Sweeteners: What to Avoid and What to Eat
Which Sweeteners out there are safe to use?
Well, Sweeteners seem to be the hot topic at the moment so I thought I would give you my two cents worth. I guess most of us have a sweet tooth, and we should be able to indulge in a treat once in a while. So what if I told you, “Maybe you can, if we use the right sweetening agents!” You be the judge.
Sweeteners are an additive used in just about every health food product on the market today, yet it doesn’t mean they’re not harmful. In fact, plenty of questions remain about their safety including both their short and long term risks. We just don’t know yet. Or are we better off taking the gamble as we already know the risks and implications of sugar?
Rather than go into every sweetener on the market, as there are way too many, I thought the better approach is to touch on the more well-known sweeteners we use and maybe even give you a few handy tips to help you make a more informed decision.
I guess in these times we are all so overloaded with work and busy lives that we have very little time to get knee deep in thesis on everything we eat, so we tend to follow the trend of “what’s hot right now,” or some take a quick look at a forum (don’t get me started on forums- they’re ‘my pet hate’).
The problem we have is that there is too much misguided information out there, and most of it leaked out by big money hungry companies that have the money to lead the trend. We love to believe everything companies tell us is gospel, and the absolute truth. They have us believe everything they put out is healthy.
Then we have the flip side to this, and I believe it is not good to get too caught up in the other side of the argument either. The Paleo approach seems to suggest everything we have ever invented in a lab is bad for you and this in my opinion is untrue. Modern day science has given us great advantages. My aim is not to bag the Paleo diet too much as the Paleo diet in my opinion is a great diet and a way better alternative than the modern carb overloaded western diet.
I believe we can create good alternatives, and some sugar alcohols we have created are vastly better than actual cane sugar or high doses of fruits (fructose).
Many doctors suggest we should regulate sweeteners but have they overlooked sugar and natural fruit sweeteners? Call me crazy, but surely we should be regulating these, right?
What about fructose?
With so many “natural” alternatives, it’s hard to know which sweetening agents are the best. Complicating matters, studies including one published in 2010 in the journal Cancer Research are finding that fructose, a sugar found in high-fructose corn syrup, agave, honey, and even in fruits, in tinier amounts actually feeds some cancers (Lui, H., Huang, D., McArthur, D.L., Boros, L.G., Nissen, N., Heaney, A.P., 2010).
Fatty liver and inflammation have also showed high fructose consumption was associated with reduced hepatic steatosis but increased fibrosis. In older patients, daily fructose consumption increased the risk of hepatic inflammation and hepatocyte ballooning (Abdelmalek M.F., Suzuki A., Guy C., Unalp-Arida A., Colvin R., Johnson R.J., Diehl A.M., & contributors, 2010).
How then agave syrup become the healthy alternative? Agave is very high in fructose and depending on the brand it can contain as much as 80% fructose! Nowhere does this ratio of fructose to glucose occur naturally. The amount of fructose in agave is much, much higher than the 55% fructose in high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), or the 50% fructose in cane sugar.
Aspartame, is this the real villain?
While Aspartame seems to be the most known sweetening agent on the market it also appears to be the most controversial. Many of us would have consumed aspartame as it is an ingredient used in the well-known Equal sachets. There have been many doctors, scientists and critics claiming harmful and negative effects on aspartame. Some very serious claims have also cited seizures, heart attacks and brain haemorrhages as a few of the negatives associated with its usage.
The main concern out there is Aspartame contains small amounts of methanol, a toxic alcohol. Aspartame could also cause neurological and behavioural disturbances in sensitive individuals. Some of the neurological effects that have been experienced are headaches, insomnia and seizures and these may be accredited to changes in regional brain concentrations of catecholamines, which include norepinephrine, epinephrine and dopamine (Humphries, P., Pretorius, E., & Naude, H. (2007).
Other studies suggest that aspartame can actually trigger hunger, making us eat and drink more. However I must be fair on this one and say the studies I’ve read on this are inconclusive, Now please do not misunderstand me as I am saying this is wrong but what I am saying is that more conclusive studies are needed on this one.
While it is not widely known sweeteners have been around from as early as the 1800’s. For many this may come as some surprise as it has only become well known in 2000 and really only been used in homes for the past 5 years.
The sad thing about this is that what could have started off in a lab with really good intentions from hard working scientists to deliver a healthier alternative to sugar may never get into the market, or be dramatically altered with additives and cheaper fillers to cut production costs down. It is sad but very true that so many larger, often publicly owned companies only care about their bottom line- “money.”
