Healthy eating can be a confusing cocktail of conflicting views and opinions, and nowhere is there more confusion for the average consumer than with the subject of sugar and sweeteners.
It’s now common knowledge that sugar is unhealthy (although, as with most health information this took about 50 years to filter through), but scores of people still pile the powdered poison into their food and drinks.
Nonetheless, as awareness of sugar’s status as a nutritional no-go area spreads, manufacturers have capitalized on the demand for sugar alternatives and an entire industry of alternative sweeteners has spawned into existence.
Today, food and drinks companies create great fanfare for their sugar free (and apparently ‘healthier’) products. However, as you are about to read, many sugar-free products are loaded with synthetic sweeteners, which are equally as unhealthy, often worse, than the processed sugar they replace.
Don’t be fooled. Protect your health and still enjoy your foods, by knowing the difference between healthy and unhealthy sweeteners.
It’s easy to be overly negative and focus purely on what is bad and what to avoid. But this can lead people to recoil and say ‘There’s nothing we can eat which is healthy nowadays.”
With that in mind, fear not, there are some healthy sweeteners I will briefly recommend later in this article, just so you don’t think your taste buds have to go into exile if you want to be healthy (quite the opposite actually).
That said, we live in an age where processed food makes up the majority of so many people’s eating habits; therefore it is necessary to highlight what we should avoid, before we look at what we should include on our plates, in order to maintain or regain optimal health.
Zero Sugar- What’s the Problem?
There has been a rash (seems like an appropriate term) of boldly labelled sugar-free products spreading across the shelves of supermarkets and health food stores in recent years. Whilst a small percentage of these products use natural, healthy sugar alternatives, the majority are made with synthetic toxic versions, which are bad news.
Alternative sweeteners are present in diet sodas, energy drinks; processed foods, restaurant sauces, fast food, fruit drinks and even in the harmless looking sweeteners that your dear old Gran drops into her afternoon tea.
Great numbers of well-intentioned sugar-conscious consumers, aware that table sugar is about as healthy as a kick in the head, take time to read the frequently confusing, microscopically printed food ingredients labels. But they do so with the keyword ‘Sugar’ in their mind. As they run their eyes across the ingredients, happily passing by words like aspartame, MSG, Saccharin, High Fructose Corn Syrup, and other nutritional nightmares, but find no sugar listed, they buy a product in the mistaken belief that they’ve made a healthy choice.
The scam is that many sugar alternatives such as aspartame, saccharin and a host of other equally toxic ingredients, are terrible for your health and the fact that they have been allowed into food in the first place is a tale of greed, corruption, outright lies and ignorance.
Aspartame-Your Toxic Friend
If you buy a sugar-free, or low sugar product with an undeniably sweet taste, ask yourself what makes it sweet? The answer is likely to be one of a number of artificial sweeteners such as the aforementioned brain damaging toxin aspartame.
Brain damage sounds sensational, right? A bit like a tabloid headline? Scaremongering perhaps? Unfortunately not, because in aspartame’s case this is all true and the science is there to back it up.
A little background: Apspartame, which was once on the Pentagon’s list of Biowarfare ingredients, is an addictive sweetener. Countless studies, experiments and empirical evidence have shown aspartame to be a major causative factor in disorders and diseases such as depression, rage, suicidal feelings; and various brain disorders; as well as blindness; cancer, brain tumours, alzheimers, and many more. Anyone feel like a diet coke?
Aspartame belongs to a dysfunctional family of toxic ingredients known as Excitotoxins, have an exciting effect on your cells. This does not mean your cells feel happy and motivated, it means that the cells are over stimulated to the point that they are destroyed. Doesn’t sound too pleasant, does it.
Some ‘studies’, most of which are highly unreliable. claim that aspartame is safe for human consumption. But when Dr. Ralph Walden conducted a comprehensive review of all available studies, he discovered that almost every study advocating aspartame’s safety, was funded by companies with direct financial involvement in aspartame production, such as G.D Searle. Interestingly, almost all research conducted independently on aspartame concluded it to be unsafe for human consumption. It’s a shameful example of what people will do for profits and is worthy of investigating yourself. (See References for more info).
So why do food and drink manufacturers use aspartame?
The main reason aspartame and other cheap but deadly sweeteners are used is the price. Aspartame is cheaper than sugar and almost 200 times as sweet; thus purely in financial terms it is a no-brainer.
Big business is not famous for big morals. The food industry is not run by kind-hearted rural farmers, working happily in picturesque countryside. Nor by all singing, all dancing animal characters featured in advertising campaigns.
The decision makers are primarily the fat-walleted people in boardrooms; and food production is centred in mechanised factories run by white coat wearing production line operators and automated machines, with not a corn chewing, rosy-cheeked farmer in sight.
For simplicity’s sake I’ve highlighted aspartame in this particular article, however there are a variety of other highly undesirable flavourings you should look out for including Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), Acesulfame-K, High Fructose Corn Syrup and Saccharin; all of which possess a medical dictionary-worth of side effects, and are amongst the usual suspects present in sugar-free products.
The Calorie Game
Food companies and the health and fitness media give a disproportionate amount of attention to counting calories. Whilst calories are important, there is no need to fixate on them. Just because something is low in calories, does not necessarily mean it is healthy or ideal for weight loss. There’s more to it than that.
One of the much-touted benefits of alternative sweeteners like aspartame and its processed relations, is that they are low or zero-calorie sweeteners. This attracts people seeking weight loss; and is something advertising experts are all too aware of.
Ironically, using a synthetic sweetener is just another dietary fallacy which harms your health and distracts your focus from what really works.
