Artificial Sugars Vs. The Real Stuff

Today’s training: An easy five miler around townie town with my boy! 

Sugar.  The most wonderful taste in all the land.  The real stuff, I mean.  I was asked to do a post on artificial sugars, but before I delve into what I’ve found- I will begin with my own opinion. 

Going back to the “Food Rules,” I’m going to stick with “Don’t eat anything that’s pretending to be something else” rule.  Sugar is sugar, and the fake stuff is processed.  I use real sugar in my coffee; I avoid soda 99% of the time.  BUT if I ever crave a ginger ale when I’m sick- I get the real stuff.  No “diet” fake sugar for me.  That’s because one time, in a pinch, I grabbed a Sugar Free Rock Star to get some “quick energy” and to be on trend.  The result was a super quick high, a super bad headache, and a super just as quick crash.  Never again, I thought.  I think, as with anything, we should eat sugar in it’s natural form as much as possible- fruits.  But if I’m craving it, as I often do, I will just indulge in the real stuff in moderation.  So, there’s my own opinon on it all.  Here’s the experts’ as simply as I can summarize.

Do you ever miss History class?  Well, never fear- I have some for you!  Sugar was brought over to us by the stud Christopher Columbus.  It was first made by boiling the cane juice and harvesting the crystals that were left behind.  These crystals contained protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals- and calories.  But, as always, we needed quicker, more convenient ways to make it- enter processing.  They started to refine the sugars, and wa-lah, they had their profitable industry!  Infact, refined sugars cost to produce, so those who could afford it became status symbols.  Ironically, they also had higher rates of diseases compared to the poor- who ate naturally.  Hmmmm
Mr. Columbus himself…

Actually, the “raw” sugar (turbinado) is already refined.  The only true “raw” sugar is that straight from evaporated cane juice.  Once they do anything with them further, it becomes processed.  The only other unrefined way to get sugar is from natural sources, like beets and fruit. 

Why do we consider sugar bad?  Obviously- calories/weight gain/diabetes.  Also, refined sugars are a food for oral bacteria- enter cavities.  All carbohydrates are technically sugar.  That’s why eating bready-like stuff that stick to your teeth is actually worse in forming cavities than chocolate. 

When you eat anything starchy, your body breaks it into glucose to digest it.  Glucose is then used for energy.  We do actually need and use sugar.  We just tend to overindulge far faster than the body can metabolize it all and then call it bad.  It can be helpful to look at the glycemic index of a food- how much refined sugar there is in something and how it will affect your blood levels.  Natural sugars, obviously, are the best.  Here’s a nice chart:

Alright, what about that artificial stuff?

They’re thought to be an excellent substitute for diets or for those with diabetes because they do not affect the glycemic index and they have little to no calories in them.  That doesn’t fool me, though.  Most of their negatives are probably a matter of opinion, though, and everyone has a different one.  The health risks (heart problems, brain issues, weight gain, etc.) that can be associated with these “sugars” really are only if they are consumed in extremely large amounts.  Amounts the average person doesn’t really touch.  Here are the options out there:

1. Acesulfame-Potassium (Acesulfame-K):

  • 200 times sweeter than sugar
  • 0 calories per gram
  • Heat stable (can be used in cooking and baking)
  • Produces no glycemic response

2. Aspartame goes by the brand names Equal and NutraSweet (to be avoided by people with PKU):

  • 160-220 times sweeter than sugar
  • 4 calories per gram (metabolized as a protein), but because such a small amount is needed to sweeten foods and beverages, the calories provided by aspartame are considered negligable.
  • Not heat stable (cannot be used in cooking or baking)
  • Produces a limited glycemic response

3. Neotame is one of the newest artificial sweeteners approved for use in packaged foods and beverages.

  • 7,000-13,000 times sweeter than sugar
  • 0 calories per gram
  • Heat stable (can be used in cooking and baking)
  • Produces no glycemic response
  • ADI: 18 mg/kg body weight per day
  • Rapidly metabolized and excreted

4. Saccharin goes by the brand names Necta Sweet, Sugar Twin and Sweet ‘N Low.

  • 200-700 times sweeter than sugar
  • 0 calories per gram
  • Heat stable (can be used in cooking and baking)
  • Produces no glycemic response

5. Stevia (Rebaudioside A) goes by the names PureVia, Sun Crystals and Truvia. It is a steviol glycoside, one component of the stevia plant that provides sweetness.

