Sugars and Sugar Substitutes

I think there has been more controversy over sugar than any other substance that I can think of. Is white sugar ok? What about high fructose corn syrup, Splenda, aspartame, sucralose, what’s the real scoop are these bad for me?  If so what are the alternatives?

First of all if you are a diabetic or cooking for a diabetic then you will need to know that there is more to a healthy diabetic diet than just removing sugar or lowering your sugar intake. I discuss this further in the chapters on healthy fats, carbohydrates and proteins. For now let’s find out where these different sweeteners come from and how some of them effect our health. Remember as I mentioned in the beginning of this book if I just give you the answers without educating you about the subject you will never have the knowledge to make the correct choices.

For instance our bodies metabolize sugar and high fructose corn syrup much differently. Sugar triggers leptin which helps us feel full and satisfied, high fructose corn syrup does not so our sweet tooth is not satisfied and we crave more sweets; causing us to eat more. An example of how this manifests itself is in modern day sodas.  Some of you might remember when manufacturers moved from sugar to high fructose corn syrup and how at first you didn’t like the new taste until you got used to it of course.  Well, even though HFCS is much sweeter than sugar they did not cut back on the amount of the sweetener that was used so sodas are actually much sweeter today than they were years ago.  This means we are consuming far more of this sweetener which causes us to crave even more sweets. Why did they switch? Because it is cheaper and easy to manufacture.

What about the rest of those I mentioned above such as white sugar, Splenda, sucralose and aspartame. The last three mentioned are actually chemical sweeteners and can be harmful to your health. There are however some really good alternatives that are either ok in moderation or downright good for you, you will learn about them in the next few paragraphs.

First a little history and information about sugar. Did you know that sugaris really an addictive substance because it affects so many body systems and is so highly concentrated? In fact, refined sugar first appeared as a military drug, or medicinal in The War of 1812 it was a light weight energy source for Napoleon’s army. Interestingly, he lost his first battle; guess he didn’t know about the down side of a sugar high! Actually sugar only entered into our food supply at the turn of the last century4 at that time it was not processed like it is today. In fact sugar is not snow white naturally.  While granulated white sugar, also called table sugar, may lighten
up from the cooking, centrifuging, and a serious filtration process, some brands may chemically treat their sugar with bleaching agents.  That is why vegans do not use white cane sugar (or other refined products) because the filters used for processing may actually be made of bone char. 

Although refined sugars are the worst even organic unrefined sugars can be bad for us if used in excess. More importantly chemical artificial sweeteners such as Splenda sometimes called sucralose and aspartame are cleverly disguised poisons. They are neurotoxins that do damage to our brain. I have given more detail on both of these below. When you get to the recipe section on low sugar or sugar free baking you will find that I have not used either of these alternatives instead I have replaced the sugar with natural sweeteners like agave nectar, coconut nectar, stevia and xylitol.
Splenda or Sucralose is actually sugar that is processed with chlorine/ bleach to change its molecular structure. It has had the least amount of studies done (under 100!) (yet it’s in EVERYTHING!) and what little research has been done shows that it may lead to:
  • Diarrhea
  • Shrunken Thymus Glands
  • Enlarged Liver
  • Enlarged Kidneys
  • Atrophy of Lymph follicles in the Spleen and Thymus
  • Increased cecal weight
  • Reduced growth rate
  • Decreased red blood cell count
  • Hyperplasia of the pelvis
  • Extension of the pregnancy period
  • Aborted pregnancy

Aspartame has been taken off of the market and put back on so many times it’s not funny anymore. Both of these artificial sweeteners are neurotoxins or ingredients that effect brain growth and function. The FDA has received more complaints about adverse reactions to aspartame than any other food ingredient in the agency’s history.  Aspartame a/k/a NutraSweet a/k/a Equal breaks down to phenylalanine and aspartic acid in our hot bodies and when heated the methanol in aspartame converts into formaldehyde in our bodies.  Formaldehyde is a poison known to damage the immune and nervous system as well as cause genetic damage.  Aspartame breaks down the protective coating surrounding neurons in our brain; this causes a break in the blood-brain barrier which allows toxins to move directly into the bloodstream.  It is 200 times sweeter than sugar, contains synthetic phenylalanine and aspartic acid. High levels of phenylalanine (synthetic variety) in body fluids can cause brain damage. It has been linked to PKU seizures which occur when the body cannot metabolize the phenylalanine.  It has also been discovered that it actually stops the metabolization of fat thereby being counter effective for weight loss.

