Monday, March 11, 2013

Is Anyone Else Confused About Sweeteners?

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There is a lot of discussion around sweeteners and an overwhelming number of options to choose from. I think most people have a decent sense of the dangers associated with many of the artificial sweeteners that are out there. Although I must say I do know people (and often health conscious people at that) who still use them; I have one friend who still uses Sweet n’ Low in her coffee…it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up! There is still this phobia around using real sugar, mostly because of the calories, which ignores the obvious as to why we need so much sugar in the first place…but that is another discussion entirely.
Most of us have likely heard the discussions around the dangers of high fructose corn syrup and much of the confusion has to do with the fact that it is derived from corn – how can something made from corn be bad? This myth is also perpetuated by the corn industry; no doubt you have seen the ads on TV about how sugar is sugar and that there is nothing to fear from natural corn syrup.
I recently have read a lot about the differences between cane sugar and high fructose corn syrup and the associated research. Below is a great article providing a fairly concise, but thorough overview of the issues:
The most interesting research is about how the body processes high fructose corn syrup and how no, in fact, sugar is NOT sugar. First of all there is nothing natural about high fructose corn syrup; yes it is derived from corn, however it is produced through a chemical process which produces a genuinely non-natural compound. There are differences in the ratio of glucose to fructose with regard to cane sugar vs. high fructose corn syrup, namely as the name indicates high fructose corn syrup has a higher ratio of fructose to glucose. Unlike in cane sugar, where the glucose and fructose are bound together, the glucose and fructose in high fructose corn syrup are not, therefore no digestion is required to break them down. Fructose is quickly absorbed into the blood stream, which goes directly to the liver, thereby triggering it to be stored as fat. Many people think only fat makes us fat, but in reality excess sugar is converted and stored into fat in the body, with fructose being particularly dangerous for the liver. “Fatty Liver Syndrome” (a.k.a nonalcoholic fatty liver disease) is increasingly becoming a major health issue. Now I am sure many people read this and think that now fruit, which also contains fructose, is a bad thing. Certainly fruits contain sugar and some fruits are higher in sugar content than others; however fruit consumed in its natural whole form also contains fiber, which helps to slow down the absorption of sugar into the blood stream.
Given all the publicity surrounding artificial sweeteners, many people are opting for more natural ones. For a long time Agave was all the rage, however more recently it has fallen out of favor. Agave is a natural sweetener and certainly a better option than Sweet’n Low, but there are still some concerns you should be aware of. One of the reasons it became so popular is because it has a lower glycemic index than many other natural sugars. However this is mostly due to its higher fructose content, which as discussed above, poses risks to the liver.
We eat entirely too much sugar in this country, which in moderation is fine, however obviously natural sweeteners are the best choice. More recently I have been using maple syrup as a sweetener, which has a much lower fructose content – this is also recommended by Dr. Andrew Weil.

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