As an experienced exercise coach myself, I’ve known many gym users whose sole focus was burning their calorie goal for the day, then they’d leave for home satisfied with their progress, but they still looked pretty much the same as they did the previous week, moth or year. Calories are certainly a factor in weight balance and health, yet only one piece of the puzzle.
Artificial sweeteners are not the magic weight loss answer and will do nothing for you (unless you’re seeking a reduction in mental capacity, and a myriad of other conditions,). A well designed progressive exercise routine, coupled with natural whole food nutrition is the key to optimal bodyweight. Don’t buy a synthetic sweetener just for the low-calorie content.
Artificial Sweeteners Cause Cravings
It is crucial to understand that sweeteners, like aspartame, cause cravings for high-carbohydrate foods which are high in calories, and depending on the high-carb food you choose, often full of unhealthy additives. Therefore any calorific benefit you gain from the sweetener is completely obliterated (and then some), by the extra food you inevitably end up eating because of the sweetener-induced cravings.
Right that’s the doom and gloom out of the way…I need a cup of tea after all that writing. Sweetener, anyone?
Artificial sweeteners over-stimulate your brain’s taste receptors, making natural foods taste particularly boring unless sweetened to a level that would make Willy Wonka feel sick.
The addictive effect of artificial sweeteners will disappear as you return to natural whole foods and your body regains its natural balance. You will notice that things like fruit, which once tasted relatively plain, now taste particularly sweet, and a whole new range of natural flavours and new, exciting foods enliven your eating habits.
We’ve established that the zero-sugar concept is not as simple or as healthy as it may at first appear. So what can the sweet-toothed among us use if we want to sweeten our food and drink?
Healthy sweeteners are deserving of another article all by themselves (yet another article on my To Do list). So…briefly, if you really feel you need to use a sweetener, go as natural as possible.
Organic honey (pictured left, complete with honeycomb), is available in most supermarkets and healthfood stores. It has been used for its taste and healing properties since ancient times. Manuka honey has demonstrated scientifically proven nutritional and healing qualities. For optimal benefits eat honey in raw and organic form.
As a straight swap for sugar, you could also try Xylitol, which comes from birch trees. It looks and tastes like sugar but is healthier and won’t spike your blood sugar levels. So it’s great for anyone with diabetes too. Xylitol is increasingly available in most health food stores and some supermarkets, and whilst not the top healthy sweetener in my opinion, it is much better than regular sugar or toxic sweeteners.
Harder to come by but worth trying is Stevia a plant based natural sweetener, without the harmful effects of sugar. Check out the following link to find out more http://www.naturalnews.com/031011_stevia_health.html
Relatively new on the market, yet emerging as a firm favourite amongst health aficionados, is Coconut Nectar. Whilst harder to find in shops, it looks sure to increase its presence on health store shelves in the near future, as people catch on to this great tasting, low-glycemic natural sweet sap from coconut blossom. Keep your eyes open for it. Check out this link for more information. http://www.naturalnews.com/032855_coconut_sugar_natural_sweeteners.html
Some companies sweeten products with blended/juiced fruit, which is a great way to add flavour naturally, with the bonus of various whole food nutrients present in fruit. You can even do this yourself if you have a juicer or blender. It will only take a small amount to sweeten desserts and other recipes, and can be a very cost effective method of sweetening on a budget.
Last, but not least, a personal favourite of mine, Lucuma fruit powder. Read my article ‘Lucuma-Gold of the Incas’ for info on this great natural flavouring). It’s a wonderful, sweet tasting powdered fruit from Peru, with lots of health and taste benefits.
As with all food products, wherever you buy them from, always check the label for any unwanted ingredients. Try these alternatives out and find what works best for you.
Remember, healthy living is also about enjoyment, not dietary boredom.
I’ve looked at all of this objectively over the past few years, after going from junk food to healthy living, and I know from research, personal experience and from reading countless studies, that artificial sweeteners have no place in our food. They are not healthy, and anyone who says otherwise is either misinformed or lying.
Don’t believe all you see and hear in the media or on the grapevine. My advice is, to do a bit of your own research, just as you would do before making a expensive purchases such as a computer, a car, or a house. You should value the quality of the food you purchase just as much as anything else. After all, what you put in your body will either harm you or heal you over the long term.
Your intelligence, your physical health, your clarity of mind, your life and your longevity will be so much better off once you get of the artificial sweeteners and back onto what you were designed to eat: natural food and natural sweeteners.
Do it for your health and happiness. The only time is now…
Thanks for reading,
Have an awesome day,
A Brief History of Aspartame, http://www.aspartame.ca/page_a13.html
An extensive list of aspartame articles from the awesome natural news website: http://www.naturalnews.com/GoogleSearchResults.html?q=aspartame&cx=010579349100583850635%3Aw_kzwe9_yca&cof=FORID%3A11&ie=UTF-8#1253
Adams, Mike. Interview with Dr. Russell Blaylock on devastating health effects of MSG, aspartame and excitotoxins 2006. http://www.naturalnews.com/020550.html
Winborn, Richard- Lucuma-Gold of the Incas http://www.totalfunctionalhealth.com/?p=413
Walters, Sheryl. 2009. Lucuma Makes a Healthy Whole Fruit Sweetener and Delicious Raw Ice Cream Ingredient
Johnson, DaNae. 2011. Discover four fantastic benefits of stevia http://www.naturalnews.com/031011_stevia_health.html
The University of Waikato, New Zealand, Honey Research Unit http://bio.waikato.ac.nz/honey/special.shtml
Gutierrez, David. 2010. HFCS – the poison that promotes obesity and liver damage
Adams, Mike. June 29, 2011 http://www.naturalnews.com/032855_coconut_sugar_natural_sweeteners.html
2-Image Courtesy of Brocke Lever