Believe it or not, humans were really not designed to eat large amounts of sugar in whatever form it may take: white and brown sugar, corn syrup, sucrose, dextrose, fructose, maltose, barley malt, honey, rice syrup, and maple syrup. Sugar is highly seductive, acting like an addictive drug that lures even the most well-intentioned person back into its sweet clutches.
Table sugar as we know it is really a refined version of a more healthy sugar that comes from either sugar cane or sugar beet. In the refining process, all of the fiber and nutrients have been refined out, leaving a highly sweet and nutrient deficient food source. In nutrition circles it is considered an anti-nutrient. The hallmark of an anti-nutrient is that it provides no nutrition to the body. This lack of nutrition will force the body to constantly use its reserves of nutrients to fill in the gap left by a lack of nutrients. Over time this forces the body to become nutrient depleted.
Regularly eating large amounts of refined sugar can then cause serious harm. It can cause hypoglycemia and weight gain, leading to diabetes and obesity in both children and adults. It deprives the body of vital minerals and vitamins. It raises blood pressure, triglycerides, and the bad cholesterol (LDL), increasing the risk of heart disease. It causes both tooth decay and peridontal disease. It makes it difficult for a child’s brain to learn, resulting in lack of concentration. In research studies, both children and adults exhibit disruptive behavior, learning disorders, and fogetfulness from sugar consumption. It can suppress the immune system. It also upsets hormonal balance and supports the growth of cancer cells.
So what are we to do? Will our sugar cravings always hold us hostage, or is there really a way to lick the sugar habit successfully and satisfy our sweet tooth without compromising good health?
Here are some of the new natural sugars that are legal and safe to eat that don’t cause significant increases in blood sugar and that are even sweeter than table sugar. They can provide us with a sweet taste, but don’t provide us with the extra calories and may even provide us with some welcome health benefits. Always use less when adding them to beverages and other foods:
Stevia is an herb from the sunflower family that is native to South and Central America. It has been used in different parts of the world as a sweetener and sugar substitute. It is very popular in Japan, as it was the first country in the world to produce the first commercial stevia sweetener. “Japan has been using stevia in food products, soft drinks, and as “table sugar” since 1971 and currently uses more stevia than any other country, with stevia accounting for 40 percent of the sweetener market.” (1)
There was some controversy over whether stevia would be allowed into the United States. In 1991, the FDA “labeled stevia as an “unsafe food additive” and restricted its import.” (2) There were claims of conflict of interest as stevia is from a natural food source and the sugar and sweetener industry was trying to block its import. By 1995, the FDA reversed its stance and allowed imports. Stevia has now been approved for use in food products and even Coca Cola has created a stevia sweetener to be used in its line of products.
The good news is that stevia has been shown in many studies to have a positive effect on blood sugar management. Stevia was administered every six hours for three days to one group of 8 subjects and contrasted with administration of another sugar to 8 more subjects. Stevia “significantly decreased plasma glucose levels during the test and after overnight fasting in the volunteers.” (3) In another study, stevia reduced after meal blood glucose and potentiated insulin secretion in type 2 diabetic patients. (4) In addition, it has traditionally been used to treat heartburn and as a sweetener in herbal teas.
It is 10 times sweeter than sugar and has a slight bitter after taste when using large amounts. Thus, it is best utilized in smaller amounts. We have found that it is most useful in teas, lemonades, and when added to sweeten fruit dishes. It is a great sugar substitute for those who must reduce sugar intake, but want a natural sweetener. Stevia comes in either liquid or powdered form. It will remain heat stable up to 392 degrees. However, it will not brown or caramelize like sugar, and can’t be used to activate yeast, such as in breads.
1 tsp. of granulated sugar = 1/8 tsp. whole leaf stevia powder
1 tbsp. of granulated sugar = 3/8 tsp. of whole leaf stevia powder
¼ cup of granulated sugar = 1 ½ tsp. of whole leaf stevia powder
½ cup of granulated sugar= 1 tbsp. of whole leaf stevia powder
1 cup of granulated sugar – 2 tbsp. of whole leaf stevia powder
Cookbooks: Baking with Stevia: Recipes for the Sweet Leaf (Rita D. DePuydt)
Sugar Free Naturally! (Jeffrey Goettemoeller
Xylitol is a low-calorie sugar alcohol or polyol sugar which is a naturally occurring sugar substitute found in the fibers of fruits and vegetables. It can be extracted from corn fiber, birch, raspberries, plums, and corn. It was originally derived from birch bark and today the majority is manufactured from either corn or birch bark. As a sugar alcohol, it is not completely absorbed by the body and thus the blood sugar impact is less. If you use large amounts you may experience some mild gas, bloating, or diarrhea, as the sugar alcohol can ferment in the intestines. If you have a sensitivity to corn, then check the label for the source.
It is also a natural, intermediate product, which regularly occurs in the glucose metabolism of most animals, as well as in the metabolism of several plants and micro-organisms. It is naturally produced in our bodies. In fact, we make up to 15 grams daily during normal metabolism
It is much sweeter than sugar, but has the added advantage of tasting like refined sugar. As such, it has no bitter aftertaste as experienced with stevia. Dosages are usually to taste. It is usually sold in one pound packages, as a liquid and easy to use packets.
