Monday, December 19, 2011

Sugar Substitutes

One of the tenets of our eating regimens is the absolute shunning of sugar.  Sugar is the devil.  I don’t just mean that poetically; it really does wreck havoc on your body – and I don’t just mean weight gain.  There are plenty of outwardly thin people running around who eat gummy bears, so there is not a one-to-one correlation that sugar consumption leads to excess body fat.  However, there are numerous studies providing evidence that sugar has a negative reaction on your body’s organs and molecular structure.  By now, we should all know that just because you are thin doesn’t mean you are healthy, and being healthy is our primary goal.

Unrefined honey, pure maple syrup/sugar, and agave are terrific, natural sweeteners if you are not trying to lose excess body fat, and they should be enjoyed in moderation after you have reached your body fat percentage goals.  My husband regularly enjoys coconut-flour brownies made with a combination of these sweeteners, and he has been liberated from sugar-rushes and sugar-crashes.  Also, pure honey and maple syrup are loaded with antioxidants, but you must, MUST use the pure varieties.  If it's cheap, it's garbage.

For those of us still in the fat-loss phase, there are four widely available refined sugar substitutes that can aid your endeavor to rid sugar from your meals:

·         Aspartame (Equal or NutraSweet)
·         Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
·         Sucralose (Splenda)
·         Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via)

There are so many great articles, and a bunch of nonsense, on sugar substitutes.  I’m going to let you read the articles written by people who have a scientific background greater than my own and let you decide.

I will share my personal, anecdotal evidence.

The only sugar substitute I do not use is aspartame.  I don’t think this is by choice so much as it is because aspartame is not an ingredient in anything I wish to eat.  While there is no hard evidence linking aspartame to cancer, birth defects, and such, there is strong anecdotal evidence that many people have severe headaches, insomnia, get dizzy, or just feel “icky”.  I ate a ton of fat-free, flavored yogurt in my 20’s and never felt dizzy nor had insomnia, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t doing low-level damage to my internal system.

Regarding saccharin, I confess to a weekly indulgence in a diet soda and sugar-free jello.  I haven’t found that saccharin increases my cravings above normal, but then I’m not a very good journaler who tracks her cravings trajectories at certain points in the day.  According to Dr. Atkins, caffeine is also a stimulator of sweet cravings.  I have small doses of caffeine through the week (maybe two cups of coffee…) and still would shove my husband and small children out of the way if Ina Garten was at the door with a trayfull of her Outrageous Brownies.   I’m drinking decaf green tea right now and could still inhale the brownies.

(maybe I should try giving up sugar substitutes for a two-week period and seeing if cravings are still there)

The next sugar-substitute of choice is sucralose, which is marketed as Splenda.  Sucralose is one of the first sugar substitutes to be derived from sugar itself, and is deemed a reasonable substitute by nutritionists according to the December 2011 issue of Women’s Health.  If you are on the Atkins regimen, you will notice Splenda as a suggested substitute for sugar in many, many recipes.  While I do use Splenda to add a touch of sweetness to whipped cream (½ of a packet to ½ cup of cream), I do not like large amounts of it.  In small doses, I do not experience any stomach upset.  In large doses, I do not fare so well.  My mother went through a phase in which she made cobblers, cakes, and pies with sucralose and the aftermath on my digestive system was unpleasant.  For days.

The last sugar substitute and the most buzz-worthy is stevia.  You can find stevia on its own or under the brand names of Truvia or Pure Via.  I’ve noticed the little packets in local cafes and on the shelves of Whole Foods in elixir form.  Stevia is a bit of an enigma because it hasn’t gone through rigorous testing, but it is billed as being a natural alternative to the others because it is derived from the stevia plant rather than a chemical byproduct of sugar.   In addition, some nutritionists and scientists are positing that stevia may have a positive impact on our internal systems compared to merely mitigating a bad insulin response like the other substitutes do.  I have not been a wide user of stevia, but I’m leaning more in the direction of it being my go-to substitute when I don’t want to use agave, raw honey or maple syrup.

Remember, sugar substitutes do contain carbs and you will need to count them toward your total if you are tracking.  Also, sweeteners – no matter what variety – should be used sparingly and in moderation. 



Adrienne said...

Great article, Rebekah.
I am with you on aspartame. I read some scary things about that stuff and avoid it at all costs which means I never chew gum - nearly all sugarless gums have aspartame - which I think is gauche anyway, and I only buy breath mints that use xylitol or sucralose.

I use Splenda sparingly, too. I can't stand the way it tastes when the flavor is strong. It's bitter and fake tasting.

My favorite faux sugar is Truvia. I put it in my tea, whipped cream and plain full-fat yogurt.

I also indulge in sugarless candy once in a while. I make sure they contain no aspartame and I go easy on the amount because of the sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols can wreak havoc on your digestive system, causing some very unpleasant effects, if you get my drift. Very unpleasant.

Come January, I want to remove all sweeteners for a while and detox myself from all forms and flavors of sugar. I've done it before and it helps a lot with cravings.

Anonymous said...

Very intersting post, I will have to check out those links. I used to be a diet soda person but over time have just lost my taste for it and now I find the occasion I open one I can rarely finish it. I am a big fan of Stevia - I use 1 packet in my morning coffee and I also sweetened a cranberry sauce I made at Thanksgiving with Stevia liquid extract and it turned out very good. As far as sugar free candy goes, if I might make a suggestion, a good alternative might be to just try a very good 80% or more cocoa dark chocolate. The sugar content on these is surprisingly low in small doses and completely natural. (check ingredients of course)

Pam @ over50feeling40 said...

My doctor told me that Stevia is the best and to only use that I am trying to stick mainly to it, but it is helpful to know what you have shared here for when Stevia is not available.

Anonymous said...

A - I've seen Truvia offered in packet form in a couple of the cafes in Austin, so I've been sneaking a couple when I get tea. One of my goals for 2012 is to make diet soda a monthly treat with the aim of completely ridding it.

lowcarb - Don't you love MDA? And thanks for your comments on sugar-free candy.

Pam - It looks like Stevia is the clear winner if you are cutting out calories from sweeteners entirely. I shudder to think that we're going to get a bevy of low-quality stevia products in the next few years, so it's always wise to read the labels on absolutely everything you eat!