  • 250-300 times sweeter than sugar
  • 0 calories and 0 carbohydrates per gram
  • ADI: 0-4 mg/kg body weight per day
  • Metabolized by the body into steviol, which is not absorbed in the blood and therefore leaves the body unchanged

6. Sucralose goes by the brand name Splenda.

  • 600 times sweeter than sugar
  • 0 calories per gram
  • Heat stable (can be used in cooking and baking)
  • Produces no glycemic response
  • ADI: 5mg/kg body weight per day
  • Poorly absorbed and excreted unchanged

(All of my information came directly from this: http://www.sparkpeople.com/resource/nutrition_articles.asp?id=289)  The main idea of the article I read makes a great point- calories are calories.  You can take the sugar out of something, but in the end it’s about how much of it you’re eating. 

7. Agave Nectar.  Another sweetening option I use sometimes in my baked goods, oatmeal, and as syrup.  I have recently learned that the fact is- it’s not a natural sweetener.  WHAAAAT?!!?  It says it’s “raw” and “natural,” but as per always- these terms are thrown around so loosely these days.  Agave is processed similarly to high fructose corn syrup, actually- even more so. That said, it doesn’t affect the glycemic index much, so it may work for those with diabetes. 

Now personally, I love my chocolate and my ice cream, and I don’t want to give it up.  It’s the real sugar I crave, so I let myself have it.  I just don’t overdo it.  The fake sugars make me sick, and leaves me still craving the real thing.  Afterall, remember the food rule, “Don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize and food?”  She used sugar.  What would she think of Sucralose? 

Want a natural sweetener?  Use the squeezed juice of a fruit. Buy pure maple syrup or raw honey or molasses, but get the real, pure stuff, and buy it locally.  They’re pricey, but absolutely worth it.  The “syrups” and “honeys” you buy at the store are almost completely filler- karo syrup.  Gross

Or try something different like Sucanat, which retains its molasses content:

dWholesome Sweeteners Fair Trade Organic Sucanat Brown Sugar

High fructose corn syrup, fake sugars- everyone wants to make an excuse for why we’re getting bigger.  Sugar. is. Sugar.  We blame the industry.  Yeah, they know exactly what they’re doing- they know what we like and they want us to keep buying it.  They do extensive research to see what keeps us coming back for more- chemicals, chemicals, chemicals!!  BUT.  WE ARE why we’re getting bigger.  Because we choose to indulge in their products.  The choice of what you eat is up to you- and by default, how your body looks inside is out falls to you- and only you- as well.  We’re given the knowledge- what we do with it is our perogative. 

Obviously, it’s hard to avoid all the time- I’d go so far as to say impossible for me.  (Dove Dark Chocolate- you have my heart.)  When I can, I’ll buy the most natural products to use in my baked goods and to sweeten my tea.  I use everything else now and then.

Maybe some people like NutraSweet pumping through their veins, but I’ll stick with my sugar in moderation.  The white stuff over the fake stuff suits me just fine if I need something cheap and easy.  At least I know its original origin isn’t some chemical.

WHOA!  I feel like I had so much to cover here and it’s all over the place!  I hope I did a quick overview that made it easy to understand.  I actually learned a lot in the process, too!  I’ll probably go celebrate now with some green tea and honey.  Raw honey;) 

Know what’s even sweeter than sugar?  A baby on a carousel!

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