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The truth about sugar substitutes

sweetenersSplenda®  is the trade name for sucralose, a synthetic compound stumbled upon in 1976 by scientists in Britain seeking a new pesticide formulation. Some say that sucralose is closer to table salt or sugar biologically, and others feels it’s closer to a pesticide.  It has chlorine, and an interesting carbon/chlorine bonding configuration; and some argue that does not make it toxic while others feel it’s similarity to a pesticide makes it scary.  You get to be the decider as there have been no studies done on humans over a longer period of time than 3 months, so the long-term effects are not known.

Equal® & NutraSweet®   are brand names for aspartame.  Foods with these additives are marketed to women as low-fat, low-sugar, and low-calorie.  Aspartame has had the most complaints of any food additive available to the public. It’s been linked with MS, lupus, fibromyalgia and other central nervous disorders. Possible side effects of aspartame include headaches, migraines, panic attacks, dizziness, irritability, nausea, intestinal discomfort, skin rash, and nervousness. Some researchers have linked aspartame with depression and manic episodes. It may also contribute to male infertility.

Sweet’N Low®  Saccharin, the first widely available chemical sweetener, is hardly mentioned any more. Better-tasting NutraSweet took its place in almost every diet soda, but saccharin is still an ingredient in some prepared foods, gum, and over-the-counter medicines. Remember those carcinogen warnings on the side of products that contained saccharin? They no longer appear because industry testing showed that saccharin only caused bladder cancer in rats. Most researchers agree that in sufficient doses, saccharin is carcinogenic in humans. The question is, how do you know how much artificial sweeteners your individual body can tolerate?

That being said, some practitioners think saccharin in moderation is the best choice if you must have an artificially sweetened beverage or food product. It’s been around a relatively long time and seems to cause fewer problems than aspartame. I don’t argue with this recommendation, but I encourage you to find out as much as you can about any chemical before you ingest it.

Natural alternatives to artificial sweeteners.

Sorbitol—  For many years, diabetics have used products sweetened with polyalcohol sugars like sorbitol, xylitol, malitol, and mannitol. These are natural sweeteners that do not trigger an insulin reaction. (Xylitol can be derived from birch tree pulp.) They have half the calories of sugar and are not digested by the small intestine.

While most polyalcohol sugars have no side effects, sorbitol is a natural laxative and can cause diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, bloating and flatulence.

Stevia - We’ve known about stevia in the US since 1918, but pressure from the sugar import trade blocked its use as a commodity. Today stevia is slowly gaining steam as a sugar substitute, despite similar hurdles. The FDA has approved its use as a food supplement, but not as a food additive due to a lack of studies. Stevia can be used for anything you might use sugar in, including baking. It is naturally low in carbohydrates. You can buy stevia in most grocery stores these days including trader joe’s. There will always be those who have a sensitivity to a substance, but based on reports from other countries it appears to have little to no side effects. For women who want to move through their cravings for sugar without artificial chemicals, stevia is a great option.

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