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Sugar and Sweeteners

by Dr. Randy

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The sugars contained in fresh, natural foods are adequate to provide for everyone’s energy needs. Nonetheless, people like sweet tastes. If you must have additional sweets in your diet, here is a review of your options.  Or you can skip to the bottom line at the end of this article.

No one should eat added sugars on a regular basis. Many books have been written about the dangers of sugar consumption and its ability to depress the immune system, impede cellular function, and stimulate the overgrowth of candida (yeast).  Sugars and other carbohydrates stimulate excess insulin production that results in storage of sugars in fat cells, wildly fluctuating blood sugar reactions, and an increased incidence of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and osteoporosis. Excess sugar consumption interferes with the body’s absorption of minerals (calcium and magnesium), raises cholesterol levels, and causes allergies, kidney damage, high blood pressure, and a host of other problems. This knowledge has led to the concept of low carbohydrate diets to control weight and prevent and cure disease.

Sugar sweeteners

Refined sucrose made from plants (beets or cane) is depleted of vitamins and minerals. The refining process also adds several potentially toxic chemicals (bleaches and stabilizers). Natural sugars in the form of raw sugar, rice syrup, malt syrup, and raw honey are purported to have more nutritional value and they have less added toxic ingredients, but do nothing to reduce the deleterious effects of eating sugar. Brown sugar is refined sugar with added molasses. Sucrose is 50% fructose and 50% glucose.

High fructose corn syrup is 20 times sweeter than sucrose, cheaper to make, and convenient for food manufacturers because it retains moisture and blends well with other ingredients. The free fructose in corn syrup interferes with the heart’s use of minerals, depletes the ability of white blood cells to defend against infections, and raises cholesterol and triglyceride levels. Fructose inhibits the hormones that make us feel full (insulin and leptin), and it triggers the hormone that makes us feel hungry (ghrelin). Children do much better on diets free of corn syrup. Many commercial, sweet, processed food products contain high fructose corn syrup. These products include candy, soda, energy bars, sweetened yogurt, energy drinks, and baked desserts.

Natural Sweeteners

Honey should be used only in its raw form because the heating process destroys enzymes and vitamins natural to the honey. Honey stimulates insulin production with the same mechanism as other forms of sugar. Do not give honey to infants under 12 months of age because of their inability to defend themselves against botulinum spores that may contaminate honey.

Stevia is an herb native to Paraguay. It has no calories and manufacturers claim that the plant actually has health benefits. It contains vitamins and minerals. It lowers high blood pressure, discourages bacterial growth, and improves digestion. Some people object to its mildly bitter taste, but others find it perfectly palatable. Some brands are more bitter than others. Try KAL brand Stevia extracts (liquid or powder).

Maple syrup made from the sap of maple trees is up to 60 percent sucrose. It is essential that consumers use certified organic maple syrup because of the danger of chemical residues from forests sprayed with pesticides. Additionally, many maple syrup producers use formaldehyde pellets in the sap holes to prevent the holes from closing and formaldehyde in holding tanks as a preservative. Chemical anti-foaming agents may also be added to non-organic maple syrup.

Agave syrup is about 50 fructose. The commercial forms of agave syrup (or nectar) are highly processed and devoid of any health benefits of the agave plant or its extract.

Malt syrup is made from barley and contains primarily maltose, which is less than half as sweet as sucrose. Rice syrup is made from barley and rice. Date sugar is simply ground, dehydrated dates. Coconut (Palm) sugar is a refined form of palm tree sap. It does have some minerals, but does not seem any safer than other refined sweeteners, although it usually has less additives than commercial, white refined sugar. Health food products often contain these natural sweeteners in packaged products.

Sugar alcohols (-ol)

Xylitol is a five-carbon rather than a six-carbon sugar (glucose, fructose). The body produces several grams of xylitol every day, and ingested xylitol is converted to glucose. Many bacteria cannot metabolize xylitol, and its presence is harmful to some bacteria. For that reason it is promoted in toothpastes and sugar-free chewing gum to prevent plaque build-up and cavities. It contains the same number of calories as sucrose, but is absorbed more slowly. Sugar alcohols do raise blood sugar levels, though not as much as sugar. Stomach cramping and diarrhea are potential side effects of xylitol and other sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols draw water into the intestines. For this reason they can also promote dehydration and loss of electrolytes. Eating a large amount of sugar alcohol-sweetened food and then exercising could create problems with muscle cramping and heat stroke.

Sorbitol and Mannitol contain six-carbons like fructose and glucose, but with an additional hydroxyl (alcohol) group that make them independent of insulin metabolism. Sorbitol is a natural ingredient contained in many fruits that have the potential to cause diarrhea (prunes, apples, pears, peaches).

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners seek to provide the sweet taste of sugar without raising blood glucose levels. These alternatives to sugar tend to be hundreds of times sweeter than sucrose. Their safety has always been a matter of controversy. Studies have both identified saccharine (Sweet ‘N Low) as a carcinogen and also exonerated saccharine as safe. However US government reports of known carcinogens have continued to include saccharine in their lists since 1981. Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal) has been roundly condemned by many sources as a dangerous toxin capable of inducing hundreds of symptoms. It has been affectionately nicknamed Nutradeath. Besides causing headaches, allergic reactions, and symptoms that mimic autoimmune diseases, aspartame causes the accumulation of formaldehyde in the brain and other tissues, which can cause damage to the nervous system and immune system.

Because of the negative publicity about these sugar-free sweeteners, other alternatives have been developed. The newest kid on the block is sucralose (Splenda).

Sucralose is made by chlorinating sugar (sucrose). Three chlorine atoms substitute for three hydroxyl groups. Although Johnson & Johnson, the makers of Splenda, claim that sucralose is not absorbed by the body, the FDA has determined that up to 27 percent of ingested sucralose is absorbed. Other chlorinated molecules, such as the chlorinated pesticide DDT, are accumulated in body fat. Similarly, up to 30 percent of absorbed sucralose is metabolized and concentrated in the liver and kidney. Research in animals has shown that sucralose can result in shrunken thymus glands (up to 40 percent shrinkage), enlarged liver and kidneys, reduced growth rate, and decreased fetal body weight. No long term or independent studies on sucralose have been conducted on humans, and no organizations are monitoring health effects. Many individuals have reported adverse effects of sucralose, including anxiety, panic attacks, headaches, nerve, joint and chest pain, allergic type reactions, and diarrhea.

The bottom line

Get most of your sugar from whole foods (fruits, vegetables, grains). If you need to use a sweetener, the best forms are raw honey, stevia, and date sugar. Acceptable sweeteners are organic maple syrup, coconut sugar, xylitol, and sorbitol. Avoid corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, and use refined sugar very sparingly.

 

 

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  • Venice Scherer

    I learned so much about the side effects of sugar, thank you for this detailed description of sucrose and glucose!