, et al, showed that obese pre-menopausal women given a daily dose of yacón syrup enjoyed a significant decrease in body weight. Reports on taste vary from “it tastes like molasses” to “it takes some getting used to”.
• Stevia (Stevia redaudiana), an intensely sweet herb from South America, has become the preeminent natural 0-calorie sweetener.
The leaf is 30 times sweeter than sugar. When processed, it is 70-400 times sweeter. Stevia is the safest and most economical natural low calorie sweetener on the market.
Most reported health benefits are from daily use of truly natural stevia concentrate. Use water-based, whole leaf stevia concentrate.
• Lo han fruit or monk fruit extract (Siraitia grosvenori) grows in China and is up to 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Available as a pleasant tasting powder, Wikipedia reports that it is not tasty off the vine but must undergo extensive processing to become palatable. It is pricier and more highly processed that stevia concentrate.
What Are Non-Nutritive Sweeteners?
9 FOS encourages the health of our microbiota. it tastes sweet but has molecules too large to be digested as a sugar.
The result is a highly beneficial non-caloric sweetener having no effect on blood sugar levels. There are sources other than Yacon and can be purchased as a stand-alone product in natural product stores.
What Are Polyols?
These widely used sugar alcohols include maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, erythritol and xylitol. They are classified as “reduced calorie” because they contain fewer calories per gram than sugar.
They are 40-90 percent as sweet and have no effect on blood sugar levels. Another plus, polyols don’t promote cavity formation, making them ideal sweeteners for chewing gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, and chewable supplements.
• Erythritol, in particular, is found in several non-nutritive sweetening products (e.g., Truvia). It better mimics the texture and mouthfeel of sucrose. Erythritol results from a biofermentation process using glucose.
• Xylitol, originally extracted from birch wood (xylan, Greek meaning wood) and now from corn, is best known for its ability to reduce caries.
It inhibits Streptococcus mutans, the major bacteria involved in cavity formation. It also helps correct damage to tooth enamel and keeps the breath fresh.
Plus, studies show xylitol sweetened gum may help prevent acute ear infections among preschoolers while nasal irrigation with a xylitol solution has been shown to curb sinus infections.
The low calorie sweeteners10 “that are widely seen as a way to combat obesity and diabetes could be contributing to the global epidemic of these conditions,” writes Alison Abbott on Nature.com, commenting on a study published by Nature. (September 2014)
A team led by Eran Elinav of the Weizmann Institute fed mice various artificial sweeteners – saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame.
After 11 weeks, the animals displayed glucose intolerance, a marker of the propensity for metabolic disorders, including obesity and diabetes.
This is the first study to suggest a connection between artificial sweeteners and these conditions.
Perhaps most importantly, the researchers also reported that the sweeteners significantly disrupted the microbiota.
Possibly as a result of this, when the team used data from a nutrition study with 380 participants, they found a correlation between clinical signs of metabolic disorder – such as increasing weight – and the ingestion of artificial sweeteners.
Asking what would happen if lean healthy people used fake sugars, seven volunteers took daily doses of artificial sweeteners for a week. Four became glucose intolerant. (Small sample+short testing time= >50% adversely affected. Ed.)
Further, there was a shift in their intestinal bacteria toward an imbalance known to be related to metabolic diseases. (The other three participants seemed resistant.)
10 These compounds are Acesulfame K (Sunette), Aspartame (Equal or Nutrasweet), Neotame (aspartame without the phenylalanine), Splenda (a combination of sucralose and malodextrrin), and saccharin (in use since 1879, most commonly sold as Sweet’N’Low, and possibly the safest of all the fakes.
Ix-Nay On The Agave!
Just because a sweetener is low on the Glycemic Index does not mean it is good for you.
Agave syrup is not nectar. Nectar comes from blossoms. Like tequila, agave syrup comes from the core of the agave plant.
This product swept the market (and me) with its delicious taste and very low GI of <35. Unfortunately, its GI is a reflection of its high fructose content.
As with high fructose corn syrup, that high fructose content places it low on the health scale.
Harvard’s health site reports: …fructose, at least in large quantities, may have some serious drawbacks. Metabolized almost exclusively in the liver,
1) fructose is more likely to result in the creation of fats which increase the risk for heart disease. Moreover, [research shows] that
2) fructose may have an influence on the appetite hormones…blunting sensations of fullness and may lead to overeating.
Siri Says: As always, we encourage you to play The “Is It Healthy?” Game to support your desire for optimal well being. oxox ~ Siri