A SPOONFUL OF _____?
In today’s world, it is almost impossible to know what is and isn’t good for you. This is due to an increase in several marketing strategies that target human psychology. The product you are consuming appeals to you, but it may not truly be good for you.
How do we know if what we are consuming is alright when just a few years ago our favorite Disney characters were telling us, “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down?” This is a primary example of “garbage in, garbage out,” a series of repeated information with an uneducated, unreliable source.
Our Wild Team is here to help fill in some of these knowledge gaps, answer the unanswered questions, and we’re going to start with one of the most controversial topics our population knows entirely too well… sugar!
From Sweet’N Low and Splenda to Stevia, what we were once told was good for us, no longer is up to par. But, why?
What we have to embrace as individuals is evolutionary change. A change in research and findings, find long-term solutions instead of short-term. Truly analyze and understand the research being presented to you.
Anyone who pays attention to health news knows that sugar is in trouble. Though it’s the newest enemy of modern dietary wellness culture, sugar is still packed into almost everything we eat, especially within processed, packaged foods.
But is it always bad to consume sugar? If replacing sugar is the only solution, what are our alternatives?
This article aims to unveil the truth behind the sugars and sweeteners you’re reading on all those labels in the grocery store: what they are, and which ones you should be used to sweeten up your life without harming your body.
Sugar, sugar, sugar...
Like the words “fats” or “carbs”, “sugar” is a current buzzword in health dialogue, often used without fully understanding their meaning. Put, sugar is a blanket term for soluble carbohydrates with that distinct sweet taste and is largely one of three types: glucose, fructose, and sucrose.
Glucose and fructose are both naturally occurring carbohydrates found in many, if not most, fruits and vegetables. Grapes, onions, figs… you name it. Sucrose is also naturally occurring and is most notably in the stems of sugarcane, as well as, some root veggies like carrots.
White, refined sugar—like the stuff your grandmother uses to make cookies—is sucrose. Technically speaking, sucrose is just the combination of a molecule of fructose with a molecule of glucose. So, can it be that bad for you?
Yes, it can. Fruits and veggies are often nutrient-dense foods, and natural sugar specifically gives you energy, repairs cells, and improves your immune system. But when sucrose is processed into table sugar and put into everyday diets, those nutritional benefits may fall away: high sugar diets might be linked to high blood sugar and blood pressure (1).
As always when it comes to nutritional health, it’s all about moderation. When consumed in excess, sugar leads to several serious cardiovascular diseases, obesity, and type 2 diabetes.
Eliminating refined sugar is no easy achievement in today’s society, especially since so many of the meals we love involve sugar in some way, especially when they don’t need to.
Erythritol, stevia, and monk fruit?! Oh, my...
The modern health movement has thrown out quite a few replacement options that give you the sweet without the sugar. But which sweetener is right for your cookbook? If we’re not using sugar, what are we using?
The top contenders among sweeteners may have their strange names in common, but they’re not all the same. Here’s a deeper look into each of our top choices, where they come from, what’s good (or not so good) about them, and how to properly use each one.
Artificial Sweeteners and Sugars: The Good
Like other sweeteners on this list, xylitol is a sugar alcohol. Sugar alcohols are organic compounds that come from sugar and can be derived naturally or manufactured. This sweetener is commonly known for its use in gum and mints. Studies have shown dental benefits, making it a wise selection over sugar-filled chewing gum (2).
If you’re looking to cut calories, the glycemic index of a sugar substitute is important. Put simply, the glycemic index was created to chart a food’s effect on blood sugar. The higher the glycemic index of the food, the higher the spike in blood sugar.
Some of the sweeteners on this list have a glycemic index of 0, making xylitol’s index of 30 look high. While that might seem like the case, refined table sugar has an index of 68, making xylitol spike insulin levels at less than half the rate.
When consumed in moderation, xylitol is still a perfectly healthy option to be used as a sweetener for food and beverage.
Although the higher glycemic index of this sweetener may seem a bit discouraging, its taste is one of the closest to that of real sugar. Some individuals even mix it with other healthy sweeteners to offset its index, because it is just that good!
Erythritol, like its brother xylitol, is a sugar alcohol and is similar in many ways with a few key differences in their glycemic indexes and taste.
