Health MythBusters: Natural Sweeteners

Are you an advocate for dairy free alternatives, agave, and brown rice? Do you cook with olive oil or add honey to hot items? My upcoming posts will focus on cleaning up some of the healthy talk floating around, determining if you are walking the healthy walk or just talking the talk.

This week is about the sweet things in life. Breads, yogurt, salad dressings, cereals and even savoury dishes, like curry, probably have some sort of sugar involved. Other than sweetness, sugar adds flavour and helps other ingredients stand out. Unfortunately, frequent consumption of refined sugar can be problematic to not only your waistline, but also your health.

Many who go sugar-free are seeking to reduce their caloric intake. So it is sad that non-sugar alternatives like aspartame, saccharin, and splenda are synthetic, provide no nutritional value, and have been linked to various diseases. Diet sodas (or soda in general), energy drinks, chewing gum, and even certain medicines contain these dangerous fake sugars.

Instead, turn to your attention natural sweeteners! Here are some of the popular ones and why you might want to think twice when choosing them.

 Agave

Made from the same plant used in tequila, agave is a plant-based natural sweetener. Compared to honey, agave nectar is 1.5x sweeter, but still lower in sugar and carbohydrates. Agave has a low glycemic index, and has been touted as a healthy sugar for diabetics. However, agave is high in fructose and long-term consumption could lead to insulin resistance. Lighter in taste and flavour than honey, agave is a good alternative if you want a subtle flavor in liquid form.

Sugar Mythbusters: Natural Sweeteners

Agave is actually not a better alternative to honey.

Coconut Palm Sugar

Also plant based, coconut palm sugar is acquired from the nectar of the coconut palm tree. Coconut sugar will not spike your blood sugar or result in sugar cravings. It is nutrient-rich, unrefined, and naturally rich in potassium, zinc, iron, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6. It has a rich, nutty taste, but is not particular sweet.

Honey

Ayurveda calls honey “the nectar of life,” because of its healing and medicinal properties. Believed to cure many ailments in its natural form, raw honey is rich in minerals, vitamins, enzymes, amino acids, and carbohydrates. Heating honey is considered to be poisonous as it strips honey of much of its nutritional value, creating cellular toxicity. This is believed to transform the honey molecules into a non-homogenised glue that adheres to the mucous membranes. As a result, eating cooked honey can lead to atherosclerosis (thickening of the arteries), and a hampering of blood flow to the vital organs. A good rule: keep honey in its natural form, righteous and raw.

Sugar Mythbusters: Natural Sweeteners

Ayurveda considers honey as the ‘nectar of life.’ Best enjoy this sweet gift in its natural form: if possible, raw, and never heated.

Stevia

More cost friendly than agave, stevia is a South American plant-based natural sweetener. Stevia has gotten mixed reviews over the years as it could tax the adrenals. A calorie-free alternative that is 200-300 x sweeter than sugar might be harmful since it tricks the body into thinking that it should prepare for digesting sugar. While it might not cause your blood sugar to spike, it could result in stevia-induced hypoglycemia. A major drawback for me has always been the taste of stevia, I am not a fan.

Xylitol

Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that Thorbjörg uses as a sugar subsititute in 10 Years Younger in 10 Weeks. It is found naturally in beets, mushrooms, oats, and berries. It prevents tooth decay and plaque formation, thereby used in many sugar-free gums and toothpastes. Xylitol also does not stimulate insulin or increase blood sugar. It has a bit of a mint flavour, which might not be a good culinary choice when adding it to some foods. If you have any sensitivities to sugar alcohol, consumption could result in abdominal discomforts, gas, or diarrhea. Be sure to purchase birch xylitol, as most other forms of  xylitol come from corn. Depending on where it comes from, corn is usually a GMO product

Sugar Mythbusters: Natural Sweeteners

Although the name sounds like a chemical, xylitol from birch is actually a sugar alcohol that looks like sugar but is better for you!

The Verdict:

Although, I am mostly sugar-free, we do use sweeteners on the rare occasion for baking or in certain savoury dishes. Raw honey is handy for sweetening and thickening dressings. For anything that involves heating or baking, I use xylitol or coconut palm sugar.

When looking at natural sweeteners, remember everything in moderation. Too much of a good thing can become bad. Remember, an item deemed organic, raw, natural, or found only in health stores, might not always be the best. For more tips and health tricks, check out Thorbjörg!


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Tiffany Lee
17 Oct 2014

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