A lot of people ask what replacements are available for sugar. They know that they should not be eating so much processed sugar, and are quickly learning that it is nearly impossible to avoid it if you are eating any packaged foods, as it is literally in everything regardless of what food you purchase. If you don’t believe me – I challenge you to go to your food cupboard, grab 2-3 items and look at the ingredients – not the nutrition facts (because all food contains some sugars), but the actual ingredients – all of the following are considered processed sugar, beet sugar, cane sugar, sucrose, glucose, dextrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, and maltodextrin – just to name a few. Seventy-six percent of the 134 lbs. of sugar the average person eats is hidden in foods (Teresa Paul, from HW, Vol. 28). What is a person to do?
The Artificial Sweeteners
First lets talk about artificial sweeteners that are on the market that are not truly considered natural or healthy. All of these by the way were discovered by accident. The first artificial sweetener was saccharin, invented over 130 years ago by two chemists who where experimenting around with coal tar derivatives. Coal tar is the liquid by-product of the distillation of coal to make coke. It is very viscous brown or black liquid, with smell of naphthalene, or mothballs. It can be made into coal tar soap, which is used to treat eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and other skin disorders via prescription. Many people still believe that saccharine is dangerous because of the “cancer warning” that is still on some saccharine packages. This scare was because some researcher tested rats on saccharine in dosages 1000 times more than would be “normal” for a human in the same weight/size ratio. Further testing by many laboratories has since changed this, and this label has recently been removed. It can leave a yucky aftertaste, which many people don’t like. Saccharine, which is 300 times sweeter than sugar, is also known as Sweet N’ Low, or “the pink stuff” and amazingly is the number one-selling brand today in terms of units and volume. A sweetener from coal – no thanks, I’ll pass.
The next big artificial sweetener to hit the market was Asparatame, also known as Nutra-Sweet, or Equal – which is documented in many books and many sites on the web as being unhealthy, causing everything from digestive problems, brain tumors, etc. Two sources you can check out are www.mercola.com and books by Dr. Russell Blaylock. This sweetener was found by accident by a medical chemist who was investigating a drug for ulcers. More and more people are noticing health problems from these sweeteners. If you want to know if it may be affecting your health – stop using all of these sweeteners for 1 month. See if you notice a difference in your health. In addition, the companies that make these products must add fillers to the product because the sweetener is so strong, 180 times sweeter than sugar. Some add cornstarch, which is bad for people with corn allergies, and others add silica or sand. If you think all those “lite” drinks and “diet” products you are eating are healthy for you, I would reconsider.
The latest artificial sweetener discovered is sucralose, or Splenda, discovered in 1976 by a graduate student. The August Issue of Discover Magazine, 2005 has an article on all of these artificial sweeteners with pictures of each in their chemical structure, and states that the graduate student’s “… head researcher had told him to test some compounds, but he misunderstood and tasted them instead. Of the three sweeteners, sucralose has been touted as the most natural, but that claim ‘has more to do with clever marketing than with chemistry,’…” In fact, in what we find a very humorous note is both the sugar association and Merisant Worldwide, manufacturer of the artificial sweetener Equal, are suing to stop Splenda from making the claim ‘made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.’ They say the phrase misleads consumers into thinking Splenda is natural when it is actually ‘a highly processed chemical compound.’ Adding fuel to the fire is this Internet poll: In a poll of 426 people, 47 percent of respondents thought Splenda was natural. Only 8 percent knew it was made from sucralose, which is made by chlorinating sucrose, or sugar.” (Dale Buss, April 28, 2003) Yes, you read that right – chlorinating – with chlorine. Another popular new sweetener that is up and coming is Acesulfame-K – also known as Sunette, Sweet One, and Sweet ‘n Safe. Suzanne Somers uses this in her SomerSweet product. Acesulfame-K was discovered in 1967 and is 150-200 times sweeter than sugar. Acesulfame-K is a highly stable, crystalline sweetener with a chemical structure that is similar to saccharin. Acesulfame-K is usually used in combination with aspartame or other sweeteners because it has a synergistic effect to enhance and sustain the sweet taste of foods and beverages. Acesulfame-K is found in many foods, and it was approved for use by the FDA in 1988. “Even compared to aspartame and saccharin which are afflicted with their own safety problems, acesulfame K is the worst. The additive is inadequately tested, the FDA based its approval on tests of acesulfame K that fell short of the FDA’s own standards. But even those tests indicate that the additive causes cancer in animals, which means it may increase cancer risk in humans. In l987, CSPI (The Center for Science in the Public Interest) urged the FDA not to approve acesulfame K, but was ignored. After the FDA gave the chemical it’s blessing, CSPI urged that it be banned. The FDA hasn’t yet ruled on that request.” This is from http://www.holisticmed.com/acek/ . It isn’t something I want to take a chance with for my health.