Aspartame should never be given to children or people with PKU (phenylketonuria). Almost half of aspartame itself is a toxin, technically an excitotoxin, aspartate.  About 10% of the population has a tendency to MS but never actually have the symptoms and these people can be pushed into full blown MS with continual usage of products with Aspartame.  Recent studies have also shown that even a single exposure can have long-term effects.(excerpt taken from the website: http://www.soundandfuryproductions.com/sweetmisery)  Since it is in thousands of products, it’s easy to consume a lot of this and over a longer period of time, this constant ingestion will lead to holes in your brain, illness and death.  At the Healthy Child website (http://healthychild.org/issues/chemical-pop/aspartame/)
I found some very good information including the following:  Do not allow infants and children to consume products containing aspartame. According to the NutraSweet Company, the primary manufacturer of aspartame, aspartame is not intended for use by infants and very young children; because they need ample calories for rapid growth.
o    If you experience headaches, nausea, dizziness, depression or any other adverse reactions after ingesting aspartame-containing foods or drinks, avoid them. If your symptoms consistently coincide with aspartame ingestion, and you feel certain there is a connection, you may want to report your symptoms to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. You can do this by contacting your regional consumer complaint coordinator.
o    Because aspartame contains phenylalanine, anyone with the rare disease phenylketonuria (PKU), with advanced liver disease, and pregnant women with hyper phenylalanine (high levels of phenylalanine in blood) should avoid aspartame to minimize the risk of brain damage.

Corn Syrup and High Fructose Corn SyrupYou will find Corn Syrup listed in the ingredients of most every processed food.  Manufacturers use this over other sweeteners because it is cheap.  It is produced from cornstarch.  Corn is actually a grain, not a vegetable, and it is very high in sugar and therefore quite high on the glycemic index.  One bushel of corn produces enough corn syrup to sweeten 324 cans of soda!  It is now the primary sweetener in sodas, snacks (cookies, crackers), candy, frosting, jams, jellies, salad dressing, ice cream, condiments, and even fruit juice.  You’ll see it on most labels, even on things considered health foods like cereal bars and energy bars. But as previously mentioned because it does not trigger leptin in our bodies we do not feel satisfied so we continue to crave more sugar. Now with the concern over GMO’s it is even more of a concern because corn along with soy are the number one crops that contain GMO’s.

1. Prescription for Natural Healing by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC and James F. Balch, M.D.3rd edition also Healthy Healing by Linda Page 11th edition. 2. Ann Louise Gittleman, N.D., M.S., Understanding Salt and Sodium, TOTAL HEALTH, Vol. 22, No. 2 at 42.  3. Id. 4. Healthy Healing by Linda Page 11th edition.

  
  
Now for the Good News there are some sweet ingredients that you can use in moderation that will not adversely affect the health of your family and will be tolerated by most diabetics in moderation.

Organic sugar is darker than traditional white sugar and does include some trace minerals because it is not filtered.  It has a more robust flavor.  Organic sugar is grown without the use of chemicals or pesticides.  This is important since sugar is a concentrate; therefore conventional sugar also concentrates the chemicals and pesticides.  Organic sugar is produced using renewable energy sources and rotating crops with attention to the environment.  Sugar cane is cut, milled, then crushed, purified, and crystallized.  Luckily, we have organic options for most forms of sugar including Powdered Sugar, Brown Sugar, and Table Sugar.  While organic sugar is a better option than conventional sugar, even organic sugar is not a healthy food and has the same issues with increasing our insulin levels as regular sugar. Sugar has been linked to: Diabetes, heart disease, obesity, headaches and candida (yeast infections). Sugar suppresses our immune system and excessive amounts actually feed cancer cells and candida creating an acid environment in our body where disease can thrive. Recent studies have shown that the excessive consumption of sugar today may even be the reason behind the increase in fatty liver disease. (Watch the movie “Sugar Coated” when you can it’s an eye opener) So please eat sugar in moderation because even though we need some sugar we really don’t need more than one serving a day (women 6 teaspoons and men 9 teaspoons).

Agave – also called Agave Syrup, is a relatively new sweetener, developed in the 1990s.  It is naturally “tapped” like maple syrup.  It comes from the Agave cactus, native to Mexico, and best known for its use in making tequila.  It is similar in consistency to honey but pours more easily.  It dissolves nicely in liquid.  It is 10% glucose and 90% fructose, but this is fructose in its natural form (unlike high fructose corn syrup).  It is absorbed more slowly by the body and is therefore lower on the glycemic index, eliminating the highs and lows of regular sugar.  It has a slight but pleasant flavor; the lighter varieties have less than the darker varieties.  It contains minerals like Iron, Calcium, Potassium and Magnesium. 

