As a follow on from my last blog on ‘The bitter truth about sugar’, I wanted to discuss the minefield of alternatives to sugar.
Let’s start with the nastiest group of them all. Not only will you NOT lose weight using artificial sweeteners, (you are more likely to put on weight), they are incredibly hazardous to your health. Artificial sweeteners are dangerous man-made chemicals, all of which have been discovered in laboratories (that’s right in chemical laboratories and not in food testing kitchens), when a scientist has inadvertently licked their finger during an experiment and discovered said chemical had a sweet taste. Both aspartame and sucralose were discovered in this way. Also note the clever use of language in the name choice of sucralose. It sounds like sucrose, right? It is a chemical and bears no resemblance to sucrose.
I could go into the nasty side effects which include cancer and the fact that aspartame has had more complaints alone than all other food complaints to the US FDA put together, but there are enough links for you to read, watch, research yourself at the bottom of this article.
I have been quoted as saying I would rather give cocaine to my children than artificial sweeteners and I stand by that. They really are that dangerous. They are chemicals that happen to taste sweet and are completely unrecognizable as a food source to the body. Sadly diabetics are often recommended to use these artificial sweeteners because of their low calorie content. They are also favoured by many diet fads like the Dukan Diet and dieting groups. It is always worth bearing in mind that the dieting industry isn't really interested in keeping you healthy, merely thin.
If your diet currently includes artificial sweeteners I would strongly urge you to watch the film “Sweet Misery’. A link is included in the references at the bottom of this blog to the film along with the long list of names of artificial sweeteners and typical ‘sugar-free’ products that include them.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is very highly processed and twenty times sweeter than cane sugar (hence its popularity with food and drink manufacturers). It is in the vast majority of processed foods and many soft drinks as it is so sweet and very cheap to produce.
The finger has been pointed at HFCS for being the main factor in the current crisis of obesity and diabetes. It causes scarring and hardening of the liver, which can then lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
HFCS has insidiously gotten into so many foods including soft drinks, jams and processed foods. HFCS puts an enormous burden on the liver and scarily has been found to cause liver damage without any weight gain. As a result many children on the modern westernized diet are suffering diseases of the liver more commonly associated with alcohol abuse. The build up of fat caused by HFCS in this form prevents the liver from performing its detoxing role, which is vital in keeping the body healthy.
Agave syrup became hugely popular in the raw food movement. I was once persuaded at healthy food workshop a few years ago to try it and was told that it was a far better alternative to sugar and being of a low glycaemic index would not spike blood sugar levels. I had a very scary reaction to it, with painful, burning red skin around my eyes and have rarely touched the stuff since. Now it is widely known that agave is not quite the healthy sugar substitute that was once made out and is highly processed. It has 80% more fructose than HFCS, enough said.
Again, this is another sweetener that has been favoured within the health seeking fraternity. Although advocates of xylitol will tell you it is a sugar alcohol and found naturally in foods, the form used as a sweetener is highly processed and consumed in large quantities is known to cause diarrhoea.
Stevia is derived from a South American herb and is minimally processed. It has virtually no calories and has been reported to have little or no effect on blood sugar levels. Stevia is currently thought to be the safest sweet alternative, though it is best suited to sweetening raw foods. It is incredibly sweet, so a little bit goes a long way. Some research studies have shown stevia to be effective in stabilising blood sugar levels, preventing tooth cavities and helping in the treatment of high blood pressure.
Stevia is not to be confused with Truvia made by Coca Cola and Cargill or Purevia made by Pepsico. Many health conscious consumers have been confused by clever advertising into thinking they are the same as Stevia. They are not. Both Tuvia and Purevia have jumped on the new interest in the healthier alternative Stevia but are both in fact highly processed artificial sweeteners.