There is another new sweetener coming on the market called neotame – which is 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. Why we need that, I have no idea.
So what is wrong with Honey?
There are many natural sweeteners. These include simple sugars such as honey, molasses, date sugar or syrup, turbinado sugar (raw sugar – they take the sugar cane, dry it, and crush it – making true brown sugar – the popular brown sugar you purchase in the grocery store is really white sugar with molasses added after the fact, true raw sugar has the molasses still in tact without removing valuable minerals), Sorghum (a grain syrup), Succanat (dried cane juice – where they take the sugar cane, and extract out the juice), maple sugar or syrup, fructose (fruit sugar) and fruit juice concentrate. One popular brand of fruit juice concentrate is Mystic Lake Syrup.
Then there are the complex sugars like, brown rice syrup, and barley malt. Fruit can also be substituted in recipes (for example; replace applesauce for oil in banana bread), as fruit is 33% complex sugar. The complex sugars take your body longer to break down and are considered healthier than the simple sugars. There are complex sugars in all whole grains as well.
Once you have optimum health, eating these in moderation is considered okay. Remember it is important that our bodies do get some form of sugars – sugars turn to carbohydrates and that is what our bodies burn for energy. So once you are healthy eating simple sugars in moderation is a good thing. In the meantime we recommend people get their sugars from fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
The problem with all of these natural sweeteners is that they still act as sugar in the body. This means they raise blood sugar levels, are high on the glycemic index scale, which is bad for diabetics and others with blood sugar issues. For people that are trying to get rid of fungus, parasites or other health issues, they can feed these organisms and make it harder to rid the body of these unfriendly body guests. The biggest issue of all is weight loss, all sugar turns to carbohydrates and must be burned by the body. And let’s face it, people like to eat sweets, but don’t like to exercise – so sweeteners that don’t affect the glycemic index are considered beneficial for weight loss.
Healthy Alternative Sweeteners
Fortunately there are some healthy alternative sweeteners out on the market today. Four of the most popular are Agave Nectar, Lo Han, Stevia and Xylitol.
The first of these is Agave Nectar from the Agave cactus. This agave nectar is what they make tequila out of. It is similar in taste and texture to honey. It can be purchased in a raw form – which means it is not heated or cooked, a dark form, which has more minerals intact and has a richer flavor similar to barley malt, or a light form, which is lighter and looks more like honey or brown rice syrup. It is 1.4 times sweeter than sugar, but has nearly half the amount of carbohydrates. Agave has a glycemic index of 48, and honey has one of 58. Most agave nectar is organic and is easy to use and cook with. I make lemonade with it often – using water, lemon juice, and agave to sweeten. I also use it as a sweetener in my chai tea as it adds body to the tea, so with the oat milk, and the Yogi Tea Redbush Chai Tea – it is very yummy.