Large companies know all it takes to sell products is clever marketing colours and the right buzz words, “Organic Green” and “Brown” looking labels it is also widely known that they would use anything to fool the masses and to keep profits high.
Take Stevia for example, so I ask this question, “Have you ever had real 100% Stevia?” If so, what type and what part of the plant did you have? I’ll assume there are a lot of people asking “What are you on about Pete?” I assure you I will go into this in depth a little later.
Most sweeteners are not sweet enough alone or too expensive so they most often combine sweeteners with other artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame-K, neotame, saccharin and crystalline fructose.
Companies here in Australia like to hide their ingredients with code numbers on the labels but don’t worry because this happens abroad also. Have you ever wondered what 951 on the back of a label on the ingredient list meant?
Well it is a tricky way of hiding ingredients like “951 aspartame”.
Here is a link to food additive codes of Australia and New Zealand:
And here is the EU list:
Below we have adapted an infograph of a list of sweeteners that podcaster and Bullet proof brand owner Dave Asprey has comprised over his many years of research into this issue. I would have to say, this is a great guide and I must say I agree with you on this one Dave.
What does this all mean for my Ketones and Blood Sugar Levels?
This is the question most of you are wanting answered I presume.
Well this all becomes a major problem with ketones and blood sugar levels.
Some of these products use ingredients such as maltodextrin and dextrose as simple fillers, and this is the cause of a major problem. Your blood sugar levels would now shoot through the roof, you would also start to secret insulin kissing your ketone production good bye. Go figure right? And all because we have been deceived to think the packet with the green Stevia leaf was safe to use. Please read the ingredient list or source the single ingredient you’re after.
I also must note that Stevia and some other sweeteners have been known for their effects on lowering blood pressure, so be aware, avoid or use very little amounts if your blood pressure is already low.
(the Stevia Leaf)
For those of you who didn’t know – Stevia is a plant. The Stevia rebaudiana plant is a species in the genus Stevia of the sunflower family and found in Paraguay, but also in neighbouring Brazil and Argentina. Modern scientific interest in the Stevia plant dates back to the early 1900’s. The discovery of the sweetness of the stevia plant is attributed to an Italian-Swiss botanist, Dr. Moisés S. Bertoni, in 1901 (International Stevia Council). It was then “discovered” by Spanish Conquistadors in South America in the sixteenth century. However, researchers believe the use of the plant to sweeten medicines, food and tea by indigenous people dates prior to the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. They learned about Stevia from the local Guarani and Mato Grosso Indians who used Stevia leaves to sweeten their medicines, foods and teas. They called the plant CAA-HEE (Honey Leaf). Stevia was also said to be used medicinally as a treatment for diabetes, hypertension, and obesity (Johnson Jr, Dr. R.E.).
Use these links to read more on the effects of Stevia:
- On the treatment of Hypertension, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19000919
- On the treatment of Diabetes, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23140911
- On the treatment of Obesity, http://benthamopen.com/toobesj/articles/V002/101TOOBESJ.pdf
The Science Behind Stevia
Stevia is a plant and we take the leaf of the plant which is called Stevioside green Stevia leaf which you can buy organically and which is known to be a little bitter. There are at least 10 compounds that can be extracted from stevia leaf, these are shown in our diagram below;
I believe the best taste comes from Rebaudioside A, which is the white powder. This is made by isolating the green leaf and extracting the compound that makes up the white stevia, by steeping its dried leaves in water, filtering and separating the liquid from the leaves and stems, and further purifying the plant extract with either water or food grade alcohol. Rebaudioside A is also known to be the sweetest and nicest tasting part of the leaf and is over 300% sweeter than traditional cane sugar.
Now for the ugly side of Stevia – let’s get both sides of the story here.
Well Stevia is great if you could find real Stevia on your supermarket shelves however it is rare to find the unaltered real organic green leaf Stevia or Rebaudioside A.
Today most Stevia products are a blend of sugar alcohols. Sometimes companies are even coy enough to blend Stevia with cane sugar!
For example Truvia, a brand of Stevia that is commonly found on your supermarket shelves and like many other brands it is marketed as being real Stevia and of course marketed as being really healthy. Well this is no other then the giant COCA COLA company marketing team at its best. The reality is Truvia’s main ingredient is Erythritol not STEVIA!
All I say is to be truthful in the labelling because as consumers we must be smarter and not get fooled so easily. Drinks and foods such as muffins and biscuits are not healthy just because companies have a stuck a huge label on the packet pronouncing that the product has been sweetened with Stevia.
