Health By Nature…Where Clean Meets Green!


Alternative Isn’t Always Better
July 15, 2009, 12:27 pm
Filed under: health, natural, nutrition, weight management, wellness | Tags: , , , , ,

sugar Alternative Isn’t Always Better

My latest aggravation in my grocery shopping   experience is *hidden* artificial sweeteners.  Look closely at those items that claim *light* or *no added sugar* and often you’ll find the sweetener sucralose, often by its brand name *Splenda*.  Sometimes the Splenda brand-name symbol adorns the package, other times it may list sucralose in the ingredients.

Splenda’s marketing slogan is deceptive: “Made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.”  Although Splenda does start off from a sugar molecule, the finished product is far from natural.  Sadly, our short-sightedness when it comes to dieting in this country prevents many people from really investigating what they are consuming, and products with artificial sweeteners are often consumed in high daily quantities.

In a nutshell, Splenda is a synthesized chemical.  A molecule of sugar is chlorinated by removing 3 hydroxyl groups (atoms made up of hydrogen and oxygen) and replaced with 3 chlorine atoms.  This makes Splenda hard for the body to metabolize or digest, and so it is mostly *passed* through one’s system intact.

If you visit the Splenda homepage, you’ll even find the company state: “Although sucralose has a structure like sugar and a sugar-like taste, it is not natural.”  That about does it for me.  Interstingly, there were no long-term studies to determine sucralose’s safety prior to the FDA approving it as a food additive.  Even more interesting is now the herb stevia was just recently approved, even though there was no chemical manipulation to produce it.  How long did people consume saccharin before it was discovered that it carried potential health risks?  Will Spenda see a similar fate in the future?  Only time will tell.

I am a big believer in moderation.  I will use sugar or other natural alternatives instead of artificial sweetners; however, I pick and choose where and how much I consume.

Some safer alternatives:

I previously mentioned stevia.  It is an intensely sweet herb with zero calories.  Last summer we grew a big pot on the deck, and adding fresh sprigs to iced tea, mojitos and other drinks was so refreshing!  You can purchase packets of dried stevia at some stores.  One caveat: stevia doesn’t hold up well in baking.

Agave nectar has 20 calories per teaspoon.  It comes from the blue agave plant, just as tequila does!  It tastes very much like a simple sugar syrup.  It is 75% sweeter than sugar, so you can use less.

Honey also has 20 calories/tsp.  Like agave, it is versatile; plus, it contains antioxidants and enzymes for added benefit.

Maple syrup(pure) has 17 calories per teaspoon.  Another versatile sweetener, it also contains minerals.  Trader Joe’s now has an excellent maple syrup/agave blend that is really good!

Other sweeteners like barley malt powder and brown rice syrup can successfully be used in baking.  They are not as sweet as sugar, but contain some nutrients.  There is an excellent cookbook by Heidi Swanson called “Super Natural Cooking”, which has an entire chapter devoted to natural sugar alternatives and has some interesting recipes.  I highly recommend it for someone looking to expand their cooking horizons while remaining whole-food based.  Also look for Heidi’s website 101cookbooks.com

In the meantime, be vigilant about what you are consuming and read labels carefully.  An informed consumer is a healthier consumer!

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