Sorry this post ended up being finished later than I expected! I thought I would finish it two weeks ago but it just got finished today. Oh well it’s here now.
Although sugar-based foods and meals continue to hold a nostalgic place in my heart regarding treats at holidays with family, I am not excited about actual sugar, as it is the basis of a lot of disease, weight gain and heartache. “All of our biological systems for regulating energy, hunger and satiety get thrown off by eating foods that are high in sugar, low in fiber and injected with additives. And which now, shockingly, make up 60 percent of the calories we eat,” Michael Hobbes noted in a Huffington post article titled “Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong.” I don’t really like fake sugar, either, like aspartame…. It had a super sketchy introduction to the food marketplace, and long-term studies done since that time have not been reassuring. Aspartame breaks down into formaldehyde in the body, and has been linked to increased risk of leukemia in men in the longest term study (22 years) performed on this question, although in shorter studies (8 weeks or 5 years) this link has not been found. Aspartame has also been linked to various neurological issues like depression, headaches, and even
So what to do? Use natural sources of sweetness that are good for you. It’s not a myth; see below.
Healthy sources of sweetness
Stevia promotes gut microbiome health (good gut bacteria which has a host of other downstream health effects that are positive) and has been shown to lower blood pressure through metanalyses (a collection of studies that gives a better idea of the outcome of a question rather than a single study alone) and through single studies.
I like to grow a plant outside during the summer and bring it inside, chopping off leaves as I need them. This ends up being less sweet than using the extract, and using fresh green leaves to sweeten my coffee or whatever just sounds healthy. The last recipe I made with fresh stevia leaves was chopping up local apples, adding stevia and a pumpkin spice blend, and sauteeing in coconut oil with a fire-finish with rum.
Sugar alcohols like Erythritol, xylitol and sorbitol – these are all sweeteners that originate from plants but do not have the calories or blood sugar raising capacities of sugar like fructose or glucose. In fact they REDUCE tooth decay instead of encouraging it like sugar does. They stimulate sugar receptors on the tongue, but are not associated with the detrimental health affects ascribed to aspartame or saccharine. However, in very large doses they can have a laxative effect and cause diarrhea. What dose is too large? This effect is noticed in smokers who quit smoking and chew sugar free gum all day to relieve the oral fixation from smoking. So having it in a single meal or serving size shouldn’t caused the laxative effect, but having it in everything you eat that day will be uncomfortable.
– Erythritol is found naturally in pears and grapes. This low-calorie sweetener can be made industrially by having yeast produce it. It has been shown to have antioxidant effects (anti-aging effects associated with compounds in fruits and vegetables that protect them from the sun), and seems to be a prebiotic, or food source for good gut bacteria.
– Xylitol was a molecule originally found in hardwoods and corn cobs, but can be produced industrially by yeast as well. It doesn’t have the same health benefits as erythritol from what research I found, but it is not as harmful as sugar.
Monk Fruit Extract– this is a sweetener from China and it has been extolled in Chinese medicine for various benefits, but there hasn’t been large research studies I know of proving these benefits. It has similar delayed effects on blood sugar- but not direct effects on blood sugar- like the sugar alcohols described above. Better than sugar, but not as good as berries, dried fruit, or other whole plants as a sweetener. No ill effects noted, though.
Maca Powder– Maca has a slight coconut flavor and tastes amazing as a sweetener in macaroons. I prefer it for baking or smoothies rather than as a mix-in sweetener for drinks because unless it is mixed well in a blender or baked- good recipe, it doesn’t tend to combine. If I try to mix it in to coffee, for example, it just won’t unless I am blending my coffee drink for some reason. But again, works well in baked goods and smoothies. There are a lot of health benefits ascribed to Maca and it even has “superfood” designation… but a good portion of the health claims of Maca are not supportable by current scientific evidence. So maybe it is an “adaptogen” (a term used for “whatever your body needs, this product gives it to you!” that I am wary of in health food circles), but I don’t have a lot of evidence to support this. What I do know is that it is high in protein, fiber, calcium and magnesium, all important nutrients. It is also a part of the Cruciferous Vegetable family, which has been shown to reduce cancer risk in vivo because of an active ingredient called sulfurophane. It also doesn’t raise blood sugar anywhere close to what sugar does.