Most all of the Agave you will find is organic, natural, unrefined, economical, raw, and kosher. Like honey, it is sweeter than sugar so you need less of it.  Use it to flavor cold drinks like lemonade and iced tea instead of sugar.  You can even use it in your coffee or tea. Use it in vinaigrettes, on cereal, or as a glaze for fish or poultry.  Use it in place of sugar in your homemade ice cream.  You can use it anywhere you’d use honey, replace it in equal amounts. You can also use it in places you’d use maple syrup like on pancakes or in desserts.  Use 3/4 cup to replace 1 cup of sugar in a recipe.  Like honey, you must also reduce the liquids in a recipe by 1/3 when you are substituting it for sugar.  It also helps to reduce oven temperature by 25 degrees if baking with it.  Baked goods come out moist and smooth with Agave but tend to brown more easily.

**An important thing to note about Agave is that it is processed by the liver. This means it is not the choice for everyday constant use. It is an alternative and like sugar should be used in moderation.

Xylitol, Sorbitol, & Mannitol also called sugar alcohols or polyols are actually neither sugar nor alcohol and are classified as a carbohydrate. Polyols do not promote tooth decay.  These appear to be safe all around, for the most part.
Xylitol – may be used safely in small amounts it is especially good for diabetics and people that are hypoglycemic.  Xylitol comes from the birch tree so it is technically natural.  It also comes from corn husks. I use to think this was bad; but after learning more I now understand that it is actually a good renewable source for xylitol.  Xylitol, in moderation is seen as perfectly safe and actually good for us! A 1986 study indicated that xylitol is safe and actually has the highest and safest ADI (acceptable daily intake) rating. It can replace sugar at a one to one ratio so it is easy to use in cooking.
Studies show that xylitol inhibits the growth of bacteria that promote tooth decay which is why you can find it in some natural tooth pastes and chewing gums.  These can actually help you avoid cavities! It decreases plaque, hardens tooth enamel, cuts dental acids, repairs emerging cavities, has a cooling effect in the mouth and has no after taste. 
It is known to stabilize insulin levels, hormone levels and generally promote overall good health. Because it is a sugar alcohol, our body does not convert it as fully as sugar so it is considered a low glycemic sugar or one that does not cause extreme highs and lows in our blood sugar levels. Excess amounts (more than 80 grams a day) turn into glucose (not good for diabetics!) or travel through our body unabsorbed which can have a laxative effect. It is actually our family’s favorite. We have found however that using it with uncooked dairy products such as homemade ice cream (not made with cooked custard) does cause a laxative effect.
Studies also indicate xylitol is good to prevent ear infections. They suspect, since it’s the same bacteria that causes sinus infections that it will help prevent them as well. There is a product you can find in some health food stores called XCLEAR a nasal wash I swear by it during winter months made by the company of the same name. (Something very important to know is that xylitol is dangerous for animals especially dogs. It can cause liver failure and death) Never allow any animal to consume xylitol.

Sucanat (which stands for Sugar Cane Natural), is a whole cane sugar. It’s made by simply crushing freshly cut sugar cane, extracting the juice and heating it in a large vat. Once the juice is reduced to a rich, dark syrup, it is hand-paddled. Hand paddling cools and dries the syrup, creating the dry porous granules we call Sucanat. Nothing is added and nothing is taken out!  Wholesome Sweeteners is the manufacturer and brand name for this which is found in health food stores.

Sorbitol and Mannitol are extracted from corn (mannitol is also obtained from seaweed).   I want you to know about them because you will see them in some sugar free foods but because they can come from corn they can be a GMO food.

Both are the alcohol form of mannose. They occur naturally in pineapples, olives, asparagus, sweet potatoes, and carrots. They are extracted from corn or seaweed for use in food manufacturing and sometimes used as a sweetener in dietetic products.
 Mannitol and Sorbitol are nutritive sweeteners (compare to non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin which provide no nutrients or calories). They are used as stabilizers, humectants and bulking agents in food and supplements. They can be derived from the Manna plant or from seaweed, however, for commercial use; they are manufactured via a catalytic hydrogenation process.
The chemical structure of mannitol and sorbitol allows them to be absorbed more slowly by the body than regular sugars. Therefore, they have a smaller impact on blood insulin levels, making them and other sugar alcohols useful for diabetic foods. On the other hand, because they are slowly absorbed, excessive consumption may have a laxative effect, similar to certain high–fiber foods I find it to be much worse than xylitol on this account. Because of this, products containing mannitol and sorbitol must include a laxative warning on the label if the content in a serving exceeds 20g. Mannitol or sorbitol do not promote tooth decay. They are approximately 72% as sweet as sugar (sucrose) and have a cool, sweet taste.[3]

[2]Reference, Chicago Sun-Times Sun April 1, 2007 p. 6A, or announcement made at ACS’s annual meeting March 2007 in Chicago. [3]Reference, Great Vista Chemicals, Proteins Sugars Nucleotides – Mannitol