Sugars and Other Sweeteners
By Linda Marino, Dipl. Ac.
I have treated many patients over the years with ill health and related problems that appeared to be associated with sugar intake. Some of these included headaches, fatigue, digestive issues, anemia, mineral deficiencies, Candida (resulting in leaky gut syndrome), anxiety and depression. A literature review on sugars and sweeteners reveals that there is substantial evidence that eating too many sweets in our diet may eventually cause disease. Use of excess sweeteners in any form can have a negative effect on our health; this includes not only refined sugars, but also corn syrup, honey and fruit juices.
Additional heath related problems identified in the literature also associated with sugary foods and/or the use of too much sweetener include: Tooth decay, Obesity, Nutritional deficiency (including anemia, protein & mineral deficiencies), Hypoglycemia and carbohydrate imbalance, Chronic dyspepsia and digestive problems, Immune dysfunction and recurrent infections, Menstrual Irregularities & PMS, Yeast Overgrowth, Hyperactivity, Alcoholism (associate with hypoglycemia and abnormal carbohydrate metabolism), Mood Swings, and Heart disease.
As a consequence of my findings, I have conducted a survey of all sugars that are available on the market to help educate patients on sugars and provide them with healthy options and alternatives for sweeteners. I also have suggested that patients restricting their sugar intake also modify their diets by eliminating most brands of food that contain sugar additives, minimizing the quantity of fruits and fruit juices consumed (no more than two servings a day), reducing the number carbohydrates (that convert to sugars) and utilizing a variety of sweeteners other than refined or unrefined sugars. These dietary changes have produced excellent results. However, this means, constantly reading labels on all food products since sugars and sweeteners have pervaded most foods to the point that it is almost impossible to find prepackaged products that are unsweetened. This also means searching for new sweeteners and substitutes for sugary foods and desserts.
After reviewing the literature and reading the labels on a variety of products that are available at the health food stores, I was able to identify 25 different sweeteners, many of which are marketed under multiple commercial names. Of these sweeteners nine (9) are considered to be safe to use, four (4) are recommended to avoid (these are primarily the artificial sweeteners), and twelve (12) are considered to be safe for short terms use or to use while transitioning to the healthier sweeteners. Three (3) of the sweeteners claimed to be safe for diabetic use while two (2) were acceptable for use by some diabetics.
Below is a table of sweeteners that I was able to find in the health food stores and/or referenced in the literature.
I. Sweeteners to Use (Safe Sweeteners): It is preferable to use the safe sweeteners for healing and disease prevention.
- Sucanat – Whole cane sugar with water removed. Still sugar as far as diabetics are concerned, but it contains a small amount vitamins and minerals (which helps negate some of the negative effects found in long term use of white sugar). Some diabetics that are allowed to use small amounts of sugar can use small amounts of Sucanat.
- Barley Malt – (Fermented grains) A malted barley product sold by Sunspire (510/569-9731). Some people are sensitive to barley malt. However, this sensitivity may be due to the fact that MSG is often hidden in the “malt” in processed foods.
- Stevia (also sold as “Sweetlife”) – From a South American plant called Stevia. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar so it usually used in small amounts. Diabetics can safely use Stevia. Sunrider Distributors (SunnyDew – sold as a dietary supplement. The taste of stevia can vary considerable from one vendor’s product to another due to different growing conditions, processing, etc.
- Fruit Juice – Juice commonly used as sweeteners include grapes, dates, raisins, pineapple, apple and orange. Many products are sweetened with fruit juice in health food stores including cookies, cereals, breads, carob or chocolate candles, jello, salad dressing, sauces, and R.W. Knudsen sodas.
- Honey – Flower nectar processed by bees. Is a useful natural sweetener that is much sweeter than sugar and is assimilated into the blood quickly. It contains minerals and enzymes and is usually highly refined and pasteurized. It may have contaminants, especially if it is imported. Be certain of the source and quality before using it regularly. Honey should never be given to infant and very young children
- Rice Syrup and Yinnie Syrup – fermented Rice. It resembles honey in appearance but has a slightly sweeter taste.
- Licorice Root – Root of the Licorice plant. No serious adverse reactions have been published about licorice root. “single” chemical extracts have caused serious adverse reactions on occasion when used in medicine or candy, but the whole root does not cause these serious reactions. A single chemical extract of glycyrrhizin from licorice root cause the blood level to rise dramatically. This does not happen to when whole licorice root is taken in reasonable amounts.
