Nutrition Myth: use sugar alternatives in place of sugar

FACT: “Sugar is sugar!” explains Heartland Wellness Director, Eric Mueller. “It doesn’t matter what you call it – pure cane sugar, coconut sugar, monk fruit sweetener, Sweet N’ Low – they are all code words for sugar. I believe you should get your sugar from healthful whole foods.”

According to a recent article in mindbodygreen.com, “Americans eat an average of 765 grams of sugar every five days—and much of it comes from not knowing where sugar is lurking or what alternative name it’s going by! Compare that number to the year 1822, when Americans ate just 45 grams in the same time period. Every person eats and drinks 130 pounds of added sugar every year, an average of 3,550 pounds in a lifetime. That is equal to eating 1.7 million Skittles or an industrial-sized dumpster full of sugar.”

The bottom line is to use sugar responsibly. “The best way to consume sugar is by eating fruits and vegetables which naturally contain sugar, but if you must add sugar, use it in moderation and sparingly,” Eric explained. We looked in the Heartland break room and found the sweeteners pictured on hand. Here’s a bit more information about them:

Monk fruit sweetener

Like stevia and sugar alcohols, monk fruit sugar or luo han guo fruit is another low-carb sweetener option. It’s fermented from the pulp of the fruit, which removes the sugars but leaves a residual sweet flavor. Used for hundreds of years in Asian countries where it is harvested, monk fruit contains beneficial antioxidants called mogrosides. Because of this, our little friend monk has been used as a natural anti-inflammatory tool for centuries in Chinese medicine. You have to be aware of what kind you are purchasing because some commercially available options have additives, so read the labels and stick with pure monk fruit. Just like sugar alcohols like xylitol, too much luo han guo can trigger stomach issues in some people.

Coconut sugar

These sweeteners are derived from the coconut blossoms of the coconut tree, not the coconut itself. Overall this is still a better option than regular sugar because it does contain a small amount of nutrients like zinc, potassium, and short-chain fatty acids. But you’d have to eat a lot to make a difference so you’d be better off with completely natural options since this sweetener is still processed.

Coconut sugar contains inulin fiber, which has been shown to help improve diabetic health, because it helps to slow the absorption of glucose and keep blood-sugar levels balanced.

Sweet ‘N Low

The health hazard warning label on Sweet ‘N Low packets has been removed, however, dangers may still lurk. According to the FDA, saccharin has been linked to bladder cancer in laboratory animals which prompted them to require warning labels on products containing this artificial sweetener in 1977. Further studies, such as the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans (1980), noted that saccharin did not cause cancer in humans.

In 2001, the warning label requirement of the sweetener was removed. While it’s reassuring to see studies proving the safety of this widely-used product, Sweet ‘N Low dangers remain controversial.

Saccharin is the artificial sweetener that gives Sweet ‘N Low its sweet taste. It contains no calories because it is not digested by the body. Saccharin has been around for over 100 years and has had its fair share of controversy. Up until 1972, saccharin was on the FDA’s GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) list. From its initial listing as a potential carcinogen and its subsequent exoneration decades later to Internet myths and urban legends, saccharin and other artificial sweeteners continue to raise concerns.

 

Pure Cane Sugar

Sugar cane provides quick energy, but consuming too much of it increases your risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. Sucrose also ranks high on the glycemic index, which is a measure of how foods impact blood sugar levels and insulin release. Sudden insulin spikes tend to remove too much glucose from the bloodstream, which causes a “sugar crash,” or hypoglycemia. Your mood and energy levels are particularly tied to the amount of glucose in your blood and low levels can leave you irritable and tired. However, sugar cane has a little less impact on blood glucose levels and insulin release compared to high-fructose corn syrup — another common sweetener.