Organic Raw Honey
A good alternative choice to sugar, especially if locally produced but heating it will destroy its healthy levels of enzymes. Beware of cheap low-cost honey, which is likely to contain HFCS. Honey also has antibacterial qualities and so will encourage good bacteria in the mouth and gut whilst killing harmful bacteria in your mouth and your bowels. Honey is sweeter than sugar so less will be needed.
Raw honey should be avoided by pregnant or nursing mothers and small babies.
Organic Maple Syrup
I am a sucker for maple syrup and pancakes. However I always ensure it is the darkest maple syrup I can find as it is less processed and has the most nutrients. It is a great sweetener when you need to add a liquid sweetener to your sweet goodies. It works very well in sauces and baked goods.
Molasses are produced in the sugar refining process, leaving a brownish-black sticky liquid. If the sugar beets are grown in good quality soil then the molasses contains all the good nutrient ‘waste’ from the process including iron, manganese, calcium, zinc, copper and chromium.
Organic Dates / date sugar / date syrup
Medjool dates are one of my favourite choices for making sweets, mousses and brownies. They are sweet and sticky and so help bind together ingredients, giving a lovely natural sweetness. They are a great choice for sweetening smoothies and nut milks.
Produced form the sap of the coconut tree and crystallized at a low temperature, It has an earthy, brown sugar flavour. It is similar to table sugar (although less processed) and contains small amounts of nutrients. A recently growing trend for coconut sugar to be a good sweet alternative still discounts the fact that it is very high in fructose.
So, in conclusion……..
Modern nutrition has established that it is in fact sugar and not fat that makes people gain weight because of the effect it has on the liver.
It is worth mentioning that the best option for your health is to stick to natural sweeteners and even then they should play a very small part in your diet. Reducing or eliminating sugar from your diet may seem unachievable, but when you are eating the right food and your body’s natural biochemistry is in balance, cravings for sugar magically disappear.
When people comment on how ‘good’ I am when declining cakes and biscuits offered I just don’t see it that way. I don’t have inner battles about the sweet stuff anymore. I do enjoy naturally sweet foods on special occasions but I don’t crave it in the way I used to. In the first 4 years of the last 7 years I went completely sugar free (due to extreme ill-health) and then gently re-introduced natural sugars. And that is coming from someone whose house growing up was seemingly sponsored by Mr Kipling!
If you feel you need to help in rebalancing your sugar intake or have blood sugar issues and want to move towards healthier alternatives then you can contact me on the link below ‘How to work with me.’
Be sure to leave a comment or join the discussion at the bottom of the page in the comments box.
References and related articles you may find of interest:
Artificial sweeteners cause greater weight gain than sugar:
Why Do Millions of Kids in the U.S. Have Liver Disease? - Mercola
Xylitol – Is it Safe or Effective?
Sweet Misery – A Poisoned World, Directed by Cori Brackett
Excellent documentary showing how dangerous artificial sweetener Aspartame is. From its history, to its effects this video is enough to shock anyone into really looking at there food labels next time they shop. Aspartame is a toxic food that came into the world as an investment By Donald Rumsfeld, while ignoring the deadly effects the tests showed. Take a good look at this video, it could save lives. (Excerpt from video.google.com)
You can watch the film here for free:
Artificial sweeteners, the nasties to look out for:
Products that contain artificial sweeteners:
Wrigley's Extra Peppermint Sugarfree Chewing gum
Diet Coke and Coke Zero
Aquafresh Toothpaste Milk Teeth 0 - 3 Years
Robinsons Apple Low Sugar Fruit Shoot
Red Bull Sugar Free
Smint Original Sugar Free
Really Light Ribena Blackcurrant 288ml Carton
Yoplait/ weightwatchers Mango & Pineapple Yogurt. Fromage Frais, creamed rice, desserts
Hartleys Jelly Pot Raspberry No Added Sugar
Schweppes Tonic Water and Slimline Tonic Water
Rennie Sugar Free Tablets
Calpol 6+ years Fastmelts
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Photo courtesy iStock - s-dmit.