Now since some foods do have naturally occurring sugars, like milk, fruit and some vegetables, It's hard to tell when you look at the nutrition information, just how much sugar is added. The first step would be to check the ingredients. If sugar is listed as the first, second, third, or anywhere close to the top on the ingredients list.. chances are it contains a lot of added sugar. But sugar isn't the only name used, companies have plenty of "disguises" for sugar. They just love to complicate things for us. Look for any of these terms to identify added sugar:
|▪ Agave nectar||▪ Brown sugar||▪ Cane crystals|
|▪ Cane sugar||▪ Palm sugar||▪ Corn syrup|
|▪ Crystalline fructose||▪ Dextrose||▪ Evaporated cane juice|
|▪ Fructose||▪ Fruit juice||▪ Cane juice|
|▪ Glucose||▪ High-fructose corn syrup||▪ Honey|
|▪ Invert Sugar||▪ Beet sugar||▪ Maltodextrin|
|▪ Malt syrup||▪ Molasses||▪ Maltose|
|▪ Sucrose||▪ Sugar||▪ Syrup|
Today, with sugar being such a craze, and more and more studies proving how detrimental it can be to our health, more people are turning to artificial sweeteners. If you thought that these were any safer, you were quite wrong.
What are artificial sweeteners?
According to an article posted by Mayo Clinic, "Artificial sweeteners are chemicals or natural compounds that offer the sweetness of sugar without as many calories. Because the substitutes are much sweeter than sugar, it takes a much smaller quantity to create the same sweetness. Products made with artificial sweeteners have a much lower calorie count than do those made with sugar. Artificial sweeteners are often used as part of a weight-loss plan, or as a means to control weight gain."
There are many different kinds of artificial sweeteners out there and I'm sure you've seen them before. You know, those little yellow, pink, and blue packets sitting on tables in restaurants, chains, and on the shelves, right next to sugar. Well even though many people dump them on food and in drinks to add sweetness without the calories, what they don't realize is how harmful these chemicals really are.
● Lets start with Saccharin (Sweet N' Low):
Initially discovered in 1879, saccharin is the oldest low-calorie sweetener on the market. It is 300 times sweeter than table sugar, but contains no calories because it travels through your body undigested. Saccharin was first categorized as a carcinogen, a substance causing cancer, in the 1960's. A series of studies were done and saccharin was found to cause bladder cancers. Some felt it was impurities in the saccharin, and not the saccharin itself, that caused the trouble, so nothing was done. However, in 1977, Canadians proved conclusively that it was the saccharin itself causing the cancer. As a result, the FDA required that any saccharin products carry a warning label about cancer. The actual warning read: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals." This warning has since been removed since there are many contradictory results in Saccharin studies, But there are still many studies that have proved saccharin to be harmful to humans. It has also been stated that saccharin can cause allergic reactions such as headaches, gastrointestinal distress, skin eruptions, etc.
● Then there's Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet):
Aspartame is 160-220 times sweeter than table sugar. Like sugar, aspartame has 4 calories/gram, but since it is so sweet and such a small amount is needed for the sweetening effect, it is labeled as zero calories per serving. According to Dr. Hull's article on aspartame, there are over 92 different health side effects associated with aspartame consumption. Side effects can occur gradually, can be immediate, or can be acute reactions. "According to Lendon Smith, M.D. there is an enormous population suffering from side effects associated with aspartame, yet have no idea why drugs, supplements and herbs don’t relieve their symptoms. Then, there are users who don’t appear to suffer immediate reactions at all. Even these individuals are susceptible to the long-term damage caused by excitatory amino acids, phenylalanine, methanol, and DKP." To learn more about your risks or to see a long list of potential side-effects click here.