Most herbalist believe that it is wise to avoid excessive and long term use of licorice since they believe that long-term use can cause water retention and hypertension in some people.
Licorice root is best used in small amounts to give herbal tea a sweet taste.
Diabetics can use licorice root safely in small amounts.
- Amasake – Made from sweet brown rice, brown rice and koji (starter). The koji breaks down the polysaccharides in the rice to disaccharide’s giving it a very sweet taste. Amasake is primarily found in drinks that you can buy or you can make it yourself.
- Fructooligosaccharides (FOS) – Is a useful product for Candida overgrowth patients as it supports the growth of beneficial bacteria. Diabetics can safely use small amounts of FOS.
II. Sweeteners to Gradually Reduce or Elimate:
- White Sugar -- Sucrose extracted from cane and sugar beets. This is a disaccharide, made up of two sugars – glucose and fructose. Most nutrients are removed. When manufacturing is complete, the result is a pure refined sugar and no nutrients.
- Brown Sugar -- Brown sugar is usually white sugar mixed with molasses or sprayed with caramel coloring. May be sold as “Muscovado Sugar” or “Demerara Cane Sugar”, which is a coarse grain brown sugar since it is has a slightly different crystallization process.
- Turbinado Sugar --
- Raw Sugar -- Raw sugar is often white sugar (cane and sugar beets) with coloring.
- Fructose -- Made from fruit and sucrose. Beware the “natural” products with fructose. It’s not much better than white sugar (IMO)
- D-tagatose – Far safer than neotame/aspartame, suralose, etc., but used as a transitional sweetener to healthier ones listed above.
- Corn Syrup – Processed from corn starch.
- Blackstrap molasses – By product of tranulated sugar. Retains most all of the nutrients that have been removed from the white sugar.
- Dextrose –
III. Sweeteners That Can be Used While Transitioning to Healthier/Safer Sweeteners:
- Sweet’n low/Twin saccharin
- Sugar alcohols – xylitol (may be sold as Pure Birch Sugar), sorbital; use in small amounts and avoid if you have bowel disease.
IV. Sweeteners to Avoid (Artificial Sweeteners):
- Nutrasweet/Equal – aspartame, “contains phenylalanine” on the label; MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) has some of the same toxicity mechanisms as aspartame.
- Sunette/Sweet-n-Safe/Sweet One – acesulfame-k
- Splenda – suralose
Artificial sweeteners also appear to have major health effects. According to the literature all artificial sweeteners are bad and are unsafe for human consumption.
Acesulfame K, sold commercially as Sunette or Sweet One was approved by the FDA in 1988 as a sugar substitute in packet or tablet form, in chewing gum, dry mixes for beverages, instant coffee and tea, pudding, etc. According to Michael F. Jacobson, author of the book “Safe Food “, Acesulfame K is worst than aspartame and saccharin. Its by-product, acetoacetamide has been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits, and dogs. Administration of 1% and 5 % acetoacetamide in the diet for three months caused benign thyroid tumors in rats (Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Lisa Lefferts and Anne Garland, Safe Food, Berkley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1998).
Splenda, also known as sucralose, is a chlorinated sucrose derivative. Pre-approval research showed the sucralose caused shrunken thymus glands (up to 40% shrinkage) and http://mercola.com/2004/mar/31/splenda_reaction.htm).
Aspartame also known as NutraSweet has a by-product called neotame. According to Life Science Magazine, “It is concluded that aspartame consumption may constitute a hazard because of its contribution to the formation of formaldehyde adducts, a substance responsible for chronic deleterious effects that has also been considered carcinogenic” (Life Science, Vole 63, No. 5, pp.337, 1998).
Elkins, Rita M.H., Natures Sweeteners, Stevia, Pleasant Grove, UT, Woodland Publishing, Inc., 1997.
Hass, M. Elson, M.D. The Detox Diet, The How-To & When – To Guide for Cleansing the Body, Berkley, California: Celestial Arts Publishing, 1996.
Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., Lisa Lefferts and Anne Garkland, Safe Food, Berkley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1998).
Pitchford, Paul, Healing with Whole Foods, Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition, 3rd ed, Berkley , California: North Atlantic Books, published originally in 1993 and revised and updated in 2002.
Aspartame –Neotame Transition, Life Science, Vol 63, No 5, pp. 337, 1998.
Healthier Sweetener Resources.
Natural Sweeteners, Health Network by Tom McGregor 90 minutes……………………………….