Alvin H. Danenberg, DDS • Nutritional Periodontist
August 21, 2017
Do you indulge in free-sugars? Have you substituted artificial sweeteners for free-sugars? What about natural sweeteners?
Basically, free-sugars are not healthy, and artificial sweeteners are not healthy. In contrast, natural sweeteners could be wise choices. Let’s examine this a little further.
Free-sugars are sugars that are added to foods plus those sugars naturally present in syrups, fruit juices, and concentrates. Agave, processed honey, coconut sugar, and high fructose corn syrup are free-sugars. If you do some research, you will find there is quite a bit of science that shows free-sugars are bad. They are bad for teeth and bad for health. If free-sugars are not healthy, then what are your choices if you want something sweet?
Naturally Sweet Foods
Fruit is sweet. Some fruits, like all the berries, have a sweet taste without a great deal of natural sugar. In addition, if you chewed your food slowly, you would discover that many foods you did not think were sweet would actually have a sweet taste. This is due to the initial breakdown in your mouth of some of the carbohydrates in your food by enzymes in your saliva. Your taste buds will tell you these foods are sweet.
You might think that your healthiest choice would be to purchase foods that are sweetened with artificial sweeteners. Since artificial sweeteners have no calories, you might think they are better for you. However, you would be wrong. These can cause harm to your body – not immediately obvious but damaging over time with continued consumption. In addition, your body could actually become addicted to these chemicals.
Here are four of the most common and damaging artificial sweeteners:
Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
Aspartame is about 180 times sweeter than sugar. Once ingested, aspartame can break down into some dangerous chemicals in the body including methanol, which can produce formaldehyde and formic acid. These chemicals could be toxic to the body if they were consumed in large quantities and if they were not further metabolized or eliminated naturally. Recent studies have demonstrated that aspartame is potentially carcinogenic.
Sucralose is another artificial sweetener and is about 600 times sweeter than table sugar. Research suggests consuming sucralose could harm beneficial bacteria in the gut. In addition, it might be carcinogenic.
Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
Saccharin is almost 400 times sweeter than sugar. Many users notice it has a metallic aftertaste. Though the FDA has no limits on its consumption, saccharin is believed to contribute to health concerns, as described in this 1990 research.
Acesulfame K (Sunett, Sweet One, ACE, ACE K)
ACE has a slightly bitter aftertaste. Your body cannot break down ACE. Its side effects may cause nausea, decreased alertness, headaches, irritability, and slow reaction times. It also could affect cognitive function, which is described in this article.
Non-Caloric Natural Sweeteners
So, what are healthier ways to add sweetness to your foods? Organic whole leaf stevia and organic monk fruit extract are two alternatives.
Organic Whole Leaf Stevia
Stevia has some beneficial biological effects. It may lower blood pressure, reduce blood sugar levels, and may act as an antioxidant. It is more than 200 times as sweet as sugar and is available in liquid forms and powders. Stevia is close to an ideal natural sweetener.
Organic Monk Fruit Extract
Similar to stevia, monk fruit extract is an excellent option as a sweetener. It is about twice as sweet as stevia. And like stevia, it is an antioxidant with many beneficial effects for the body. Monk fruit extract is also known as luo han guo.
I rarely add natural sweeteners to my food. I prefer to eat fruits to satisfy my sweet tooth, not to mention my love for dark chocolate. However, I have used organic whole leave stevia and organic monk fruit extract in some recipes that require a sweetener.