Our love-hate relationship with sweeteners has often been a question of choosing one's poisons, as no choice has been without its problems. Sugar and artificial sweeteners tend to disrupt satiety, which causes overeating, spike the fat storing hormone insulin and lead to age-accelerating molecules. But now, thanks to natural sweeteners such as Stevia and xylitol, our sweets can do exactly the opposite.
Artificial sweeteners have been used for years, but not without problems. The most common are saccharin, aspartame, and sucralose.
Saccharin, the oldest artificial sweetener, has been around since 1878 and under scrutiny since 1907. Approved in the U.S. for use as a tabletop/beverage sweetener and as an ingredient in medicines such as cough syrup, saccharin does not convert to glucose, but is readily absorbed and excreted unchanged by the kidneys. This causes it to be without food value and also without calories, which made it popular with diabetics and dieters.
Consumers using saccharin need to know about its carcinogenic links. During the 1960's, studies on rats indicated saccharin was related to bladder cancer. Inexplicably, the FDA has allowed saccharin to remain as a food additive. The consumer should always check labels, because food, beverage, and pharmaceutical manufacturers still use calcium saccharin in mixtures with other low-calorie, sugar-free additives.
The integrity of the FDA has been questioned for its position on this carcinogen and other artificial sweeteners. It is known that some FDA investigators have left the agency to take more lucrative positions with artificial additive producers. The FDA has also denied approval for the use of natural sweeteners in processed foods, even though there have been no carcinogenic links found. Questions about saccharin spurred researchers to develop safer sugar substitutes and aspartame became popular.
Aspartame is different from other artificial sweeteners because it is made from protein. Unlike saccharin, it is digested and can be absorbed anywhere in the body.
Researchers maintain that aspartame poisoning is commonly misdiagnosed because its symptoms mock textbook 'disease' symptoms. Aspartame changes the ratio of amino acids in the blood, blocking or lowering the levels of serotonin, tyrosine, dopamine, norepinephrine, and adrenaline. Therefore, aspartame symptoms cannot typically be detected in lab tests and on x-rays. Textbook disorders and diseases may actually be a toxic load as a result of aspartame poisoning.
Europe often is ahead of us in health-related measures. In December of 2007 the Irish Association of Health Stores agreed to take aspartame off of their shelves, beginning in 2008, because of the potential dangers. The press release cited proven links with a variety of problems such as cancers, infertility, birth defects, ADD and ADHD, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, depression, memory loss, vision loss, vertigo and fibromyalgia, plus others.
Not surprisingly, it is the industry-sponsored studies that found no problems with aspartame use. However, of the non-industry-sponsored independent studies, 92% identified one or more problems with aspartame, such as the chemical's potential neurotoxicity, a linkage to brain tumors, seizures, mood disorders, headaches, and paradoxical effects on appetite.
Sucralose, the sweet savior of the 1990's, is a drug/chemical which is about 600 times sweeter than sugar and is the only non-nutritive sweetener actually made from sugar. Though it tastes like sugar, the body doesn't metabolize it as sugar, which means that sucralose gives you the sweet taste without carbohydrates or calories.
Many animal studies on sucralose revealed serious problems, such as:
Because sucralose doesn't occur in nature, your body doesn't metabolize it nor recognize it. But it does get absorbed; at least 15% of it does get stored in the body.
Splenda's mode of manufacture is problematic. To make sucralose, chlorine is used. Chlorine, a poisonous gas, has a split personality; it can be only moderately harmful or it can be life threatening. Combined with sodium, chlorine forms an "ionic bond" to yield table salt. Sucralose producers often highlight this irrelevant fact to defend its safety. Still, as we know, table salt is detrimental to health.
When used with carbon, the chlorine atom in sucralose forms a "covalent" bond. The end result is the historically deadly "organo-chlorine". Its originator was trying to create a new insecticide, but accidentally tasted the sucralose and found out it was sweet. So he decided to sell it as a sweetener instead.
Organo-chlorine is not safe. Agent Orange is also an organo-chlorine. It is lethal because it allows poisons to be fat-soluble while rendering the natural defense mechanisms of the body helpless. Sucralose is only 25 percent water soluble. This means three fourths of it may explode in the body. Resulting problems may be weakened immune function, irregular heart beat, agitation, shortness of breath, skin rashes, headaches, liver and kidney damage, birth defects, and cancer. Worse yet, it can affect future generations because it can affect DNA.
A happier development for the sweet-toothed was the introduction of the non-sugar alternative sweeteners, called polyols or sugar alcohols. Examples are maltitol, sorbitol, isomalt, and xylitol. Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates. Part of their chemical structure resembles sugar, and part of it resembles alcohol – the reason for the confusing name. Equivalent to sugar in sweetness, they are used cup-for-cup in the same proportion as sugar. Sugar alcohols have the taste and texture of sugar with about half of the calories.
