Sweet Substitutes, Part 2
By now, you’re probably well aware of the dangers of sugar. You’ve heard a lot about all these healthy sweeteners and think you’re doing the right thing by using xylitol or stevia – but are they really safe?
These sweeteners have long been promoted by wellness gurus who think they are healthier, but in reality have been had by marketing gimmicks.
You have to be really careful with all of these fads for new products that come and go – it’s so easy to be swept up in what’s fashionable at the time, but it really might not be that healthy.
It’s important to pick choose foods that are as close to their natural state as possible, go through little to no processing, that nourish us and contribute to our health, and have stood the test of time with safety – and I don’t mean a few years on the market or having FDA approval!
These 5 sweeteners are surprisingly UNHEALTHY! Don’t be fooled by marketing hype.
Xylitol is a natural sugar alcohol sweetener found in the fibers of fruits and vegetables and in some trees, like birch.
While xylitol is a natural substance found in the humans and plants, and the human body itself produces some xylitol daily, that doesn’t mean a refined, extracted and concentrated product is good for us.
The white powder you see in health food stores is made using a complicated chemical process, and it causes common “side effects” like diarrhoea, bloating and flatulence.
Xylitol is highly toxic to dogs, even in very small amounts.
“Xylitol is a processed sugar. After being hydrogenated and having toxic chemicals added to xylan from corn or other plant material, and then removed, you get xylitol.” (1)
I’m steering clear of xylitol, and until more research is done, would recommend you do too!
// Side note: Sugar alcohols
“Sugar alcohols” like xylitol, glycerol, sorbitol, maltitol, mannitol, and erythritol are neither sugars nor alcohols. They are incompletely absorbed in the digestive system so they provide fewer calories, but then often cause “side effects” like bloating, diarrhea, and gas.
Stevia is a very pseudo (fake) sweet South American herb that is 300 times as sweet as sugar, which is completely safe in it’s natural form. If you can get you’re hands on a stevia plant, by all means go for this option. You could even dry your own leaves and ground them into a powder.
But how do you get from a green leaf to a white powder? Through a crazy chemical process is how. I am not a fan of extracts of things – this is the entire problem with white sugar in the first place, it’s an extract of something natural.
In 1991 the FDA refused to approve stevia as a food additive due to pressure from the makers of artificial sweeteners, but in 2008 the FDA approved the use of a stevia compound – rebaudioside A, with a 40-step patented process using GMO corn, to get from the leaf to the white powder you see today. Sounds natural, doesn’t it? The whole leaf of stevia is still not approved as food additive.
While stevia as a whole plant has been used for centuries, this one compound extracted from stevia has not!
Most stevia on the market today is a whacky 40-step patented lab experiment, with ingredients like erythritol and dextrose, both having a long complicated manufacturing process derived from GMO corn, “natural flavors” which are a lab experiment all to their own (and can mean almost anything), or silica, which for it’s other day job is used to help strengthen concrete and create glass bottles. (3)
If you still want to consume stevia, choose the green leaf powder, and make sure it’s organic, whole leaves with NO other additives!
3. Brown rice syrup
A staple in the macrobiotic diet and a favourite of health guru’s everywhere, brown rice syrup, also known as rice malt syrup, it often touted as the healthiest sweetener out. But for me, I’m not buying it.
Brown rice syrup is made by hydrolyzing cooked rice with natural enzymes that break down the starches and turn them into smaller sugars. All the impurities are removed, and the liquid is strained off and reduced until you have a thick syrup that no longer resembles brown rice. Doesn’t sound like something that would happen in the wild, does it?
While it is fructose free, it’s 100% glucose and the processing turns it into easily digestible sugars that spike blood sugar levels.
There are also concerns with arsenic levels in brown rice (and that this is concentrated in the syrup) and some testing has found significant amounts of arsenic in brown rice syrup. If you’re going to eat brown rice syrup, make sure the one you buy is tested for arsenic.
CELIACS: Not only is rice a gluten cross-reactor, but some brands of brown rice syrup also add barley! Be careful.
Agave was long promoted by all the wellness gurus for being completely natural and a diabetics dream – even I fell prey to this one. Turns out, it was all just marketing tricks. Just goes to show, don’t believe everything you read online and do your own research (yes, I’m aware of the irony – please research everything I say too!).
Just because it comes from a plant originally, doesn’t mean it’s healthy (remember where white sugar originally comes from?). Agave is HIGHLY processed, bearing no resemblance to the plant of its namesake, and usually around 80% fructose. The end product is a chemical experiment, not even remotely resembling the plant it came from.
I love this line from Dr. Joeseph Mercola: “While agave syrup does have a low-glycemic index, so does antifreeze — that doesn’t mean it’s good for you.”
He goes on to explain how agave is really made, “Though processing methods can differ among manufacturers, most commercially available agave is converted into fructose-rich syrup using genetically modified enzymes and a chemically intensive process involving caustic acids, clarifiers, and filtration chemicals.”(2)
People like David Gillespie and Dr. Mercola (he used to at least, not sure if he still does) promote pure glucose/dextrose as a good substitute for sugar because it has zero fructose. That’s nice, but that hardly makes dextrose healthy – FAR from it.
Dextrose is derived from GMO corn, although since it is so highly processed at such high temperatures, it’s generally considered safe even by those who dislike GMO’s.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, beware of EXTRACTS of natural foods (and white powders – boy are they trouble).
Even though it’s not fructose, diet’s high in glucose are still harmful to health.
Sorry if you’ve just found out the truth about a sugar sub that you love, but not to worry, there are plenty of healthier alternatives we can choose from!
Tomorrow, we’ll talk about all the different “healthier” cane sugars around like turbinado, rapadura and sucanat to find out if any of them are actually healthy, and if so which ones are the best.
Then I’ll show you the sweeteners that not only aren’t bad for you, but when you’re going to indulge your sweet tooth anyway, can actually contribute to your health!