The most modern sugar substitutes: benefits and harms

Sugar is one of the most controversial products of our time. While sugar in one form or another – fructose, glucose – is found in almost all foods, including grains and fruits and vegetables, the trend is that sugar is fashionable to scold. And indeed, if there is a lot of white sugar in its pure form and in sweets, it will have many side effects on health. In particular, excessive consumption of sugar can contribute to the loss of calcium from the body. 

It doesn’t make sense for healthy people to completely give up sugar, and it’s unlikely that it will work out – since, again, it is contained in the vast majority of products in one form or another. Therefore, in this article we will not talk about the rejection of sugar as a substance, i.e. from sucrose-fructose-glucose, and from sugar as an industrial food product – that is, refined white sugar, which is usually added to tea, coffee and homemade preparations.

Nowadays, it has been proven that white sugar – which used to be unconditionally considered a useful and even necessary product – has a dark side. In particular, its use is harmful. Also, limit your consumption of white sugar in old age – it raises cholesterol in older people, especially those who are prone to overweight. But “restrict” does not mean “refuse”. So, it is useful for older people to reduce the consumption of carbohydrates (including sugar) by about 20-25% from the norm for healthy people. In addition, some people report bursts of activity and apathy when eating large amounts of white sugar in their food.

Interest in a healthy diet and the search for alternatives to regular white sugar is growing, so we will try to explore what kind of sugar and its substitutes are. Based on this, we can better choose a diet for ourselves. Will we find a worthy replacement for white sugar?

Varieties of natural sugar

To begin with, let’s remember what industrial sugar itself is. This may be of interest to those who are considering switching from white sugar to some more natural one: 

  • White sugar: -sand and -refined sugar. It is known that sugar cane in the process of making “ordinary” white sugar is subjected to chemical treatment: slaked lime, sulfur dioxide and carbonic acid. Doesn’t sound very appetizing, does it?
  • Brown “cane” sugar: the juice of the same sugar cane is treated with slaked lime (to protect the consumer from the toxins contained in the juice), but that’s about it. This is raw sugar (“brown” sugar), which (sometimes sold mixed with regular white sugar) is more commonly eaten by healthy lifestyle advocates – although. It has a richer taste and chemical composition. It is not easy to find real “brown” sugar on sale in our country, it is often faked (the law does not prohibit this). And by the way, it is not a raw food product, because. Cane juice is still pasteurized, killing harmful bacteria – and enzymes.
  • Sugar obtained from sugar beets is also a “dead”, highly refined product, heated to about 60 ° C (pasteurization) and treated with lime and carbonic acid. Without this, the production of sugar in the form we are used to is impossible. 
  • Maple sugar (and syrup) is a slightly more natural alternative because the juice of one of the three “sugar” varieties of the maple tree (“black”, “red” or “sugar” maple) is simply boiled down to the desired consistency. Such sugar is sometimes referred to as “American Indian sugar”. they traditionally cooked it. These days, maple sugar is popular in Canada and the US Northeast, but it’s rare in our country. Warning: This is NOT a raw food product.
  • Palm sugar (jagre) is mined in Asia: incl. in India, Sri Lanka, the Maldives – from the juice of flower cobs of several varieties of palm trees. Most often it is a coconut palm, so this sugar is sometimes also called “coconut” (which is essentially the same thing, but it sounds much more attractive). Each palm gives up to 250 kg of sugar per year, while the tree is not damaged. It is thus a kind of ethical alternative. Palm sugar is also obtained by evaporation.
  • There are other varieties of sugar: sorghum (popular in the USA), etc.  

Chemical sweeteners

If for some reason (and doctors!) You do not want to consume “regular” sugar, then you will have to turn to sweeteners. They are natural and synthetic (chemical), which are also called “artificial sweeteners”. Sweeteners are sweet (sometimes sweeter than sugar itself!) and often lower in calories than “regular” sugar. This is good for those who are losing weight and not very good, for example, for athletes who, on the contrary, are “friends” with calories – therefore, sugar is part of almost all sports drinks. By the way, taking it even in sports is rarely justified, and even more so as part of a full-fledged diet.

Sweeteners that are sweeter than sugar are popular. Only 7 of them are allowed in developed countries, such as the USA:

  • Stevia (we will talk about it below);
  • Aspartame (formally recognized as safe by the American FDA, but unofficially considered “” according to the results -);
  • ;
  • (E961);
  • Ace-K Nutrinova (, E950);
  • Saccharin (!);
  • .