The World Health Organization has carefully reviewed polyols and concluded that they are safe for human consumption. The FDA classifies some sugar alcohols as GRAS (generally recognized as safe), while others are approved as food additives. They are not all exactly alike however, differing in their amount of health benefits.
As a whole, the main problem with polyols is that they are not completely absorbed and can ferment in the intestines, causing bloating, gas, or diarrhea. People can have different reactions to different sugar alcohols. It is advisable to test each polyol in small quantities to find out which one best suits each individual.
Xylitol, the most common, is a low-calorie sugar made from birch bark, fibrous vegetables and fruit. It had been known to the world of organic chemistry since it was first manufactured in 1891 by a German chemist. A natural, intermediate product, xylitol regularly occurs in the glucose metabolism of animals as well as in the metabolism of several plants and micro-organisms. Xylitol is even produced naturally in our bodies, up to 15 grams daily during normal metabolism. Better yet, it metabolizes without using insulin.
By the 1960s, xylitol was being used in Germany, Switzerland, the Soviet Union and Japan as a preferred sweetener in diabetic diets and as an energy source for infusion therapy in patients with impaired glucose tolerance and insulin resistance. Italy and China have been using it with remarkable health benefits.
Xylitol isn't just safe for us, but it has health-enhancing benefits as well. It serves as an immunity booster, a protector against chronic degenerative disease and an anti-aging aid. Xylitol is considered a five-carbon sugar, which means it is an anti-microbial, preventing the growth of bacteria. While sugar in its various forms creates acid, xylitol is alkaline enhancing.
This alkaline quality is also good for teeth. Xylitol helps to raise plaque pH, thereby reducing the time that teeth are exposed to damaging acids caused by sugar as well as starving harmful bacteria of their food source. Studies have found a reduction in cavities with regular xylitol use in chewing gum.
Such gum has also been found to reduce the incidence of middle ear infections by 40% in young children, potentially eliminating the need for tube insertions. Xylitol also has been used to prevent ear and sinus infections, allergies and asthma.
Bone density enhancing properties have been studied as a result of xylitol's ability to aid the absorption of calcium by the intestines. Using xylitol instead of sugar in addition to reducing intake of high-glycemic, refined carbohydrate foods helps to lower the risk of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, ovarian cysts, fibroids, endometriosis, PMS, hot flushes, weight gain and depression.
Xylitol has no known toxic levels and was approved by the FDA in 1963. Some diarrhea or slight cramping may occur at first if a large amount is consumed all at once. It is recommended that one start small and let the body's enzymes adjust, which they will do.
The biggest problem with xylitol is that it is poisonous to dogs, even in small amounts. Extreme care should be taken that gums, candies or baked goods, just as with chocolate, must be kept far away from and inaccessible to Fido. Also, if your dog is a scavenger, extra care must be taken if any such items end up in the garbage.
Two more sweeteners found in natural food stores are fructose and the less familiar D-mannose. Fructose is not recommended, but it is included here as an example of a substance found naturally in fruit that becomes harmful once it is artificially separated from the fruit. In larger quantities, fructose has been implicated in the increased incidences of type 2 diabetes.
The simple sugar D-mannose, on the other hand, is effective in the treatment and prevention of over 90 percent of bladder infections, even when used in small quantities.
Lastly, an herb that is much sweeter than sugar with no known side effects is gaining in popularity. Stevia is a non-caloric herb native to Paraguay that has been used as a sweetener for over 1,500 years in South America, without harmful effects. The herb, related to the lettuce family, has also been used in Japan since the early 1970s to sweeten pickles and other foods.
Stevia has many helpful properties. It has:
Over 100 phytochemicals have been discovered in Stevia, and it is rich in terpenes and flavonoids. Besides having been in use for hundreds of years, extensive testing in animals has demonstrated no harmful effects. Its main sweet chemical, stevioside, has been found to be nontoxic in acute toxicity studies with rats, rabbits, guinea pigs, and birds. It also has been shown that it does not cause cellular changes nor affect fertility. The natural stevia leaf also has been found to be nontoxic and has no mutagenic activity.
Stevia can be used in cooking and as a tabletop sweetener. It is available from most grocery stores, in liquid form, powder and even in the convenient small packets. Since it is so powerful, one of the new Stevia cookbooks would probably be a good purchase for those who want to use it in recipes. Only a very small amount is recommended and that is all that is necessary to obtain the same amount of sweetening as sugar.
Stevia has become popular in spite of the FDA. In 1997 it was reported by 60 Minutes that manufacturers of aspartame paid off the FDA to keep Stevia from being approved. Yet aspartame is a sweetener with dangerous side effects.
With xylitol, D-Mannose and Stevia, it is possible to satisfy our need for sweets and improve our health, instead of harming it. Just remember to limit consumption to small quantities until your body adjusts. There can be a laxative effect if too much is consumed.