● Next is Acesulfame Potassium or Acesulfame-K (Sunette, Sweet one)
Acesulfame-K is 150-200 times sweeter than table sugar and has a chemical structure similar to Saccharin. It has no calories because the body does not metabolize it and it is excreted in urine. The problems surrounding Acesulfame-K are based on the improper testing and lack of long-term studies. Acesulfame K does contain the carcinogen methylene chloride. Long-term exposure to methylene chloride can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects, visual disturbances, and cancer in humans. Acesulfame-K has been linked to thyroid disorders in dogs, rabbits, and rats, which leads us to believe it is harmful to human thyroids as well. It also stimulates the release of insulin and increases feelings of low blood sugar. As with other artificial sweeteners, it may confuse your body's satiety signals and cause you to eat more. It also may trigger cravings for excessively sweet products so that healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables are less palatable and satisfying, eventually causing weight gain. It's use in the food industry is contentious, but its questionable health effects make it a substance that is best avoided.
● The most popular, Sucralose (Splenda):
Splenda is the new favorite when it comes to artificial sweeteners these days. It has little to no calories because majority of it passes through the body without being digested. Most studies show that only around 15% of Splenda is actually digested. The worrisome fact for some researchers is that people with healthier GI systems, will absorb more of the Splenda, and thus more of the dangerous chlorine. Splenda's manufacturers claim that it is "natural" because it was "made from sugar." The truth is, Splenda was stumbled upon when a group of scientists were seeking a new pesticide formula. It is true that the Splenda molecule is comprised of sucrose (sugar), except that three of the hydroxyl groups in the molecule have been replaced by three chlorine atoms. While some experts claim the molecule is similar to table salt or sugar, other researchers say it has more in common with pesticides. That’s because the bonds holding the carbon and chlorine atoms together are more characteristic of a chlorocarbon than a salt; and most pesticides are chlorocarbons. The next debate is that just because something contains chlorine doesn’t guarantee that it’s toxic. And that's true, but you and your family may prefer not to serve as test subjects for the latest artificial sweetener experiment.. So is Splenda safe? The truth is, we just don't know yet. There are no long-term studies of the side effects of Splenda in humans. However short-term studies have showed that very high doses of Sucralose caused shrunken thymus glands, enlarged livers, and kidney disorders in rodents. Self-reported adverse reactions to Splenda include skin rashes, agitation, dizziness, numbness, diarrhea, swelling, muscle aches, headaches, intestinal cramping, bladder issues, and stomach pain. So enjoy your pesticides at your own risk, but we've seen it happen in the past with aspartame, saccharin, and all the others, what makes you believe this will be any different?
With all that said, there is no safety guarantee when it comes to these products. With such skeptical information and potential risks, we don't really know the truth, but the side effects speak for themselves. I like to think about it this way, would you pour plant fertilizer or dish detergent on your food? Why not? Because it's chemicals. And so are artificial sweeteners. It's in the name for goodness sakes! I believe the best thing to do is avoid all artificial and chemical sweetener substitutes. They have no nutritional value, trick the body into thinking it is eating something sweet, and result in harmful toxic side effects.
So what should you use? There are plenty of natural sweeteners out there that can be used moderately in a healthy diet. Sugar is a part of nature, and in the unrefined state, can have nutritive properties. Like most foods, the less processed, the better. Here are a few options you could use in replace of plain table sugar. They do have calories, so you can't use them freely, but they are much healthier for you in the long run.
■ Agave Nectar
Agave Nectar is a sweet, sticky juice that comes from a pineapple-shaped plant called Agave (uh-gah-vay).It has a low glycemic level and is a healthier alternative to table sugar. Unlike the crystalline form of fructose, which is refined primarily from corn, agave syrup is fructose in its natural form. It's about 75% sweeter than table sugar, so you can use less to achieve the same level of sweetness.
■ Raw Honey
Honey is a sweet syrup fluid made from bees. It is composed of both fructose and glucose. In it's natural state, honey acts as an antibacterial agent and also contains trace minerals and antioxidants that can be beneficial to your health. Honey is a simple sugar, and is calorically dense, so it should be used sparingly.
■Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup is made from fermented brown rice. It comes from whole grains and contains complex carbohydrates so it digests slowly and has a low glycemic index. It has a great, delicate flavor, but is about half as sweet as sugar.