The compound was discovered in blackstrap molasses in the 1950s but took nearly half a century to become a product used to replace cane sugar.
It stands at zero on the glycemic index, meaning that it has no calories and no effect on your blood sugar.
There have been studies that have attempted to argue that even without calories, this sweetener can spike blood sugar, but these studies have no scientific ground. The most discussed detrimental factor that sweeteners carry is their effect on the gastrointestinal tract.
Both Xylitol, but more commonly erythritol, have led to reports of digestive pain (3). However, as with the consumption of most things, moderation is key. Gut pain is much less likely if sugar alcohols are consumed in small amounts.
This sugar-substitute comes from a specific plant, rather than derived from sugar itself.
Stevia rebaudiana is most commonly found in South America, and the distinct sweetness comes from the leaves of the plant. Its use dates back hundreds of years, consumed in medicines and teas.
Stevia has a rather distinct taste that distinguishes it from sugar. Since it comes directly from a plant, it has its aftertaste. The aftertaste can be mild, and sometimes pleasant, depending on their use. Salt, vanilla, and almond flavors, for example, provide a balance with stevia, which has a reputation for leaving a bitter taste in recipes to which it is added.
Like erythritol, stevia has a glycemic index of zero, but since it is sourced directly from a plant, digestive issues are much less likely to occur for most people.
Monk fruit, which is closely related to stevia, also comes directly from a plant, scientifically known as the Siraitia grosvenorii.
Originating in China, this vine bears round fruits that contain a sweetness often used to sweeten foods and is used in traditional Chinese medicine.
In America’s current market for sugar alternatives, monk fruit is less commonly found than stevia, but the two serve quite similar purposes. Both have a bit of a distinct taste, which means that both of them should be tested in small quantities first, before adding more.
Stevia and monk fruit is known to be a bit sweeter than the average sugar, so portioning is very important when using these substances. Monk fruit is three hundred times sweeter than your average table sugar, so a little of that goes a long way.
Other sugar substitutes can be often found in your kitchen cabinet. These consist of the following alternatives:
- Raw honey
- Coconut sugar
- Maple syrup
- Banana puree
All having distinctive flavors. All serving the same purpose. To sweeten up a recipe.
Artificial Sweeteners and Sugars: The Bad
Aspartame remains one of the most controversial food additives in the industry. What exactly is aspartame though? There are so many mixed reviews, it almost makes it impossible to decide whether or not this product is good for you.
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener that can be found in over nearly 6,000 different food products being consumed by the American population each day (5).
“Well, if aspartame has been FDA approved, and there are so many individuals consuming it, how can it possibly be that bad for you?”
The answer can be found within the chemical makeup of the artificial sweetener, in addition to the several noted neurobehavioral side effects associated with its use (5).
Aspartame is metabolized to yield phenylalanine, which is an amino acid known for its involvement in neurotransmitter regulation in your brain. If you know the science, you know that any change in neurotransmitter regulation can result in neurobehavioral disturbances.
Furthermore, would you want to consume a product that could or could not possibly alters your everyday mood? The reason aspartame is so controversial is due to several reports of this substance triggering reduced dopamine and serotonin production (5).
Is it just us, or does aspartame already sound like the positives are outweighed by the negatives?
High Fructose Corn Syrup
High-fructose corn syrup is an artificial sugar derived directly from corn syrup. Over the years, there have been a variety of studies correlating the high levels of fructose to several health-related issues (6).
The problem is high-fructose corn syrup can be found nearly everywhere, and when consumed in excess, it can reap more bad than good.
From the soda you get with your bag of chips to nearly every fruit-flavored drink in the grocery store, high-fructose corn syrup is a factoring agent. Chemically, it is very similar to that of table sugar, and its use has certainly increased over the years… Oddly enough, so have obesity numbers and other health-related issues.
High-fructose corn syrup is also very controversial. However, there are some obvious reasons one should not consume it.
To begin, it is easily converted into fat since fructose is metabolized in the liver. The liver turns fructose into glycogen (stored carbohydrates), however, the liver only has limited capacity. Anything in excess will turn into fat.
