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Dr Marcus Laux
Eat Sweet (and Smart) With These Sweetener TipsPDFPrintE-mail
One of the questions I’m often asked is, “Whenever I want to sweeten my coffee or tea, I have half a dozen little packets to choose from. Does it really matter which one I choose?” My answer is a resounding “Yes!” As a health-conscious person, I know that you’re aware of the dangers associated with the over consumption of sugars and sweeteners. They’re big ones, and they include diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. But even when you consume sweeteners in moderation—as additives to drinks and ingredients in food—it’s important to understand that they are not all alike. Some of them are plain sinister! To help you choose more confidently, I’ve broken down the good, the bad, and the ugly in relation to refined sugar and sugar substitutes—and tell you which options are best.

Refined Sugar Puts Health at Risk

If refined white sugar were introduced today, it would probably not be accepted as a food. It would be called what it actually is: a drug. No other food is so highly purified and concentrated as this crystalline substance, which is full of calories but devoid of nutritive qualities. Interestingly, whole sugar cane—in its raw, unprocessed state—is loaded with fibre, minerals, vitamins, and phytonutrients. Like fruits, vegetables, and other naturally sweet carbohydrate foods, it tastes good and delivers nutrients the body can use. Refined sugar, however, is stripped of all nutrients. When consumed, it can actually deplete your body of stored nutrients. For example, refined sugar makes blood more acidic. This prompts your body to tap its mineral reserves (particularly calcium and magnesium) to bring your system back into balance. Over time, those reserves shrink, and overall health can suffer. The negative effects of sugar don’t stop there, either. The Nurses’ Health Study of more than 70,000 women found that drinking sugar-sweetened beverages contributes to greater weight gain. The most damaging effects of refined sugar come from the surges of insulin production it induces. The more frequently insulin is released, the less sensitive to it your body gradually becomes. This sets the stage for insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, especially when sugar consumption is coupled with poor diet and obesity.

Artificial Sweeteners, Artificial Satisfaction

If you’ve turned away from refined sugar, you’ve taken a step in the right direction. But be careful— artificial sugar substitutes are worse. Artificial sweeteners are real tricksters. They rely on a type of molecular mimicry that makes your tongue think it tastes sugar. In response, your body prepares to receive a natural carbohydrate form of sugar. But, because the sweetener is artificial, the insulin your body releases has little or nothing to do. Not only does this contribute to insulin resistance, it makes your body crave the sugar that’s not there. This often leads to a cycle of trying to satisfy the craving with the very substance that created it, and stimulates further unnecessary insulin production. Given this, why do we consume artificial sweeteners? It’s simple: refined sugar is loaded with calories that cause weight gain. To avoid putting on extra pounds, we consume artificial sweeteners. The irony, though, is that no studies have shown that artificial sweeteners have ever helped anyone lose weight. Instead, they actually increase cravings, and stimulate appetite and fat storage. In fact, a study conducted at Purdue University and published in the July 2004 issue of the International Journal of Obesity found that artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body’s natural ability to “count” calories based on the sweetness of foods.

What Should You Choose?

Although no sweetener is completely healthy, there are good guys and bad guys—and a few in between.  The key to making a smart choice is knowing which sweeteners are nutritive—that is, which are natural substances that contain calories—and which are non-nutritive, non-caloric chemical concoctions. The best option is a natural and nutritive sugar substitute but if that isn’t available choose a nutritive sweetener over something artificial. Stevia, a leaf from a plant grown in Paraguay and sold as a dietary supplement, is one of my top recommendations. With its licorice aftertaste removed, Stevia is sweet, safe, and healthy for all uses, from tea to cooking. It’s also an excellent choice for diabetics. SteviaPlus adds 1 gram of prebiotic inulin fibre to each packet that can help fuel the beneficial bacteria in your gut as well. Both Stevia and SteviaPlus are available in most health food markets.

Sucanat (SUgar CAne NATural) is another well established alternative. It offers a rich, smooth, flavour with shades of maple syrup, molasses, and vanilla— without the intense bite of refined sugar. Sucanat is made from juiced organic sugar cane. I love it in apple pies, pumpkin pies, or ginger snaps.

Finally, Lo Han Kuo extract, which comes from the fruit of the Momordica grosvenorii plant cultivated in the mountains of southern China, offers a sweet taste without elevating your blood sugar. You can buy it from Chinese grocery stores. I highly recommend Jarrow’s Lo Han Sweet sweetener, a tasty, low-glycemic blend of Lo Han, Xylitol (another all-natural sweetener made from corn husks), and inulin. It’s safe for baking and has only 2 calories per half teaspoon.

A recent trend is blending several sweeteners into one product to capture the best qualities of each. Although this direction is promising, good products are often laced with less desirable ones. For example, the new product known as SomerSweet is a mixture of oligofructose, inulin fiber, mung bean extract (a maltose-type sugar produced when the beans sprout), fructose, and Ace-K (acesulfame potassium). Inulin and oligofructose are natural, soluble dietary fibres, but Ace-K is synthetic.

Life should be sweet—but naturally so. Choose your sweeteners carefully, and don’t fear a few extra calories. Artificial sweeteners may seem like a good idea, but you’ll pay a much “heavier” metabolic penalty later.


Re-printed with permission from January 2007 edition of Naturally Well Today, Vol 4 No. 7


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Laboratory tests show that Krill Oil has 48x the antioxidant power of regular fish oil! Learn about the many anti-inflammatory benefits of this amazing omega-3. Read More...


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Healthy Tidbits

In this century, the world will have more people living into their 80s and 90s than ever before, with the number of people 80+ set to quadruple between 2000 and 2050.


Increased life expectancy is largely due to improvements in public health, and healthy ageing is linked directly to health in earlier stages of life.


Although it is natural for biological processes to decline with age, the rate at which our body’s decline is impacted by many controllable lifestyle factors such as how we eat, how we move, and how many toxic substances we are exposed to.



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