Sugar and Sweeteners

When most of us think about sugar we think of the typical cane type sugar.  However, nowadays most of our processed food is sweetened with artificial, or somewhat natural, super sweet, and cheap, chemicals.  It is estimated that the average American eats 150 pounds of sugar per year.  Obviously Americans have a sweet tooth, and what manufactures are trying to come up with is a way to satisfy the sweet tooth without bodily harm by way of calories, safety for diabetics, and toxicity. 

Sugar Cane

Here is a sample scenario of how these added sweeteners end up in our processed food.  Often it starts with side by side taste testing.  The test subjects may like the taste of one product over another and often the reason is that it is sweeter.  Then the manufacture looks into adding sugar, but cane sugar is often more expensive and less sweet than other sweeteners.  So the “bean counters” at the manufacture may opt to use a sugar substitute.  Other scenarios include manufactures efforts to retain taste for long periods of time like in canning or jarring.  This creates a problem where we are all addicted to these super sweet sweeteners and then natures own sweetness, like in fruit, is not sweet enough to satisfy our cravings.

Here is a sample list of some of the common added sweeteners found in our food today:

  • Xylitol- Is a sugar alcohol and not quite as sweet as sugar but has about 2/3 the calories of sugar, is cheaper than sugar, and seems to cause little insulin release in humans.  Pet owners need to know that in dogs xylitol is rapidly absorbed which can cause a harmfully large insulin release and drop their blood sugar; which can result in symptoms such as vomiting, weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, collapse, possible liver failure and seizures.
  • Sucrose- Is common table sugar.
  • Glucose- The sugar that the body uses for most of the energy produced.
  • Sucralose- Is estimated 600 times sweeter than sugar. The FDA reports that about 11-27% is absorbed, while the rest just passes through.
  • Aspartame- Is estimated 180 times sweeter than sugar.
  • Neotame- Is made from Aspartame and about 72 times sweeter than sugar.
  • Saccharin- Estimated 300-500 times sweeter than sugar.
  • High fructose corn syrup- About equal sweetness to sugar and cheaper than sugar.
  • Stevia- A herb with an estimated 30-40 times more sweet than sugar.

What foods often contain added sweeteners? 

The shorter list would be foods that do not contain these sweeteners; this is why in past blogs I wrote about familiarizing yourself with the ingredients list for all your food purchases.  Added sweeteners are in everything from milk, cheese, cereal, soda, some medications, some vitamins, gum, candy, caned goods, salsa, peanut butter, spagetti sauce, salt, and boxed goods.   Our drinking water, even after filtration, has been shown to have trace amounts of added sweeteners in certain parts of the country.

Now for the big debate…. are added sweeteners safe?

  • Arguments that added sweeteners are safe
    1. the body doesn’t metabolize them down to their more harmful “parts”
    2. safe when used in moderation
    3. blood brain barrier inhibits these sweeteners from damaging the central nervous system
    4. some research shows safety for human consumption
    5. many have been used for decades without problems
  • Arguments that added sweeteners are not safe:
    1. we do absorb a portion of the chemicals
    2. these chemicals can break down into harmful smaller parts
    3. typical Americans are not consuming small amounts of the sweeteners, as these sweeteners are in multiple items consumed regularly
    4. many of the studies are on animals not humans
    5. many of the animal studies had biases
    6. many of the human studies where too short and had biases
    7. no long term human studies
  • Reported bodily harm from added sweeteners: type 2 diabetes, stroke, increased risk of low bone mineral density in women, GI problems, blurred vision, blindness, migraines, seizures, allergic reactions, blood sugar increases, weight gain, dizziness, skin irritation, stomach bloating/gas/pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, heart palpitations/fluttering, Asthma like symptoms, joint pains,  mental fogginess, brain tumors, fatigue, numbness, muscle spasms, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, birth defects, buzzing in the ears, decreased good bacteria in the gut, increased gut pH, premature birth, liver disease, kidney disease, metabolic syndrome, behavioral changes, chronic inflammation, suppressed immune system, high blood pressure, testicular atrophy, bladder tumors, and more

Keep in mind only a small number of consumers take the time to report reactions to the CDC and other information gathering bodies; and some of these reactions          have been studied while others have not.

My opinion

This is again one of those topics that you can find experts on both sides; if this has sparked your interest do your own homework there are many books, documentaries, etc.  In my opinion the research suggests that added sugars are something we should all be avoiding.  It seems that these sweeteners do not satisfy our brains cravings like glucose would, and additionally it seems that these sweeteners, or at least part of these sweeteners, are metabolized differently by our body than natures own sweeteners.  Fructose, for example, is metabolized in the liver in a similar fashion to alcohol, including the side effects like beer belly, while glucose can be metabolized in cells throughout our body; for this reason we should try to limit fructose consumption to about 15-25 grams per day.  Fructose is found in many fruits, honey, and agave, but it seems that this source of fructose when combined with the fiber, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, in the fruit is better for us than the added source of pure fructose; the best time to be consuming fructose is following exercise. However, Short term use in small quantities are likely not to harm you, like smoking one cigarette is not likely to give you cancer.

Bottom line, we should be avoiding all sugar and sweeteners all together but if you must sweeten something I prefer more raw organic natural sweeteners; this should not surprise frequent readers of this blog, it is no secret that it is my opinion that all our nutrients should come from our diet of clean natural chemical free sources of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, eggs, healthy fats, and meats. But if you must sweeten something, here is a list of sources: Stevia, glucose, honey (Manuka honey has antibacterial properties), maple syrup, brown sugar, cane sugar, use fruits like pineapple or raisins.  One final example: when you make home cooked meals do you add sugar (example soups, spaghetti sauce, salsa, etc)? Then why should we consume processed foods with added sweeteners?

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