Best and Worst Sweeteners

Scoop of Sugar

Sugar is everywhere and at times it seems like it’s added to nearly everything we eat and drink. At this point, it’s common knowledge that we all need to be mindful of our sugar intake as it can be inflammatory to our bodies and promote disease. Sadly, sugar is super addictive (hence all those cravings for sweets), so the goal should be to eliminate it from your diet—like you would any other drug you were addicted to! By avoiding processed foods we can significantly decrease our added sugar intake and wean ourselves off all those “sweets”. Don’t worry—this doesn’t mean you can never enjoy something a tad sweet—but you should be mindful of the type of sweetener you use and, of course, how much!

Sugars to ditch:

By now most of us know that high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, cane sugar and the like are on the “avoid list” as they are highly refined and offer no redeemable health characteristics. Here are a few more to add to your list.

1. Aspartame: Earlier this year, research results published in Nature revealed an increased risk of developing metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes with the ingestion of artificial sweeteners, including aspartame and number 2 on our list, sucralose. The study found that those who consume the most artificial sweeteners were more likely to have problems controlling blood sugar.

2. Sucralose: Again, part of the study that showed a link between consumption of artificial sweeteners and blood sugar control. Furthermore, while this product may originate from sugar, it is anything but natural. To achieve the final product it must be processed with chlorine to make it indigestible to the human body.

3. Agave Nectar: This sweetener is derived from the core of the Mexican Agave cactus plant, which is the same plant from which tequila is made. It’s now on our “no” list because it is comprised of 70-90 percent fructose, also known as fruit sugar. This is significant because the liver metabolizes fructose. Part of that process includes turning fructose into fat, or lipogenesis. Consume enough fructose and that fat starts to accumulate in the liver, which may lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In addition, increased fructose consumption may lead to elevated triglyceride and harmful LDL (“bad cholesterol’) levels, as well as elevated blood pressure. All of which are harmful to our arteries and heart. Therefore, we recommend consuming fructose from whole food sources, like fruit, which has fiber and are filled with vitamins and minerals.

*In the spirit of eating real foods, we think it is best to avoid anything that includes the word “artificial” in the title. We are talking to you artificial sweeteners. Instead of searching out ways to feed your sweet cravings without additional calories try weaning yourself off your need for sweets all together!

When you need a little sweet:

1. Stevia: Currently, stevia is the only no-calorie sweetener derived 100% from a plant source. The leaves of the stevia plant are very sweet – much sweeter than traditional sugar, in fact.   To extract that sweetness, the leaves are harvested, dried and steeped in water. Since it is technically an herb, you can make your own stevia by growing the plant at home and using its leaves just as you would any other herb to sweeten a drink or dish. Avoid highly processed stevia that uses a solvent, alcohol or other chemicals to inexpensively extract the sweetness. Don’t you stevia as a no-calorie crutch to curb your sweet cravings—the goal is to wean yourself off your need for sweet.

2. Raw Honey: A natural sweetener; honey does contain higher levels of fructose but it also contains an abundance of cancer-fighting antioxidants. It also boasts antimicrobial, antiviral and immune boosting properties. All this gives it a “thumbs up” in our book! Limit yourself to a tsp if you use honey as a sweetener for tea, yogurt, etc. Less is always more!

3. Pure Maple Syrup (grade B): This syrup comes from the boiled down sap of maple trees and is lower in calories and contains more trace minerals, including zinc and manganese, compared to honey. However, don’t be tricked with standard grocery store syrup, which is a flavored high fructose corn syrup. Instead look for a product that reads“100% maple syrup.” Grade B, which is less refined, is best. Again, limit your consumption.

By: Erin DeMito, RD, LDN

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