Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sugar Substitutes That Are Not So Sweet

The truth about HFCS, Splenda, Agave, and Truvia.

Sit down at any restaurant these days. To sweeten your tea (or coffee) you can choose from the white, blue, pink, yellow, or maybe even green ”stuff.” While we know that white sugar has been associated with over 60 health ailments, what about the rest?

For starters, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is probably the most insidious of all sugar substitutes, as it alone accounts for more than 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and drinks in the US—with consumption growth matching the escalating rise in obesity. It doesn’t come in packets because it doesn’t have to. It’s already in a myriad of foods including sodas, juices, candies, pasta sauces, salad dressings, breakfast cereals, yogurt, ketchup, frozen foods, and even baby formulas.

HFCS is such a concentrated sweetener that your brain doesn’t even recognize it as sugar. It overrides your body’s natural ability to feel full, so you eat more.

Here’s a brief consumer alert about the sugar substitutes most commonly used by health minded individuals:

Sucralose (aka Splenda)
Discovered in 1976, it is made by chlorinating sugar! It was discovered by accident. Two Tate & Lyle scientists were looking for a way to test chlorinated sugars as chemical intermediates when there was a gross misunderstanding. Leslie Hough asked his young Indian colleague Shashikant Phadnis to test the powder. Phadnis thought Hough said “taste,” and he did—it was very sweet! A final sweetener formula was developed within a year.

Sucralose is composed of 50 percent phenylalanine, 40 percent aspartic acid, and 10 percent methyl alcohol. In 1998 it was approved by the FDA. In 2000 concerns over safety surfaced, including a lack of long-term studies. Reported symptoms of sensitivity to this compound include headaches, dizziness/balance problems, mood swings, vomiting and nausea, abdominal pain and cramps, seizures and convulsions, and changes in vision. Concerns have also been raised regarding its effect on the thymus gland—crucial to proper immune system functioning.

Agave Nectar
Although initially thought to be related to cacti, agave is not. The latest rage in health food stores, agave nectar—depending upon how extensive the heating and refining process—results in a high fructose syrup. It contains complex forms of fructose called fructosans. In order for it to obtain its sweetness the agave sap must be heated, breaking the fructosans into fructose units. This is then filtered, resulting in the final product that ranges in color and consistency. Despite having a low ranking on the glycemic index, its fructose content is usually higher than even high fructose corn syrup, and it can take a toll on your health—from blood sugar spikes and insulin resistance to extra fat storage.

Comprised of rebiana, erythritol, and natural flavor, Truvia is the latest “hot” sweetener. Rebiana comes from the leaves of the stevia plant—a natural herb that ranks zero on the glycemic index and has been used for hundreds of years as a sweetener in South America. However, erythritol is a sugar alcohol that in excess is not tolerated well, resulting in digestive problems like bloating, constipation, and/or diarrhea. Another downside of erythritol is that’s it’s made from corn, one of the top 5 allergens.

So, how do we get the sugar out?
• Spice up your life with coriander, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, and cardamon (my favorite). These are all delicious spices that can help satisfy your sweet tooth without adding any sugar.
• Get creative with vanilla, almond, mint, coconut, or lemon extracts. See how once boring foods are suddenly transformed into new taste sensations.
• Finish up your meal with Bengal Spice Herbal Tea that serves up a cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and vanilla flavor.

In no-heat foods, use a probiotic sweetener like Flora-Key. It provides 10 billion beneficial bacteria per serving. This powerful formula has been recently updated and improved—now containing L. Plantarum and L. Reuteri in addition to Acidophilus, Bifidus, and FOS. Besides serving as a natural sweetener, it also helps target antibiotic-induced yeast and Candida infections, reduce acid reflux and heartburn, aid weight control and digestive disorders, improve acne, psoriasis and eczema, promote healthy teeth and gums, reduce soy and lactose allergies, prevent UTI’s and other infections, and increase beneficial bacteria’s survival against antibiotics. You can enjoy one to two scoops each day.

When it comes to sweeteners, there are mixed messages all around us, but alternatives do exist that are truly natural, safe—and sweet.

-Dr. Ann Louise's Edge On Healing 2011