They want you to believe the product is healthy as lately Stevia is known to be a health buzz word. Remember it is still a muffin that most probably still contains gluten, wheat and not to mention cheap blends of Stevia. As such it’s really up to us the consumers to cut through the ‘BS’ and educate ourselves. I suggest making it a habit to reading the ingredient labels on everything that needs packaging.
So! How about a solution, then?
So rather than go attacking all sweeteners as this will be no help, I would much rather give you my opinion on sweeteners through the research I have compiled and also ask you to pay more attention to labels ingredient lists on the back of food packaging. Always remember to be mindful of the coded numbers.
So now if you want to eat a few sweets with a little less guilt you surely can, as the finest Organic Stevia Rebaudioside A is now available from my store, ketosistools.com.
The Benefits of Stevia
> Stevia has been shown to lower blood pressure
> Stevia can help people enjoy natural-origin sweetness while reducing calories as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
> Stevia has also been shown to help in the treatment of diabetes, hypertension, and obesity
> Stevia has been around as a natural sweetener for centuries
> With Stevia you use way less, as it is 300 times sweeter than cane sugar.
> Unlike sugar, Stevia has been said to cause no problems with teeth (Dean, Dr. C).
Xylitol was discovered in the 1890’s by a German chemist, Emil Fischer, and at the same time by M. G. Bertrand, a French chemist.
Chemically, xylitol is categorized as a sugar alcohol and as not a sugar. Xylitol was first popularized in Europe. Researchers in Finland demonstrated the health benefits of xylitol and the industry was founded. (Xylitol Zone, n.d.)
German and French researchers were the first to discover the science behind Xylitol. However it has been said the oldest record of this “sugar for oral health” seems to have been about 2500 years ago, in a book of Chinese herbal cures. The remedy is “Zhin-he–tong” (“sugar from the white tree”) for cavities and gum disease. The Chinese have known about xylitol for a long time. (Ultimate Oral Health Guide, 2012.)
Check out the following link for more information on Fischer –http://chemistry.about.com/od/famouschemists/p/emilhermannfischerbio.htm
The Science Behind Xylitol
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol, not actually a sugar. (American Diabetes Association, 2013)
Now what is a sugar alcohol, I hear you ask?
It is an organic compound from a class of polyols called polyhydric alcohol, polyalcohol, or glycitol. Sugar alcohols, in addition to occurring naturally are white, water-soluble solids which occur naturally.
Its unique feature is its five-carbon structure which is the main reason it has been proven to be the only sweetener with both passive and active anti-cary effects.
Xylitol is naturally present in many fruits and vegetables and is naturally found in low concentrations in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables. Additionally it can be extracted from various berries as well as oats, mushrooms, and fibrous material like as corn husks and sugar cane bagasse, and birch bark.
Now for the ugly side of Xylitol, again, let’s get both sides of the story here.
While it is true that xylitol can be derived from the xylan of birch trees, xylan is also found in corn cobs. Corn is much cheaper to manufacture then birch bark and consequently manufacturers prefer to use the cheapest method, GMO corn. Therefore, unless the label of a xylitol containing product specifically notes that it is from birch, beets or some other non GMO source this is the same problem as high fructose corn syrup, widely used in sodas and sports drinks.
Xylitol is available in two grades – food grade and pharmaceutical grade. Many people are concerned that food grade xylitol is not as completely purified of contaminates and production chemicals. Some food grade Xylitol has been known to have mixed chemicals like aspartame in them so it is best to avoid food-grade xylitol. It is advisable to look for pharmaceutical grade xylitol which is a higher-quality and a purer form.
Xylitol is often seen on labels under its food code 967 or E967 (Myers, W.).
So how then, do I know which Xylitol to buy?
Read labels, make sure the product is not GMO modified and find out what it is made from. Also pharmaceutical grade over food grade as it is 100% xylitol.
Also feel free to take all the guess work out, and feel safe in knowing that the finest birch bark xylitol is now available from http://www.ketosistools.com!
Fantastic! Let’s look at the benefits of Xylitol.
>It has good, sweet flavour with no unpleasant aftertaste.
>It helps to reduce the development of dental caries in particular in young children. (Abdelmalek MF1, Suzuki A, Guy C, Unalp-Arida A, Colvin R, Johnson RJ, Diehl A.M. 2008)
>Xylitol has shown great results as an Alternative to Sugar for People with Diabetes (Islam M.S. & Indrajit M.2012), (Kishore P, Kehlenbrink S, Hu M, Zhang K, Gutierrez-Juarez R, Koppaka S, El-Maghrabi MR, Hawkins M. 2012)
>Xylitol may improve insulin resistance (Kishore P., Kehlenbrink S., Hu M., Zhang K, Gutierrez-Juarez R, Koppaka S, El-Maghrabi M.R., Hawkins M. 2012).
