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Understanding Sweeteners: The Good and the Bad

A close up of a pair of hands tearing open a red sugar packet. The image reads: "Natural vs Artificial vs Sugar Alcohols. Which is the healthiest? What are the side effects? How much does each affect blood sugar levels?"

Even if you are not a health guru, you know sugar is bad for our bodies. But giving up sugar means losing cookies and ice cream. There are some days when we just need the comfort of chocolate! Luckily, giving up sugar does not mean losing on our sweet treats. There are alternatives to sugar that won’t leave you feeling guilty about eating some sweets.

Sugar alternatives include: natural and artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols. Natural sweeteners are derived from plants or fruit. Artificial sweeteners are generally made by combining several chemicals. The sugar alcohols are made through a process called hydrogenating, except for erythritol which is fermented.

There are so many options for sugar alternative today. Everyone is touting their alternative as the best. Knowing which is best can be difficult. Here we will discuss the good and the bad of some sweetener options.

Natural Sweeteners

Monk Fruit

Monk fruit, also known as Luo Han Guo, is a small, green gourd from Asia, primarily China and Thailand. The melon is named after the monks that began cultivating the fruit in the 13th century. The monk fruit has been termed the “longevity fruit” or “The Immortals’ Fruit” because of its high antioxidant levels. For centuries, monk fruit has been used in healing. It was primarily used in respiratory remedies such as coughs and sore throats.

Monk Fruit is 250 to 300 times sweeter than sugar with no calories and no effect on blood sugar! The fruit is sweet not from natural sugar, but from the antioxidants it contains. Once it is harvested, the sweetness is quickly extracted and processed into liquid, granule, and powdered forms for distribution.

Monk Fruit has many benefits, including:

  • Fights free radical damage
  • Lowers risk of obesity and diabetes
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Fights infection
  • Can treat and prevent cancer
  • Fight fatigue
  • Naturally treats diabetes
  • It is an antihistamine
  • Safe for children, pregnant women, and breastfeeding women (Boldt, 2017)

Another benefit is monk fruit does not have any reported side effects! The only problem is monk fruit is hard to find. Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener is one of the few companies selling monk fruit sweeteners.

Monk Fruit is one of the best (if not the best) replacements for sugar. It has no reported side effects. It helps fight diseases. It is sweeter than sugar. Monk fruit has no calories and it has no effect on blood sugar! Monk Fruit is a perfect replacement for sugar.

Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener

Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener is primarily a natural sweetener. This sweetener is a blend of monk fruit extract and non-GMO erythritol. The two work together to match the sweetness of sugar. The combination of these sweeteners is good for several lifestyles: keto, diabetic, candida, paleo, vegan, low carb, low sugar, non-gmo, and all natural. Since both monk fruit and erythritol have no calories, carbs, and a zero on the glycemic index, so does the Lakanto sweetener!

Stevia

Like monk fruit, stevia is a natural sweetener. Stevia comes from a plant common to Brazil and Paraguay. The South American people used the plant to treat burns and stomach issues. They also enjoyed stevia leaves as a sweet treat.

The stevia plant has not been approved for use by the FDA. Several chemicals are pulled from stevia to create the approved sugar alternative. One of these chemicals is Rebaudioside A.

Stevia has many benefits, including:

  • Lowers high blood pressure
  • Helps fight cancer
  • Aids glucose regulation
  • Improves cholesterol levels
  • Weight loss

Stevia does, however, have a few side effects. Some of the side effects are:

  • Numbness
  • Muscle pain
  • Bloating
  • Possible allergy

The possible allergy comes from the plant family stevia belongs to. If you are allergic to ragweed, you may also be allergic to stevia (Cox, 2018). These side effects tend to occur with over consumption.

Sugar Alcohols

The sugar alcohols are known for having no calories and little to no effect on blood sugar. Sugar alcohols do not have these effects because the body cannot break them down. Our bodies do not absorb them.

The sugar alcohols have similar benefits.

  • Oral health
  • All close to the sweetness of sugar
  • Do not have much of an aftertaste

Erythritol

Erythritol has 60%-80% of the sweetness of sugar. Erythritol is a sugar alcoholthat naturally occurs in some fruits and some food. It’s Glycemic Index (GI) rating varies between 0 and 1. This variance could be due to differing measurements. The GI is a measurement of how various foods affect blood sugar levels. The lower the number, the less the food effects blood sugar. The lower foods on the index are known as slow-burning carbs. Slow-burning carbs are better for diets.

In 1997, the FDA declared erythritol generally recognized as safe. Since then many studies have been performed on sugar alcohols (Price, 2018).

Erythritol is known to cause:

  • Diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Stomachaches
  • Could lead to overeating (Price, 2018)

It is common for people who consume sugar alcohols to experience some intestinal issues such as stomachaches. These issues come from the body not being able to break down the sugar alcohol.