Another favorite sweetener of is Lo Han Kuo. Also known as just Lo Han, it is a fruit from China. Lo Han is so low in calories that one serving has no measurable caloric value, it also has an incredibly low glycemic index. It does not cause sweet or food cravings, nor does it stimulate fat storage. Lo Han does not raise blood sugar and is safe for most diabetics and hypoglycemics. Best of all, it tastes great. Flavor is slightly softer or some would say, more fruity than sugar, a bit like maple syrup. It can be used in cereals, tea, or wherever you would sweeten with sugar. There are recipes in the boxes as well and there are starting to show up on websites as well. Lo Han is 10-15 times as sweet as sugar. Prices have dropped on this product and it is now much more cost-effective, but it is still considered more expensive than the other sweeteners listed here. Lo Han is sold by TriMedica as SlimSweet, and a few other makers as well. There are even beverages available by many companies that use Lo Han as a sweetener.
Stevia has been used for over 1500 years in Paraguay and surrounding countries. In the 1970’s the Japanese developed a method of refining the sweetness out of the plant – creating a new term called steviosides, which are 300 times sweeter than sugar. In Japan stevia is sold in most of their soft drinks and many other products, as they do not allow any artificial sweeteners to be used.
When using the whole leaf extract, there is a bitter taste with the sweetness, and an aftertaste of licorice when the product is diluted with water or other liquid. I have many people tell me that they have “tried stevia” and don’t like it. I encourage people to try several brands, because each is very different from the next. Each brand can vary between 20-200 times sweeter than sugar, some are liquids and some are powders. Cooking with stevia can be a challenge – but there are some great cookbooks out there – check your local library first or Amazon.com for some used ones. I am sure your local health food store will have some of the most recent ones, or just surf the Internet as there are many out there as well. Recipes that call for 1 cup of sugar, will usually only use 1/8th of a teaspoon of stevia – which of course changes the bulkiness of the finished product. Cookies for example, wouldn’t have that much bulk to them – so it is important to find a recipe that will give you the end result that you are looking for.
Xylitol (wood sugar)
Xylitol is approved for use as a sugar substitute in 35 countries and has been in the U.S. since the 1960’s. Xylitol is an all-natural wood sugar and is naturally extracted without chemicals using steam. The human body naturally produces xylitol and it is also a natural carbohydrate that is found in fibrous fruits and vegetables.
The benefits of xylitol include: stops the growth of yeast (including Candida Albicans), safe for diabetics, very low on the glycemic index scale – 7, fights plaque, improves breath odor, strengthens tooth enamel, 40% fewer calories than sugar (9.6 calories per serving), 75% fewer carbohydrates than sugar, helps to boost the immune system and reduces middle ear infections by 40% in children, reduces infections in the mouth and relieves dry mouth.
Xylitol can be used in all baking except where yeast is involved. It works great in hot drinks, but doesn’t dissolve well in cold drink. There are xylitol cookbooks available. Xylitol was originally made from birch trees, but after damaging many birch forests, with no other use for the extracted wood, many companies have now switched to corncobs. Almost all xylitol is now extracted from corncobs. Some companies use non-GMO corn, and others do not. Check where you purchase xylitol as each source is different and many of our customers notice the difference between the brand names.
Xylitol is unique of all the sweeteners as it actually helps your teeth. It is now used as a sweetener in many gums, and candy products, as well as toothpaste, mouthwash and even nose spray, as it is beneficial for sinus and ear infections because it kills the fungus and bacteria that cause these conditions.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol and there are many other sugar alcohols out there on the market; sorbitol comes from cherries, maltitol that comes from malt sugar, mannitol comes from seaweed, and lactitol from milk sugar. The negatives for xylitol are that when you use too much xylitol in some baking, there is a cooling effect aftertaste, which of course is perfect for gum, candy or other products where there is mint present. Xylitol gum lasts forever, which is great. .
There is another new sugar alcohol called Erythritol that we are seeing in some new products. It doesn’t cause the intestinal problems like the other sugar alcohols, but it also doesn’t have all the benefits of the xylitol either.
I encourage you to try these new healthy sweeteners and put some healthy sweetness in your life.