Too much sugar is bad for us – no matter what type of sweetener we use.
Before sugar enters the bloodstream from the digestive tract, it is broken down into two simple sugars… glucose and fructose.
Glucose is good – it’s the energy of life. If we don’t get it from the diet, our bodies produce it.
Fructose is bad. It can only be metabolized by the liver. This is not a problem if we eat a little bit (such as from fruit) or we just completed a marathon. In this case, the fructose will be turned into glycogen and stored in the liver until we need it. However, if the liver is full of glycogen (which is the case for most of us), consuming a lot of fructose overloads the liver, forcing it to turn the fructose into fat. Fructose is very addictive and overconsumption can cause hypertension, gout, weight gain and makes us continually hungry.
The problem is all the sugars added to our foods and drinks – too much sugar causes weight gain and all sorts of other health issues.
There are different types of sweeteners available:
Natural sugar substitutes
These are carbohydrates and are found in many foods like fruits, vegetables and milk.
The most common are: sucrose, glucose, fructose, lactose, dextrose, maltose, galactose and trehalose.
2. Natural sweeteners
These are the oldest known sweeteners. They include honey, maple syrup, coconut palm sugar and sorghum syrup.
3. Natural sugar substitute
In their natural form, these sugar substitutes are safe choices, as they are derived from plants and have no calories. Stevia, for example, is derived from the leaf of the native stevia plant of South America (the majority comes from Paraguay).
Another less known one is Luo Han Guo, which is a native plant of China. It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar and has been used as a sweetener in China for centuries.
4. Sugar alcohols
Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that occur naturally in fruit and vegetables, or can be manufactured. They are less sweet than regular sugar and have fewer calories per gram than sugar. Despite their name, they are not alcoholic. They include xylitol, sorbitol, erythritol, mannitol, glycerol, isomalt, lactitol and maltitol. In small amounts, they are a better choice than artificial sweeteners. Out of all the sugar alcohols, erythritol and xylitol are the better choices. They have hardly any effect on blood sugar levels and don’t harm our teeth.
5. Artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes and are many times sweeter than regular sugar. They are popular because they don’t have any calories. There has been a huge market for diet foods and drinks in recent years. Artificial sweeteners trick your body into thinking that it's going to receive sugar, but when the sugar doesn't come your body continues to signal that it needs more, which results in sugar cravings. Aspartame for example, is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is sold under brand names NutraSweet and Equal. Some studies have shown it to cause weight gain, headaches and depression and it has also been linked to cancer.
Other artificial sweeteners, like saccharine, neotame, acesulfame and sucralose (Splenda) don’t fare any better. It’s best to avoid artificial sweeteners all together.
6. Modified sugars
As the name suggests, those sugars are modified in some ways. High fructose corn syrup for example, is produced from corn starch. It is made from genetically modified corn and it has been linked to many problems like obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease. About a third of sampled HFCS contains measurable amounts of mercury.
Other modified sugars include golden syrup, agave syrup and caramel – none of them is a good choice.
The table below gives you more information on some of the most popular sweeteners.
S=sugar; NS=natural sweetener; NSS=natural sugar substitute, MS=modified sugar; SE=sugar extract; AS= artificial sweetener; SA=sugar alcohol
Conclusion - keep your sugar consumption to a minimum. It is bad for your waistline and your health.