According to a 2014 study published by JAMA Internal Medicine, people who consume 10% or more of their calories from added dietary sugar have a 30% increased risk for cardiovascular disease related mortality. That risk is doubled for those who consume 25% or more of their daily calories from added dietary sugars. The worst offender is sucrose (glucose + fructose), especially refined, white table sugar. It doesn’t really matter if it comes from sugar beets or sugar cane.
The sweet taste is not a bad thing. In fact, according to Ayurveda, there are six tastes that are all to be taken at each meal. A “balanced meal” is determined by the inclusion of all six tastes: sweet, sour and salty—which our culture loves—and bitter, pungent and astringent, which we in the West seem to avoid. According to Ayurveda, eating excess amounts of sweet, sour and salty foods causes the accumulation of kapha, which is directly linked to obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, free radical damage and some cancers, to name a few.
I have found that the less sugar you eat, the less you crave it over time. It takes practice and patience, but you can lose that sweet tooth; and you will probably lose weight, help your teeth and gain health in the process.
So what can you use to satisfy that need for sweetness? Check out the alternatives.
Fructose—A Safer Alternative?
Many “natural sweeteners” on the market today contain fructose as the sweet factor. Agave, for example, has a lower glycemic index than table sugar but is still a highly processed product that contains 90% fructose, compared to high fructose corn syrup, which is only 35-55% fructose. There are other considerations with corn syrup, however; it is the number one source of calories in the U.S. and is hidden everywhere, adding sneaky sugar calories where you’d least expect it.
Fructose may not spike insulin like table sugar, but it is still linked to diabetes, obesity, insulin resistance and high cholesterol. It is also a challenge for the liver to break down and, in excess, creates toxic metabolic waste products.
The Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni plant was discovered more than 1,500 years ago by the native Guarani people, growing in clumps of two or three along the edges of the rainforests of Paraguay. In the beginning, the natives used the leaves for their medicinal benefit, to freshen their breath, and to sweeten and mellow the strong taste of herbal yerba maté tea.
These suppliers/brands have been evaluated by FDA and designated as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) to be used as a sweetener:
– Sweet Green Fields
– Blue California
– McNeil Nutritionals
– Whole Earth Sweetner/Merisant
While honey contains a whopping 47% fructose, it does have other redeeming qualities. Raw honey contains contains 18 amino acids, plus small amounts of many vitamins, minerals, flavinoids, and antioxidants which may reduce the risks of some cancers and heart disease. Because the bees add an enzyme that makes hydrogen peroxide, honey has anti-bacterial properties. These are not well-understood or fully characterized, but they merit more research. It may also have pro-immune and anti-inflammitory properties. Bee pollen or even simple honeycomb have been recommended by natural health practitioners for centuries, across the globe.
Honey is considered harmless for adults, but pediatricians strongly caution against feeding honey to children under 1 year old, the risk is infection with Clostridium botulinum which produces botulinim toxin, or botulism.
Sugar Alcohol Sweeteners
Sugar Alcohols (erythritol, glycerol (glycerin), hydrogenated starch hydrolysates—isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol) are popular sugar substitutes, especially in processed foods, mints, toothpaste and chewing gum; they are naturally occurring in some fruits and are generally about half as sweet as sugar, unlike artificial sweeteners which are much sweeter. They are neither sugar nor alcohol, they just resemble their molecular structure. These sugar substitutes are not completely absorbed in the digestive system and can cause gas, bloating and diarrhea. They can cause an allergic reaction in those with sensitivity. Not truly sugar-free, they do contain some calories and carbohydrates.
Splenda usually contains a small amount of mostly indigestible sucralose (trichlorosucrose) combined with 95% dextrose (D-glucose) and maltodextrin (by volume) which the body readily metabolizes. Dextrose and maltodextrin are GRAS because of their long history of “safe consumption.” Sucralose itself was given GRAS designation as a diabetic sugar substitute. However, its creation from sucrose is a synthetic chlorination process. There are outstanding questions about long-term use and McNeil Nutritionals, under McNeil Consumer Healthcare which also owns McNeil Laboratories, has a questionable reputation regarding suppression of consumer and patient adverse event data (think: toxicity of Tylenol).
Artificial Sweetener and Their Risks
The food industry has created artificial sweeteners (such as saccharin, cyclamate, aspartame, neotame, and acesulfame ) that are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, but calorie free. They have retail brands like Equal, Nutrasweet, SugarTwin, Sweet ‘N Low, and Twinsweet. Accumulating evidence suggests that frequent consumers of these sugar substitutes may also be at increased risk of excessive weight gain, metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. There is a recurring theme of issues:
- They send a sweet trigger to the brain and never deliver any real energy; driving an even stronger message of hunger and desire for sweet.
- Most are made of excitotoxins that over-stimulate, exhaust and deplete the nervous system.
- Some are made of tiny amounts of known carcinogens (that are not GRAS).
- They have been found to actually increase weight gain, as they disturb metabolic hormones like leptin (appetite regulation) and insulin (glucose regulation).
- One (aspartame–phenylalanine and aspartic acid) can trigger behavioral and neurological disorders in phenylketoneurics.
- They may disturb (inhibit metabolic or excretion processes of) gut bacteria (probiotics).
Acesulfame K (Acesulfame Potassium)
Two hundred times sweeter than sugar, acesulfame potassium is a synthetic, no-calorie sweetener found in tabletop packets as Sunett or Sweet One, or in sugar-free gum, light juices, and light ice cream. It has been used in foods and beverages around the world for 15 years. The FDA says that more than 90 studies support its safety. Note that those were short-term studies.
Opposition to consumption of acesulfame K are based on the lack of long-term studies; it contains the carcinogen methylene chloride. Long-term exposure to significant amounts of methylene chloride can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects, visual disturbances, and cancer in humans. At this time, the FDA has not required long-term studies.
The top brand name is Newtame This sugar substitute is 7,000 to 13,000x sweeter than table sugar. This sweetener is chemically related to aspartame, but was modified to remove the negative issues associated with phenylalanine. Although there have been claims of over 100 scientifically based studies proving safety, one analyst was unable to find only a few studies that were not rat/mouse/dog short-term studies, looking into Neotame outcomes in very specific environments. The three studies done on humans found that participants suffered headaches, abdominal pains, diarrhea, and one had a backache. However, the participants were receiving doses far above the FDA approved intake for neotame.
So what to do?
How can you satisfy that need for sweet? All natural sweeteners are always a better choice; some have high carbohydrates (maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, date sugar, molassesagave) and some don’t (mainly, stevia). You can start retraining your palette to enjoy the natural tastes of many foods, sweet or not. Try herbal teas, different roasts of coffee beans, or unsweetened chai (easy to find in Indian groceries). Eat dates or raisins with your hot drinks.
Try adding other flavors like spicy, tangy, tart, or savory to please your palette. Vanilla, almond, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, mint, fennel, and turmeric all can add interesting taste dimensions; along with many vinegars, oils, and herbs. Balsamic glaze is a reduction of balsamic vinegar and adds an interesting and sweetened taste dimension.
What to use instead of Sugar—and why Sugar is your Frenemy – elephant journal
The Truth About Sweeteners: Natural & Artificial – elephant journal
What refined Stevia preparations have been evaluated by FDA to be used as a sweetener? – FDA
Artificial Sweeteners – Medicine.Net
Top 4 Most Dangerous Artificial Sweeteners – FitDay
Top 10 Natural Sweeteners & Sugar Alternatives – Dr. Axe
Honey’s Unknown Benefits – Dr. Oz
Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. – Trends Endocrinol Metab. 2013 Sep