It is safe to use by diabetics in that it metabolizes without insulin. One teaspoon of xylitol contains 9.6 calories, as compared to sugar which has 15 calories. (5) It is used in chewing gum, hard candy, sold as a crystalline sugar, throat lozenges, nasal sprays, chewable multivitamins, toothpastes, and mouthwashes.
Xylitol builds immunity and prevents the growth of bacteria. (6) There is research available on its use for dental health. (7) There was a two-year study conducted at a health center in Finland on young children who consumed 10g. per day of xylitol in chewing gum. The results showed a 30 to 60 percent reduction in new dental cavities compared to a control group who didn’t chew any gum. (8) In fact, as a result of this study, all gum now sold in Finland uses xylitol as the sweetener. While sugar is acid forming, xylitol is alkaline forming.
Maltitol is another sugar alcohol which has about 90 percent of the sweetness of sugar. It is usually extracted from corn and is used in sugarless candies, sweets, chewing gum, chocolate, baked goods, and ice cream. Like other sugar alcohols, if eaten in excess in can have a laxative effect. In fact, in other countries such as Australia and Norway, there is a warning label on products that contain maltitol, stating that “excessive consumption may have a laxative effect.” (9)
But, most people don’t consume very much in a day and it is rare to experience any side effects.
It is a naturally occurring sugar found in dairy products and is similar in texture to table sugar. It is extracted from the lactose sugar. Even though it is a natural sugar and has 40 percent less calories than sugar, products that carry tagatose cannot be labeled “sugar-free.” But, it can state that it doesn’t cause dental cavities. Tagatose is now extensively used by the health food industry as a sweetener in protein bars and sold as a low-calorie sweetener.
A recent trend in the health food community is to include agave nectar as a natural sweetener in all types of prepared foods and sell it as a liquid syrup. It is commercially produced primarily in Mexico from several species of agave, a cactus like plant. The juice is expressed from the plant and then heated at a low temperature to release the sugars. The main sugar is fructose. In fact, it contains 90 percent fructose and 10 percent glucose. Studies conducted on the syrup indicate that it is a low glycemic sweetener—27 on the glycemic index and 1.6 on the glycemic load scale. (10)
Some critics contend that since it is so high in fructose (even higher than high fructose corn syrup) that it can have some of the side effects attributed to high fructose corn syrup – obesity, metabolic syndrome. They also contend that isolated fructose in any form contains no enzymes, vitamins, or minerals, which makes it similar to table sugar. It is important to be aware when purchasing sweeteners that you not only consider the taste but the nutritive value and health benefits as well.
Other Natural Sweeteners
There are a host of natural sweeteners that may be substituted in recipes and in food preparation that provide nutrients as well as sweetness. They are more calorically dense than the sugar alcohols and herbal sweeteners, so they will have an effect on raising blood sugar and increasing insulin output:
- Rice bran syrup
- Barley malt
- Maple syrup
- Fresh fruits
It is best to use a natural sugar substitute, rather than a chemical and synthetic sweetener. Aspartame and Sucralose are the two most popular artificial sweeteners on the market and are ubiquitous to our prepared food market. The problem inherent in consuming these sweeteners is that the chemicals are released into our bodies and can have deleterious effects as the body tries to process these chemicals. There have been many reported incidences of health issues associated with them.
- Stevia: History and use, from Wikipedia, retrieved on September 22, 2009 at http://en.wikipeida.org/wiki/Stevia.
- Stevia: Political controversy, op.cit.
- Curi, R. et.al. Effect of Stevia rebaudiana on glucose tolerance in normal adult humans, Brazilian Journal of Medical Biological Research, 1986; 19(6):771-774.
- Gregersen, S., et.al. Antihyperglycemic effects of stevioside in type 2 diabetic subjects, Metabolism, 2004; 53:73-76.
- Xylitol from Wikepedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xylitol
- Tapiainen. T., et.al. Effect of xylitol on growth of Streptococcus penumoniae in the presence of fructose and sorbitol, Antimicrobial Agents Chemotherapy. January 2001, 45(1):166-169.
- Hayes, C. The effect of non-carcinogenic sweeteners on the prevention of dental caries: a review of the evidence, Harvard School of Medicine in the Journal of Dental Education, October, 2001: 65(10):1106-1109.
- Makinen, K.K., et.al. Xylitol chewing gums and caries rates: A 40-month study, Journal of Dental Research, December, 1995; 74(12):1904-1913, retrieved on September 22, 2009 at http://www.caloriecontrol.org/sweeteners-and-lite/polyols/xylitol.
- Xylitol: Metabolism, retrieved on September 22, 2009 at http://www.answers.com/topic/maltitol.
- Clinical Assessment/Blue Agave Nectar, Clinical Solutions, August 2005, retrieved on
September 30, 2009 at http://www.blueagavenectar.com/glycemictestingofagavenectar.html.