Sweeteners Update

I have received questions as to why I did not include some of the all-natural alternatives, like brown rice syrup, agave nectar, and date sugar in the discussion about the different kinds of sweeteners in my book.

I did not include most of them because, in my opinion, they offer little advantage over common table sugar. However since the subject continues to come up, I will address it here.

Let me point out at the start that “natural” is not synonymous with “safe.” Nature abounds with natural poisons: arsenic, mercury, lead, death cap mushrooms, puffer fish, anthrax, and snake venom to name a few. Also, keep in mind that many foods that we consider healthful, like parsley, cabbage, beans, celery, tomatoes, and basil contain poisons and antinutrients that can be dangerous in large amounts. Potatoes can contain lethal amounts of solanine; those big green bananas called plaintains cause heart disease; lima beans, flax seed, and almonds contain high levels of cyanide. (Fifteen bitter almonds, the kind used in the Italian cookies called amaretti, can cause serious illness or death.) In fact, most vegetables, even after thousands of years of selective cultivation, still contain some potentially harmful substances. (Jeffery Steingarten included a chapter titled: “Salad the Silent Killer,” in his very entertaining book, The Man Who Ate Everything.)

Let’s look at some of those “healthy, all-natural, minimally-processed” sweeteners:

  • Agave nectar is touted as a healthful, natural alternative to sucrose because it has a very low glycemic index, so it doesn’t cause a spike in blood sugar or raise insulin levels. However, the dangers of fructose are well known and agave nectar is almost 100% pure fructose.

High fructose corn syrup contains only 45% fructose; agave syrup has twice as much of this most dangerous of all the sugars. The reason fructose doesn’t provoke an insulin response is that it does not enter the blood stream but is metabolized in the liver where it is converted directly into triglycerides (fats). It promotes fat storage, especially around the midsection and the organs. It has been implicated as a major contributor to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and metabolic syndrome.

Fructose also increases the formation of advanced glycation end-products, known by the acronym AGEs, because they promote the cross-linking of proteins which speeds up the aging process. According to Dr. Michael Eades, fructose “… is a driving force behind the development of insulin resistance and all attendant problems. When researchers want to give lab animals insulin resistance, they feed the animals high doses of fructose.” Here is a link to an article on fructose by Dr. Eades: “Unclear on the Fructose Concept”

  • Date sugar is simply ground up dates. It is more than 96% sucrose; sucrose is about half glucose and half fructose. Date sugar contains some fiber and some trace minerals and vitamins, but it is essentially the same as common table sugar and causes a similar rise in blood sugar and insulin levels. It does not dissolve and is not a useful substitute for sugar for baking or cooking.
  • I did include information about stevia in the book. Many people like it, but many find it to be bitter. Some of the more refined brands are said to be less so. Stevia can only be sold as a supplement in this country because it has never been tested or approved for sale as a sweetener. The FDA has been petitioned three time to grant GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status for stevia so that it will not have to go through safety testing, but it has been rejected so far. If you feel more comfortable with stevia than Splenda, one packet of most sweeteners is equal to 2 teaspoons of sugar so they can be used interchangeably in some recipes for sweetening. Stevia powder does not dissolve, ferment, or caramelize. It is heat stable up to 392 degrees F.
  • Maple syrup is made from the sap of maple trees, which is 2 to 3 percent sucrose. It is collected in buckets and boiled down to make a concentrated syrup. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. Most of the sugar is sucrose (like common table sugar), but some, especially in the lesser grades, is glucose and fructose. Maple syrup contains traces of vitamins, especially the B vitamins, and minerals.-
  • Succanat is cane sugar with the water removed. It retains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals that may be lost in the refining process for regular table sugar, but it is still concentrated sucrose.
  • Brown rice syrup is made by fermenting brown rice with enzymes to break down some of the starch into sugar and then cooking it until it is thickened. It is only half as sweet as table sugar. It contains 45% maltose (the kind of sugar in beer), and 3% glucose. The rest is starch. Maltose has a glycemic index of 110, higher than pure glucose (glucose or blood sugar has a GI of 100) and will provoke a very high insulin reaction. It contains 34 net grams of carbohydrate and 132 calories in a serving of 2 tablespoons. I’ll pass on this one.

Note: Brown rice syrup is one of several malt sugars made from grain that include barley malt, barley/corn malt, and rice syrups. Malt sugars are used in making beer, which is why beer is sometimes called “liquid bread.”

Why I think Splenda® is a better choice: Sucrolose, the sweetener in Splenda, is made from sugar by replacing a few atoms of hydrogen and oxygen on the sugar molecule with three atoms of chlorine, making it 600 times as sweet as sugar.