For example, the excessive amount of sugar brought to you in soda and sweets can be too much of an overload resulting in a conversion to fat, which in turn increases your risk of obesity and weight gain.
In addition to this, fructose can cause visceral fat accumulation, which is the bad fat that surrounds organs and is the worst type of fat you can come across. It is linked to health issues such as diabetes and heart disease.
We want to try to avoid the consumption of fructose. It drives inflammation, and inflammation may drive the increased risk for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and possibly even cancer. High insulin levels might occur from consuming this sugar in excess, and studies have suggested links to tumor growth (4).
Last, but not least, there is absolutely no essential nutrients found in this sweetener. So again, why consume it when there is more bad associated with the substance than good?
The Sweet Taste of Success
Overall, this is how we like to look at it. If you ask a nutritionist the optimal way to lose weight while maintaining the average diet, they will tell you to be cautious of the overconsumption of bad fats and sugars.
For example, almonds. Almonds are a great snack and they are a good kind of fat. However, if you eat almonds in excess it will only offset a balanced diet, and when you offset a balanced diet, you are not able to achieve maximum nutritional value. Though the fat is good, the overconsumption of fat can still be bad. This is unless you are participating in a high-fat diet, such as the keto diet, which follows a strict set of rules and regulations.
While our bodies do break down things like carbohydrates and turn them into sugars, we do not need to be adding sugar to our diets to create energy. Too much sugar of any kind can contribute to those unwanted calories that are related to health problems. These include, but are not limited to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and high triglyceride levels. All of which have the potential to contribute to the risk of heart disease.
Whatever your desire for knowledge about sweeteners stems from—baking, to coffee add-ins, to recipes for dinner—the undeniable result is that there are many options out there that eliminate the need to overuse sugar, as people so often do. The habits we adopt become cravings that are difficult to extinguish.
We, human beings, were not meant to put these high levels of sugar into our bodies. And the proof, frankly, is in the pudding (pun intended). Humans get sicker, big corporations benefit. Sometimes it seems like the loudest voices have the most to gain from lying, and every food leads to another new bodily harm.
But there is a happy-ending option. Learning the differences between these sugar substitutes can lead to grateful guts and thankful taste-buds. Seeking answers to our bodies’ questions and staying mindful of wellness when we’re enjoying our smoothies leads to a longer, more blissful life. Plus, mixing and matching different alternative sweeteners is half the fun. Enjoy the process, and find what works for you.
Try to slowly limit and eventually eliminate your consumption of sweeteners and sugars, and you will become more sensitive to the naturally occurring flavors of healthy food. This ultimately allows healthier, wholesome foods that are lower in sugars to appeal more to your taste buds in the long-run, furthermore, offering assistance in overall weight loss and health promotion. Temporary solutions only are delays to immediate results.
(1) DiNicolantonio, J. J., Lucan, S. C., & O’Keefe, J. H. (2016). The Evidence for Saturated Fat and Sugar Related to Coronary Heart Disease. Progress in cardiovascular diseases, 58(5), 464–472. doi:10.1016/j.pcad.2015.11.006(2) Janakiram, C., Deepan Kumar, C. V., & Joseph, J. (2017). Xylitol in preventing dental caries: A systematic review and meta-analyses. Journal of natural science, biology, and medicine, 8(1), 16–21. doi:10.4103/0976-9668.198344(3) Mäkinen K. K. (2016). Gastrointestinal Disturbances Associated with the Consumption of Sugar Alcohols with Special Consideration of Xylitol: Scientific Review and Instructions for Dentists and Other Health-Care Professionals. International journal of dentistry, 2016, 5967907. doi:10.1155/2016/5967907(4) Orgel, E., & Mittelman, S. D. (2013). The links between insulin resistance, diabetes, and cancer. Current diabetes reports, 13(2), 213–222. doi:10.1007/s11892-012-0356-6(5) Lindseth, G. N., Coolahan, S. E., Petros, T. V., & Lindseth, P. D. (2014). Neurobehavioral effects of aspartame consumption. Research in nursing & health, 37(3), 185–193. doi:10.1002/nur.21595 (6) Rizkalla S. W. (2010). Health implications of fructose consumption: A review of recent data. Nutrition & metabolism, 7, 82. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-7-82