> It is great for people on a ketogenic diet.
> Xylitol can help people enjoy natural-original sweetness while reducing calories as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
The science on the effects of sweeteners is relatively new. Sweeteners date quite far back, however the studies on the effects of sweeteners don’t. As of now the jury is still out on this one however we can still make a reasonable decision on this I believe.
Avoid all GMO modified or overly processed sweeteners. Buy organic if possible. Cut the fructose consumption down. I believe the info-graphic list above on this article is a good guide for you to go by.
If you’re on a low carb diet of any sort or not, or for those of us on no specific diet at all and want to indulge in a guilt free dessert you now can with the natural sugar substitute Stevia and a higher quality, purer form birch bark- Xylitol.
These are also a great substitute for sweetening drinks without the fear of the huge blood sugar spike or added calories so get cracking baking those treats and sweetening your drinks.
One last side note, please remember to make all your other ingredients healthy too as I touched on earlier. There is no point in using this great sweetener in a cake made with wheat heavy sweetened chocolate full of gluten. Look out for some raw treat recipes in my Keto Food section of this blog.
Abdelmalek M.F., Suzuki A., Guy C., Unalp-Arida A., Colvin R., Johnson R.J., Diehl A.M., & contributors. (2010) Increased fructose consumption is associated with fibrosis severity in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Retrieved from http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hep.23535/abstract
Alanen, P., Isokangas P., & Gutmann K., (2008). Xylitol candies in caries prevention: results of a field study in Estonian children. Community Dent Oral Epidemiol. 218-24. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10830649
American Diabetes Association (2013).Sugar Alcohols. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from http://www.diabetes.org/food-and-fitness/food/what-can-i-eat/understanding-carbohydrates/sugar-alcohols.html.
Dean, Dr. C. (2008). The Scary Truth About Sugar. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from http://drcarolyndean.com/articles_scary_truth_about_sugar.html
Humphries, P., Pretorius, E., & Naude, H. (2007). Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain. Retrieved from http://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v62/n4/full/1602866a.html
International Stevia Council. (n.d). Stevia Basics. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from http://internationalsteviacouncil.org/?id=152
Islam M.S. & Indrajit M.(2012). Xylitol increases serum triglyceride in normal but not in a type 2 diabetes model of rats. doi: 10.1089/jmf.2012.0077 Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22832597
Jane’s Healthy Kitchen. (n.d.) Xylitol, Pros and Cons of a Sweetener. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from http://janeshealthykitchen.com/xylitol-pros-and-cons/#.VJT6xBsBg
Johnson Jr, Dr. R.E. (1990). Stevioside, “Naturally”! A Special Presentation. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from http://www.holisticmed.com/sweet/stv-ej.txt
Kishore P, Kehlenbrink S, Hu M, Zhang K, Gutierrez-Juarez R, Koppaka S, El-Maghrabi MR, Hawkins M. (2012). Xylitol prevents NEFA-induced insulin resistance in rats. Jun;55(6):1808-12. doi: 10.1007/s00125-012-2527-z. Epub 2012 Mar 30. Retrieved http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22460760
Lui, H., Huang, D., McArthur, D.L., Boros, L.G., Nissen, N., Heaney, A.P., (2010). Fructose Induces Transketolase Flux to Promote Pancreatic Cancer Growth. Retrieved from http://cancerres.aacrjournals.org/content/70/15/6368.abstract
Myers, W. (2013) Complete List of Artificial Sweeteners. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from http://liveto110.com/complete-list-of-artificial-sweeteners/
Nutrition-and-you.com. (n.d). Stevia plant (herb) nutrition facts. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from http://www.nutrition-and-you.com/stevia-plant.html
Rahman, M.A. & Islam M.S. (2014). Xylitol improves pancreatic islets morphology to ameliorate type 2 diabetes in rats: a dose response study. doi: 10.1111/1750-3841.12520. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24962431
The Healthy Home Economist. (2012). Xylitol: Not as Sweet As It’s Cracked Up to Be. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/xylitol-not-as-sweet-as-its-cracked-up-to-be/
Ultimate Oral Health Guide. (2012). Ancient Wisdom: The History of Xylitol. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from http://drecoaching.com/blog/2012/09/26/ancient-wisdom-the-history-of-xylitol/.
Xylitol Zone. (n.d.) History of Xylitol. Retrieved December 19, 2014 from http://www.xylitolzone.com/history-xylitol/