Splenda has been used in Canada since 1991 and in Australia since 1992. It has been approved in 60 countries worldwide. In 1998, after reviewing 110 studies, the FDA approved it for use in the U.S. It is not required to carry any warning label and is considered safe for pregnant women and nursing mothers. After much anticipation, we finally had a safe alternative to sugar that tasted good and held up to cooking temperatures. So why suddenly is there so much hysteria about Splenda? Dr. Michael Eades, co-author of Protein Power, traces the source of the attack ads full of scare tactics, innuendo, and half-truths about Splenda back to the sugar industry. They want to keep us addicted to sugar by promoting it as an “all-natural” product, when it is almost certainly one of the major contributors to the health crisis in this country.

Dr. Eades brings up some very important points about Splenda in his article at www.proteinpower.com/drmike/?p=196. He contends that Splenda is not really artificial since chlorine is a natural substance, but that it is instead an altered sugar molecule. Half of common table salt is chlorine (NaCl), and chlorine is a normal part of the makeup of our blood serum. Chlorine is a necessary chemical that our bodies need for metabolism and the amount is carefully maintained by the kidneys at the proper level. At any given time you have about 1 teaspoon of chlorine circulating in your blood which is about 20,000 times as much as you would get in a serving of Splenda, if it were digestible, which most of it is not.

The study most often cited as proof of the toxicity of sucralose is one conducted by the National Industrial Chemicals Notification and Assessment Scheme of Australia that showed that feeding large amounts to rats caused shrinkage of the thymus gland, which is important to the immune system. The dosage used in the study was the equivalent of 240 grams of sucralose per day for a 176-pound human for 28 days. That works out to 20,000 packets of Splenda every day for 28 days. To put it in perspective: If you drank 560,000 cups of coffee with one packet of Splenda in each one over a 28 day period, you would reach the level of sucralose fed to the rats. But you would have no symptoms because you would be dead within 15 minutes from the caffeine contained in the first 75 cups of coffee.

Dr. Jonny Bowden, fitness expert and author of “The 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth,” gave the following response to Jimmy Moore (livinlavidalowcarb) when asked about Splenda: “…I’ve looked like mad and can’t find any really good, responsible argument against it that can be substantiated. That does NOT mean I won’t be proven wrong in a year and I reserve the right to change my mind if there’s more compelling stuff coming out. But right now I see it as the least bad of the choices.” This is very much like what I said about Splenda in my book. When you write a cookbook you must use ingredients that are readily available and reasonably priced. Splenda is safe, it tastes good, it is in all the stores, and it is not terribly expensive. There are some other sugar substitutes already available that have the bulk and physical characteristics of common sugar and actually offer some health benefits, but for now they are only available by mail order and are very expensive. Oligofructose, for example, is made from chicory root. It has been popular in Japan for many years. It consists of long chains of fructose molecules that are not broken down by our digestive enzymes. It is prebiotic, meaning that it selectively feeds the beneficial microbes that live in the lower intestines and so enhances the immune system. (It can be ordered from www.lowcarbspecialties.com. The company also sells fantastic chocolate bars sweetened with oligofructose.)

The decision to eliminate sugar is more important than just avoiding a few extra carbs. Sugar is the prime contributor to the epidemic of obesity, diabetes, and the cluster of diseases called the metabolic syndrome that have devastated this country for the last 40 years. In Good Calories, Bad Calories, Gary Taubes explains how sugar and simple carbs may also promote cancer and speed up the aging process. Most people already know that they need to cut down on sugar, but the goodies and snacks that constantly surround us are hard to resist. If we can have food that satisfies our cravings without harming us, we are less likely to give in to temptation. If you have an iron will and are always in complete control of your impulses, eliminate sweets altogether and more power to you! But if you are subject to human frailties like me, then try the next best thing.

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Judy Barnes Baker

The working title for my first book was, “You’ll Never Know What You Are Missing.” It summed up my goal: to make eating for health synonymous with eating for pleasure. Once you discover the secret, you will find that the very best food for weight management, longevity, the treatment and prevention of disease, and over-all health and happiness is also the most sumptuous, satisfying, and indulgent way of eating the world has to offer. You are invited to the feast. Enjoy!
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Sarah Pearce
10 years ago

Let me take an issue with your support of Splenda by saying we are all highly sensitive to artificial foods and after 1 month of using Splenda when it first came out I had headaches for 2 years afterwards and could not wear earrings for almost 10 years. There is something in it. My chiropractor uncle says the chlorine is harmful and its not safe. Fyi.

15 years ago

Hi Judy,

I read this last year, and just rediscovered it, searching for something to provide for my diabetic mother who’s been given a few bottles of agave syrup. Thank you for this very thorough analysis!