■ Barley Malt
Dark, sticky, and boldly flavored, Barley malt is also made from fermented whole grains. It comes from barley so it contains complex carbohydrates and like brown rice syrup, digests slowly so it doesn't spike your blood sugar. And for a bonus, it contains several vitamins and minerals. Barley malt has a flavor a lot like molasses, so be sure that's what you're looking for before using it.
■ 100% Fruit Juice
Fruit Juice, as you'd probably expect, is the sweet juice that comes from fruit. Juice concentration involves evaporating most of the water out of the juice, leaving most of the flavor, color and nutrients behind. Water is then added back in to reconstitute the juice.You can use 100% fruit juice in replace of sugar in your recipes to sweeten foods naturally. Apple sauce and dried fruit are other great ways to add sweet flavor without directly adding sugar. Fruit is nature's candy, naturally sweet & delicious.
■ Date Sugar
Date sugar is not actually a sugar in the conventional sense, date sugar is ground from dehydrated dates. It's a great source of sweetness that is also high in fiber, and rich in a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Since it's made from fruit, it's contains the same natural sugar that occurs in fruits. It does however have the same negative affect on blood sugar levels as plain sugar, so it shouldn't be used by diabetics. It can also be exchanged measure for measure for sugar in baking.
■ Sucanat and Rapadura
Rapadura and Sucanat are very similar in that they are both unrefined and unbleached organic whole cane sugar. They are both very basic forms of sugar, and have the molasses still in tact, so the flavor is stronger than plain sugar. Sucanat is 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! Rapadura is an unrefined sugar prized for its unique caramel flavor and fine grain texture. This deliciously pure sugar retains a golden color and offers unmatched nutritional value because unlike other sugars, it is not separated from the molasses stream during squeeze-dried processing. Both are an excellent source of iron, calcium, vitamin B6, potassium and chromium, which helps balance blood sugar.
■ Pure Maple Syrup
Maple syrup is obtained from the sap of maple trees. It is made up of sucrose, fructose, and glucose. Like honey, it contains trace minerals and antioxidants that help strengthen the immune system. When buying Maple Syrup it's best to purchase 100% Pure Maple Syrup (organic if you can). This way it is unprocessed and still contains the health benefits that it should.
Watching your weight? Maybe you can have your cake and eat it too.. Here's two no calorie, natural options for sweet taste.
Stevia is a concentrate made from a South African herb that is usually available in a powder or liquid form. This sweet herb is 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar and is said to be safe for human consumption. Because the body does not metabolize the sweet glycosides from the Stevia leaf there are no calories. Stevia also does not adversely affect blood glucose levels and may be used freely by diabetics. Stevia does however have a unique, bitter taste that may take some getting used to. If you plan to buy Stevia be sure to purchase pure Stevia extract as many brands add fillers (like dextrose), to their product. Pure Stevia can usually be found at health stores (GNC, Whole Foods, etc.)
Erythritol is a fermented sugar alcohol , so it comes from sugar. However, the natural fermenting process doesn't upset your stomach (like most sugar alcohols). It is about 75% as sweet as sugar, works like sugar, is granular like sugar, does not promote cavities, and is safe for diabetics because it has no gylcemic index. It has no calories because your intestines don't absorb it. It has a delicate sweetness and a taste very similar to plain sugar, so it works well in recipes. You can find it most health food stores.
To sum it up, my advice is simply to watch what you eat. You don't have to completely eliminate sugar from your diet, but even just removing or switching a few not-so-good products can be beneficial to your health. Such simple switches as buying plain oatmeal or yogurt and sweetening it with dried fruit and a little honey. Or trading in that Aunt Jemima, refined maple syrup for 100% pure maple syrup. Even just making your own baked goods and desserts at home so that you can sweeten it with a natural sugar and not empty, refined sugar. With all the health risks associated with sugar these days, I promise you, you'll be doing yourself a favor by jumping on board now. Remember, everything in moderation.