Sweeteners: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Who doesn’t enjoy something sweet every once in a while? Nature has built us to enjoy that taste on our tongues, and there aren’t many people that don’t enjoy a nice fresh piece of fruit of some description!

Living Primally doesn’t mean having to give up sweet treats, it just means we have to be a little more discerning and a bit more creative when it comes to satisfying our sweet tooth if we want to venture outside natures’ prepackaged fruit treats.

Many modern foods raise our blood sugar as quickly as or even worse than sugar… take a look at bread as an example! What people fail to realise is that as bad as sugar is, you’re doing just as much damage to yourself ploughing into a bowl of cereal or munching on toast as eating a spoonful of sugar!

The key to the Primal lifestyle is your body is functioning primarily on fat for energy rather than those carbohydrates mentioned above. One major bonus is that your tastes will also change, and you may find that you don’t want or crave those high sugar treats you once did, as you no longer need a quick energy fix. Now you can choose to have that sweet treat because you WANT it rather than you need it… and without sugar it now tastes just as good if not better!

It can take a little time for your taste buds to adjust back to natural, where you get that same sweet taste you desire when sugar-free, the Primal Labrador for example still loves and completely over indulges in that sweet taste… but at least his pig outs are now healthy!

In order to satisfy these sweet tastes, manufacturers have produced a wide range of sweeteners to appeal to the consumer. Sugar and artificial sweeteners are found in most processed products on the supermarket shelves. It can be found not only in cakes, biscuits and cereals but also soups, sauces and even sausages and bacon! The best way to see how much sugar is in a product is to look at the ‘total sugar’ per 100g serve, as well as at the ingredient list for ‘hidden’ sugars, and you should look for the lowest available net carbohydrate product. Simply

Simply put: Carbohydrates – Fibre = Net Carbohydrates.

There is also the misconception that because sugar is natural it is good for us, and that artificial sweeteners must be bad simply because they are processed. Even though sugar is ‘natural’ it is still processed… I can tell you from experience it doesn’t grow on trees!

There are some great low carbohydrate recipes out there that call for the use of a sweetener, and there are several sweeteners around now that are just as natural as sugar, but won’t cause a rise in your blood sugar levels the way sugar does.

There are so many types of sweeteners around, that if you are new to this lifestyle it can be very confusing.

Below we will explore some of the different kinds of sweeteners and some information about them.

THE GOOD

STEVIA

This sweetener from the leaves of the Stevia plant and has been used for centuries. It is about 300 times sweeter than sugar but can have a bitter aftertaste if too much is used. It is available in many forms; granulated, powdered and liquid. Granulated stevia is often mixed with other sweeteners such as erythritol so it can be used spoon for spoon as a direct replacement for sugar to enable more accurate measuring.

Unlike sugar, granulated stevia also doesn’t melt well, so if you are making fat bombs or chocolate you will need to use powdered or liquid stevia. Liquid Stevia comes in both traditional plain and many different flavours as well, for use not only in baking but also for flavouring water to make a pleasant drink or to freeze to make homemade icy poles.

Stevia you buy in the supermarket is NOT pure Stevia, it has been bulked up with other products in order enhance the commercial returns. The Primal Labrador uses approximately 1/8 of a teaspoon of pure Stevia in a cup of tea… the equivalent sweetness to 3 spoonfuls of sugar! I sometimes think he needs to be sweeter, but he reckon’s he’s sweet enough as is… 😉

ERYTHRITOL

Erythritol is a sugar alcohol made from glucose and fermented with a microorganism found in honeycomb to produce a sweetener that is about 70% as sweet as sugar.
It is non-glycemic and will not raise your blood sugar as it is only partially absorbed into our body and is passes unchanged into your urine.

Erythritol also inhibits bacteria in your mouth and is often used in chewing gum. It can be used at the same spoon for spoon ratio as sugar but is usually mixed with a little Stevia to make it sweeter.

There is no bitter after taste and unless ingested in large quantities doesn’t cause stomach and intestinal upset the way that other sugar alcohols can.

THE BAD

SUGAR ALCOHOLS

Xylitol, Sorbitol and Maltitol are sugar alcohols are found in most fruits and vegetables. They are a type of carbohydrate that is a hybrid between a sugar molecule and an alcohol molecule (hence the name “sugar alcohol”) and, as they are largely indigestible, our bodies do a poor job of digesting these sugars.
They ferment in our gut causing all sorts of problems from simple bloating, gas and diarrhoea to skin rashes and malabsorption of fats.

Xylitol has antibacterial properties and is used in sugar-free gums and gives a cooling effect in your mouth.

Although these sugars are often used in low carbohydrate processed foods, they will still cause a rise in your blood sugar levels and you can still gain weight if consuming them in quantity, due to the excess insulin in your blood.

WARNING: Xylitol is toxic to dogs and products containing it should never be fed to them.

FRUIT SUGARS

These include date sugar, palm sugar, rice malt syrup, molasses, raw honey, agave syrup, and dried fruits and pastes.

These are all still forms of sugar and while they may be natural, they still have a high G.I. While they may be lower in carbohydrates than table sugar they are still high in glucose or fructose and will cause a rise or spike in blood sugar levels, which is not a good thing.

Some brands of commercial honey (a natural sweetener) even have sugar added to them!


AND THE UGLY

MALTODEXTRIN

Maltodextrin is a white powder made from potato or corn starch. It is very highly processed and can be both sweet and neutral in taste and is used as a sweetener and a thickener. You can find this insidious product in about 80% of processed supermarket products.

Although it has fewer calories than sugar you can still easily gain weight, as when ingested it is very quickly digested and acts like glucose – spiking your insulin and any not burned as energy is stored as fat in just the same way as sugar.

This is an insidious sugar as it is used in so many products, particularly products labelled ‘low fat’ or ‘low sugar’ to catch the consumer unaware.

Maltodextrin can promote the growth of harmful bacteria in your gut with side effects ranging from bloating, constipation, diarrhoea, and gas, to weight gain, skin rashes, and breathing difficulties.

ASPARTAME, SUCRALOSE AND SACCHARIN

Aspartame, Sucralose and Saccharin are artificial sugars which should be avoided altogether and are common sweeteners people have with coffees etc.  They may have no calories or carbohydrates, but they have appalling side effects and have been scientifically linked to causing cancer. Among the side effects are bloating, depression, weight gain, diarrhoea, migraines, gas, and abnormal gut bacteria.

IN CONCLUSION

There is a lot of choice with low carb sweeteners.

Many recipes and products will try to fool you into thinking they are healthy and sugar-free when in fact all they are doing is replacing the ‘bad’ with the downright ‘ugly’!

What you decide to use is up to you, and I hope this blog gives you a greater understanding of the differences so that you can make the best choice for you.

Nature has been creating and refining sweeteners for longer than even an elephant can remember, and has even come up with great sweet treats in their own ‘supermarket’ packaging… easily the best alternative when you want something sweet!

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