Xylitol

Xylitol is 70% as sweet as sugar. But it does have a higher GI than erythritol. Xylitol ranks as a 12. Xylitol comes from xylose which is naturally found in birch bark. Xylitol is brought about through a process called hydrogenating. Hydrogenating is when a compound is treated with hydrogen. The process of hydrogenating is questionable to some, but Xylitol has not produced any of the side effects elements of the hydrogenating process might cause.

The side effects Xylitol does cause are:

  • Bloating
  • Colic
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea

Another side effect of xylitol does not affect humans. Xylitol is toxic to animals, especially dogs (Boldt, 2017).

Maltitol

Maltitol is considered one of the least beneficial of the sugar alcohols Though it has not calories, it’s GI is 35. Maltitol like Xylitol goes through the process of hydrogenating. Maltitol comes maltose, which is obtained from starch.

Maltitol also has similar side effects to its kin; namely, stomach pains.

Sugar alcohols tend to be better for the body when combined with other sugar alternatives that the body can break down. This combination lessens the tendency to overeat (Wells).

Artificial Sweeteners

Splenda (Sucralose)

Splenda is a chlorinated artificial sweetener. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar but has a GI of 65. Like sugar alcohols, it passes through the body untouched. Splenda, like the sugar alcohols, can lead to overeating.

Splenda provides two things of value: sweetness and maintains sweetness when heated. It was approved by the FDA in 1999. Then there were not many alternative sweeteners, especial ones that could maintain its sweetness when baked. Now monk fruit and other sugars can maintain their sweetness when cooked (The Potential Harmful Effects of Sucralose (Splenda), 2009).

Splenda has many side effects. We will only mention a few.

  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Seizures
  • Blood sugar increase
  • Dizziness
  • Weight gain
  • Migraines
  • Blurred vision

Splenda and the next sugar, aspartame, have been criticized a lot since their FDA approval because these sugars have so many negative side effects.

Aspartame

Aspartame is made of two amino acids: aspartic acid and phenylalanine. The first naturally occurs in the body. The second in food. When aspartame is digested methanol is created. Methanol is toxic in large amounts. Rest assured, reaching the level of toxicity is difficult.

Aspartame is everywhere. It is in your diet soda, your gum, your sugarless candy, and so many other daily foods. Since aspartame is in everything, we partake of large amounts daily. Aspartame is something to watch for when monitoring sugar consumption. Thankfully, it has a GI of 0.

However, aspartame side effects are what everyone should be truly wary of.

  • Cancer
  • Depression
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • ADHD
  • Multiple Sclerosis

There are so many side effects, this list is just scratching the surface. Aspartame has been connected with many diseases as well as physical discomforts such as dizziness and nausea (Health Line Editorial Team).

The options for sugar alternatives vary widely. Some are better than others. Some of better than sugar, some are not. The artificial sweeteners are the worst for the body by far. The natural sweeteners, monk fruit and stevia, are the best options. Interesting how natural sugar replacements end up being better than sugar.

Suggested Sugar Alternatives

We suggest using Lakanto Monk Fruit Sweetener as your sugar replacement. Lakanto’s sweetener is a 1:1 sugar replacement. The unique combination of monk fruit and NON-GMO erythritol creates the perfect blend to equal sugar’s sweetness. Lakanto’s Monk Fruit Sweetener has the benefits of both sugar alternatives. The sweetener does not raise blood sugar levels and has a zero on the glycemic index.

The sweetener is good for cooking and baking. Lakanto’s sweetener does not have an aftertaste like many sugar alternatives. It is a good alternative for vegan and gluten free lifestyles, as well as keto dieters. Lakanto’s Monk Fruit Sweetener lets you have a sweet treat without remorse.

References

Bahadur, N. (2018, January 17). Keto Dieters Love This Low-Carb Sugar Substitute-but Is It Worth the Hype? Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/a19546604/monk-fruit-sweetener/

Boldt, E. Monk Fruit: Nature's Best Sweetener? (2017, June 15). Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://draxe.com/monk-fruit/

Boldt, E. (2017, December 05). Xylitol Side Effects: Safe or Dangerous? Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://draxe.com/xylitol-side-effects/

Cox, L. (2018, April 26). What Is Stevia? Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://www.livescience.com/39601-stevia-facts-safety.html

Health Line Editorial Team. (n.d.). The Truth About Aspartame Side Effects. Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/health/aspartame-side-effects#outlook

McDermott, A. (n.d.). Monk Fruit vs. Stevia: Pros and Cons. Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/monk-fruit-vs-stevia#disadvantages-of-monk-fruit

Price, A. (2018, April 10). Caution: Not All Natural Sweeteners Are Safe. Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://draxe.com/erythritol/

Wells, D. (n.d.). Maltitol: Is It a Safe Sugar Substitute? Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/is-maltitol-safe#5

The Potential Harmful Effects of Sucralose (Splenda). (2009, February 10). Retrieved July 12, 2018, from https://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2009/02/10/new-study-of-splenda-reveals-shocking-information-about-potential-harmful-effects.aspx

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