recipes and tips for better living

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How Sweet It Is: Demystifying The Zero Calorie Sugar Substitutes

If you're like me, you love your sweets! However, now-a-days most of us are ingesting far more sugar than what are bodies can possibly process. If you were to follow US guidelines, the recommended daily allowance of sugar for a 2000 calorie diet is 40g (approximately 10 tsp) and this is advised to be from fruit and other natural sources such as complex carbohydrate grains and vegetables. Many of us aren't even eating a full 2000 calorie diet yet our average daily sugar intake is double the RDA - a whopping 22tsp. The most unfortunate part is that most of this sugar is from sweetened beverages and packaged foods that really aren't fueling our bodies in the first place (label readers: look at your granola bars, cereals, and protein bar wrappers. Many of them, including some cliff bars, have 1/2 of your sugar intake for the day!!!). It's not only leading to obesity, and diabetes, but also putting us at higher risk for multiple other factors, such as cardiovascular disease and hypertension. Being such, many items are now being sweetened with zero calorie sugar substitutes. Problem is, trying to figure out which sugar substitute is safe, or even WHAT it is. It seems that there is always a new substitution for sugar on the market - saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, and now you hear about xylitol and erythritol which are sugar alcohols...or maybe you've come across Stevia, also called 'sweet leaf'. With so many sugar substitutes on the market, it's rather maddening trying to figure out which is best for you. Let's demystify these sweet little white wonders and get chewing on the right ones!

Most of you are already familiar with pink, yellow, blue: sweet n'low (saccharin), equal/nutrasweet (aspartame), and splenda (sucralose). Below is a brief breakdown on these well known packets:

Saccharin is one of the oldest sugar substitutes, often found in sodas and packets at the cafes. The National Cancer Institute concluded that long term heavy use of saccharin is related to bladder cancer, hence why after the FDA approved it, they had to amend the label so that it warns "use of this product my be hazardous to your health". Heavy use is considered 2 or more 8 oz soft drinks a day sweetened with saccharin, or six servings of the sugar substitute containing saccharin.

Aspartame contains a wood alcohol in it called Methanol. While it contains only 10% methanol, levels of 7.8 mg a day are found to be toxic. The amount of methanol in a liter of soda sweetened with aspartame is 56mg!!! Just a few of the side effects of aspartame may be weight gain, headache, migraine, nausea, and numbness.

Sucralose is created by substituting chlorine atoms (a toxin and carcinogen) in place of sucrose atoms in sugar. It is a complex multi step chemical process, that in the end in no way resembles a natural sugar.

Moving on to the sugar alcohols Xylitol and Erythritol:

Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol that was marketed for diabetics. While orginally derived from birch trees, xylitol is now often derived from maize, a crop which is often hybridized/genetically modified. Also, xylitol is highly poisonous to pets. Many toothpastes and chewing gum brands are now sweetened with xylitol, and oddly enough it's in some plant fertilizers. If you are a pet owner i would suggest keeping anything with xylitol out of the house. Some people have reported stomach upset, gas, and bloating.

Erythritol is another sugar alcohol occurring naturally in fermented foods and fruits. It generally has a lesser effect on stomach upset and bloating. It is industrially produced by breaking down food starch into glucose, then fermenting the glucose with a yeast called Moniliella pollinis. The FDA considers it as GRAS (generally recognized as safe) as research has shown it to not have cancer causing agents.

and my absolute favorite, Stevia...

Stevia is an herb that comes from the sunflower family natively growing in central and south america. It is absolutely natural and has been used for hundreds of years by Indians in Paraguay to impart sweetness to teas, or even to chew on the leaves. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar so you really only need a small amount, as well the flavor might take some adjusting to. While it imparts sweetness in small amounts, in larger amounts it imparts a licorice like flavor. Stevia has a negligible impact on blood sugar and has even been shown to lower hypertension (high blood pressure). Since it's derived from an herbal plant, it has not been FDA approved, so stevia is often sold as a supplement (look for it shelved with vitamins and supplements rather than with the sugar substitutes). In the 1980's animal testing linked it to adverse effects on fertility and reproductive development. There are two highly refined versions of stevia that have been given the GRAS status (fda approves it as generally recognized as safe). These are Truvia and PureVia. Both products contain reboudioside (referred to as Rebiana or Reb A). This is a highly purified extract of stevia. Stevia can be used instead of sugar on uncooked and baked foods. To bake with stevia follow the chart below to decipher the amount needed for your recipe.

1 cup sugar = to 1 tsp stevia powder or 2 tsp stevia liquid
1/2 cup sugar = to 1/2 tsp stevia powder or 1 tsp stevia liquid
1/3 cup sugar = to 1/3 tsp stevia powder or 2/3 tsp stevia liquid
1/4 cup sugar = to 1/4 tsp stevia powder or 1/2 tsp stevia liquid

There are plenty of choices out there, and though you may already have your favorite, perhaps you'll now be inspired to try something new. Most importantly, look at your diet and how much sugar you are consuming. Become aware of the sugar amounts in packaged products as well as in every natural food source you put in your mouth (use this link you'll find at the right side of my blog page under basic nutrition info to find sugar amounts in natural foods). Let's all drop some of the sugary sweets, eat more fresh produce, and when you choose a sugar substitute consider the words above. Now let's get chewing!

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