What Sweeteners are Doing to You
Have you seen the film Fed Up? It chronicles how sugar is destroying the health of America and what can be done about it. It’s important to understand the detrimental effects of sugar on your health. Chaya from Pantry Paratus shares with us what sweeteners are doing to you.
We see the low calorie promises that artificial sweeteners make; doctors may recommend them to control sugar intake. What are these sweeteners, and what are they doing to you?
No one can live a day without sugar in their bloodstream. Sugar is energy broken down to its simplest chemical compound. It is the common denominator in carbohydrates, and those are what fuel you. The problem is not actually sugar, but refined sugar.
The bane of many is the addition of sugar to the diet beyond the natural, nutritive sugars (such as honey) that would be an organic part of the diet, or the ones created in your liver by breaking down carbohydrates. Get the full story on this love-hate relationship in this article, “Sugar: The Science, The History, & The Love Affair.”
Refined Sugars vs. Nutritive Sugars
Do you know the dangers of refined sugar? Far from an exhaustive list, here are a few irrefutably proven effects: liver damage, anxiety, addiction, depression, poor memory, feeding molds, and a sluggish immune system! Do refined sugars feed cancer? Cellular biologists say that cancer cells ferment glucose even when oxygen is present (normal cells don’t do that). In other words, cancer grows faster with sugar.
Sugar is sugar. However, there are more nutritive sugars that contain vitamins and minerals that can enhance your health if eaten within reasonable limits providing that you do not have any immune system issues. Raw honey, maple syrup, sucanat, and a few others contribute energy and are more complex than refined sugars. Sugars they are, but slightly better for your health. Remain under your nutrition or holistic-health professional for guidance as to the acceptable limits for your needs.
The blue packets, pink packets, or yellow—can’t you have your cake and eat it too? These high-intensity sweeteners have hundreds-times the sweetness of sucrose (refined table sugar)– gaggingly so– and for many people they overwhelm the food’s flavor. Here’s the sweetness of the FDA approved sweeteners compared to table sugar:
• Acesulfame-K (“Ace-K”): 200x
• Advantame : 20,000x –yes, you read that correctly, and it was just approved in 2014.
• Aspartame (often the “blue packet”): 180x
• Neotame: 7,000x-13,000x
• Saccharin (often the “pink packet”): 200x-700x
• Stevia: 200x*
• Sucralose (often the “yellow packet”): 600x
*Stevia is approved under the FDA’s GRAS (“Generally Regarded as Safe”) ruling, not as an approved food additive, which is how the others are classified.
Pitfall #1: Increased Food Intake
This is what the FDA doesn’t tell you; people who use high intensity sweeteners tend to overeat.
Pitfall #2: Weight Gain
Often, foods using sugar alternatives have to mask the flavor and do this by using more fats and carbohydrates, increasing the overall caloric intake of the food. One study showing weight gain also revealed an increased food intake—so perhaps that’s the reason for the weight gain after all.
Pitfall #3: “Metabolic Syndrome”
Metabolic Syndrome is a cluster of symptoms, all of which are experienced by routine consumption of high intensity sweeteners. These include high blood pressure, high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waste, and unusual cholesterol levels. I don’t need to tell you that this combination is the formula for a whole host of other health problems. The studies are showing that the chances of Metabolic Syndrome actually double with the consumption of high intensity sweeteners!
Pitfall #4: Increased Chance of Type 2 Diabetes
I know this seems counterintuitive, but it has been the result of both American and European studies. To be fair, consistent high intakes of refined sugars have the same effect, but do not think you are immune because you opt for the sugar alternatives. They get the same results.
There really isn’t sugar or alcohol in sugar alcohols; they get the name because the chemical compounds are similar. These artificial sweeteners aren’t as sweet as table sugar and do have a caloric intake (in contrast to the calorie-free high intensity sweeteners). Here is the FDA approved list of names you should be looking for on the package:
• Sorbitol (50% sweetness, extracted from corn syrup)
• Xylitol (100% sweetness, extracted from corn cobs and hardwoods)
• Lactitol (30-40% sweetness)
• Mannitol (50-70% sweetness, extracted from seaweed)
• Erythritol (60-70% sweetness, extracted from corn starch)
• Maltitol (75% sweetness, extracted from hydrogenated corn syrup)
Pitfall #1: Tend to Over-use
Contrasted to high-intensity sweeteners, these sugar alcohols feel a bit more natural on the tongue, since they are anywhere between 25%-100% as sweet as table sugar, and they don’t have the weird aftertaste. This can often mean, however, that much more of the sugar alcohol is used in comparison to refined sugar for the same food item.
Pitfall #2: Laxative Effect
Sugar alcohols do not completely absorb in your intestinal track, and then they attract water. This leads to diarrhea, bloating, gas, and general discomfort. Erythritol is the one exception to the laxative effect, but it enters the colon and can cause nausea.
Pitfall #3: Increased Fat
The fat content of “sugar free” products is generally higher than that of regular ones. You would need to compare labels or recipes. Both the foods and the people consuming them have higher fat!
Pitfall #4: Unidentified Food Sources
Most of the sugar alcohols are made from corn, but they may not be. Do you have any food allergies? Is it healthy to extract our sweeteners through chemical processes, creating an end product far from its original state of being?
Pitfall #5: Raised Sugar-Levels
Sugar alcohols will not raise your blood sugar after the meal to the same level gram-for-gram that table sugar would, but it will raise your blood sugar level after the meal.
Pitfall#6: Not for Weight-Loss
It’s just fine that these “sugar-free-no calorie” alternatives are not proven to help people lose weight—except that it’s how they are marketed and is often the consumer’s expectation. Most often, people have a high caloric intake with the foods using “calorie free” sweeteners. Yale reports that weight gain is common. Remember, the manufacturers have to make up for the lack of flavor somewhere, and often overcompensate by adding fats or carbs.
You’re choosing good alternatives—you are educating yourself at Real Food Outlaws. You are learning to make conscientious choices about your food. Menu plan, try new recipes, and keep learning!
Photo: Sweetener packets by Punching Judy, CC 2.0
Chaya is the food geek and DIY expert over at Pantry Paratus; she’s passionate about teaching you how to produce, prepare, & preserve your own harvest. Pantry Paratus is the self-sufficiency kitchen store that equips you for old-fashioned kitchen skills (like food fermentation and canning, to name just a few).