I get a TON of questions about sugar and sweeteners. Most people just want to know which are okay to eat and which are bad. But, of course, I can’t just say “eat this, not that” without some kind of explanation behind it. In an effort to keep this as short and sweet (pun intended) as possible, I’m going to boil it down to a few key points.
- ALL sweeteners, caloric or non-caloric, can contribute to weight-gain or prohibit weight loss.
- Sweeteners that come from nature are always better to consume than those that come from a lab or factory.
- Regardless of the source, it’s ALWAYS best to minimize your exposure to sweeteners.
Allow me to explain these points in some further detail.
ALL sweeteners, caloric or non-caloric, can contribute to weight-gain or prohibit weight loss.
Contrary to the popular belief that only calories can impact your waistline, there is strong evidence to suggest otherwise. Studies have shown that any sweet sensation can cause an insulin release in your body. When our bodies release insulin, we are in a storage-mode since insulin’s job is to put nutrients into your cells. Most people who consume artificial sweeteners are thinking that they’re doing themselves a favor by avoiding calories, but what’s happening in their bodies is pretty much the opposite of their goal.
Here’s how it goes: Eat something sweet (regardless of calories) > Insulin is released > Body stores nutrients.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but when you were taking in that non-caloric sweetener, you were trying to avoid storing anything, right? The point was that you were avoiding consuming calories and maybe even trying to lose some body fat. Well, here’s the newsflash. It’s just not going to work.
Granted, there are some people out there who are not overweight and who consume non-caloric/chemical sweeteners. Maybe they’re not having the same weight loss problems that others are, but they are still going to incur negative effects of putting those chemicals into their system.
But don’t take my word for it. Here are just a few of the studies published on the topic of the metabolic effects and insulin response resulting from the consumption of artificial sweeteners:
A 2008 study in Behavioral Neuroscience “A Role for Sweet Taste: Calorie Predictive Relations in Energy Regulation by Rats” (PDF)
Medscape article: “Use of Artificial Sweeteners Linked to 2-Fold Increase in Diabetes”
Pubmed article: “The effect of artificial sweetener on insulin secretion. 1. The effect of acesulfame K on insulin secretion in the rat (studies in vivo).”
Besides negative metabolic effects, artificial sweeteners have been identified as the cause of a litany of health problems including but not limited to:
- migraines and headaches
- dizziness / poor equilibrium
- convulsions and seizures
- nausea and vomiting
- fatigue and weakness
- change in mood
- change in vision
- change in heart rate
- joint pain
- memory loss
- sleep problems / insomnia
- hives / rash
I don’t know about you, but if I was suffering from any of the above symptoms, I’m not sure that I’d be able to keep myself on the healthiest eating plan. So besides having the above-listed negative side-effects, the ramifications from the consumption of artificial sweeteners can be very far-reaching. For more on the subject, I would recommend checking out Dorway and Mercola and searching through some articles.
Sweeteners from nature are always better to consume than those that come from a lab or factory.
I think it’s really easy to fall for hype and marketing when it comes to the latest and greatest in the world of what Robb Wolf likes to call “better living through chemistry.” Unfortunately, chemical sweeteners are not what he’s talking about there. The bottom line: ANYTHING that comes from nature will ALWAYS be better for you than something that was made in a lab or a factory. Period. I don’t care if it’s a fist full of honey vs. a teaspoon of Splenda – give me the honey!
Non-chemical sweeteners include:
- raw honey
- regular honey (which has been pasteurized/heated and has fewer nutrients than raw)
- date sugar, palm sugar, coconut sugar
- fruit juice
- maple syrup (real/organic/grade b)
- cane sugar
- green leaf stevia
We can also classify things like high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), agave and brown rice syrup as non-chemical sweeteners though that sort of makes me cringe to say it.
Non-chemical sweeteners are not necessarily “healthy,” it simply means that they’re refined from something that was found in nature and are not made from chemicals. Typically, non-chemical sweeteners can be metabolized by our bodies while chemical sweeteners cannot and are considered toxins within our system. As with all toxins that enter our system, they are stored in our fat cells.
Chemical sweeteners include:
- Aspartame (branded as Equal)
- Stevia that is white (branded as Truvia and Sun Crystals currently)
- Sucralose (branded as Splenda)
- and a new one that will be available soon called Tagatose.
Which sweeteners are okay to use in moderation & which to avoid entirely?
Okay in moderation, use organic whenever possible:
- honey, preferably raw (this is what I use most of the time if I need a sweetener for something)
- grade b maple syrup (the real stuff! I reach for this second when I want that maple-y flavor in a recipe)
- date sugar
- fruit juice
- green leaf stevia
- Aspartame (Equal)
- Saccharin (Sweet n Low)
- Stevia- when it’s white/bleached (Truvia, Sun Crystals)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
Regardless of the source, it’s ALWAYS best to minimize your exposure to sweeteners.
Finding hidden sweeteners in common foods & snacks: Be a sweetener detective!
- Check the total carbohydrate grams in the food, and then check the sugar grams- remember that 4g of sugar is 1tsp.
- Look for ingredients that end in “-ose” or “-tol” – this means it’s a sweetener. For example: sucralose, glucose, sucrose, fructose, dextrose, maltose, lactose, levulose, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol.
- Look for the words sugar, nectar, syrup, crystals. These are typically derived from more natural sources, but are STILL sweeteners and you should be aware of their presence.
- When reading ingredient lists, remember that the first item listed is the largest percentage of the item, and so on. So, if a sweetener is listed within the first few ingredients, the item will have a pretty high amount of sweetener in it relative to the rest of the ingredients.
Kashi GoLean Crunch Cereal: 1 cup serving size, 37g Carbs, 13g Sugar (More than 1 Tbsp) Sweeteners: Evaporated Cane Juice Crystals listed 3rd after the grains and the added soy protein concentrate (which are both topics for another day), then Brown Rice Syrup listed 4th and Honey listed 8th.
Yoplait Strawberry Yogurt: 1 container serving – 6oz Sweeteners: Sugar listed 2nd, High Fructose Corn Syrup listed 4th.
Check out my simple, real-food based program: The 21-Day Sugar Detox. It’s just $21 for the 41-page manual (e-book, PDF download) and it’s filled with lots of Paleo-friendly recipes. You’ll love the challenge and you’ll feel great after. Even if you don’t want to do the full detox, the recipes, tips, and tricks are fantastic (if I do say so myself).
Enjoy & be well!
photo credit: QueenBeeGardens