The taste of these substances is not always the same as that of sugar – i.e., sometimes, clearly “chemical”, so they are rarely consumed in pure form or in familiar drinks, more often in carbonated drinks, sweets, etc. products where taste can be controlled.

Of the sweeteners that are similar in sweetness to sugar, sorbitol (E420) and xylitol (E967) are popular. These substances are present in some berries and fruits in an insignificant amount unsuitable for industrial extraction, which sometimes serves as a pretext for not entirely honest advertising. But they are obtained industrially – chemically – by. Xylitol has a low glycemic index (7 is very low, compared to 100 for pure glucose!), so it is sometimes promoted as “friendly” or even “safe” for diabetics, which, obviously, is not entirely true. And here is another fact, sung in advertising: that if you chew chewing gum with xylitol, then the “alkaline balance in the mouth will be restored – this is pure truth. (Although the point is simply that increased salivation reduces acidity). But in general, the benefits of xylitol are extremely small, and in 2015 American scientists that xylitol does not have a significant effect on tooth enamel at all and does not affect the treatment and prevention of caries.

Another well-known sweetener – (E954) – is a chemical additive, 300 times sweeter than sugar, and has no energy (food) value at all, it is completely excreted in the urine (like neotame, and acesulfame, and advantam). Its only merit is its sweet taste. Saccharin is sometimes used in biabetes, instead of sugar, to give the usual taste to drinks and food. Saccharin is harmful to digestion, but its alleged “carcinogenic properties”, erroneously “discovered” in the course of grotesque experiments on rodents in the 1960s, have now been reliably refuted by science. Healthy people are better off preferring regular white sugar to saccharin.

As you can see, in general, with “chemistry”, which seems to be designed to replace “harmful” sugar, not everything is rosy! The safety of some of these sweeteners is questionable, although they are technically (to date!) compliant. Just studied.

Natural sweeteners

The word “natural” is widely used in advertising, although nature is full of “100% natural”, “100% vegetarian” and even “organic” poisons! The fact is that natural alternatives to white sugar are not always safe. 

  • Fructose, which was so widely advertised in the 1990s as a health product, and. In addition, some people suffer from fructose intolerance (both fruits and dried fruits are poorly absorbed by them). Finally, fructose consumption is generally associated with the risk of obesity, hypertension and … diabetes. The very case when “what they fought for, they ran into that”? 
  • – a sweetener that is gaining popularity these days – also did not go far ahead of sugar in terms of health. Stevia is mainly of interest as part of a low-carb and low-sugar (diabetic) diet, and is used in the treatment of clinical obesity and hypertension. It is worth noting two facts. 1) Stevia has a romantic (advertising) history of use by the Guarani Indians – the indigenous people of Brazil and Paraguay. So it is, but … these tribes also had bad habits, including cannibalism! – so their diet is difficult to idealize. By the way, the Guarani tribe used the plant – a component of some sports drinks and “superfood”. 2) In some experiments on rats, the consumption of stevia syrup for 2 months led to seminal fluid by 60% (!): an occasion for cheerful jokes, until it touched you or your husband … (on rodents this is denied.) Perhaps the influence of stevia has not been sufficiently studied to date.
  • Coconut (palm) sugar – deservedly considered a “super star at the center of a public scandal”, because. his . The fact is that when it replaces ordinary sugar, the United States and the West as a whole demonize the consumption of “coconut sugar” usually exceeds the norm, and as a result, a person receives the entire “bouquet” of harmful properties … of ordinary sugar! The “health benefits” of coconut sugar, including its nutritional content (microscopically!), are shamelessly exaggerated in advertising. And most importantly, “coconut sugar” has nothing to do with coconut! This is, in fact, the same white sugar, only … obtained from palm sap.
  • Agave syrup is sweeter than sugar and generally good for everyone … except that, no advantages over regular sugar! Some nutritionists point out that agave syrup has gone “full cycle” from the object of universal admiration to the condemnation of nutritionists. Agave syrup is 1.5 times sweeter than sugar and 30% more calories. Its glycemic index has not been precisely established, although it is considered lower (and advertised as such on the package). Although agave syrup is advertised as a “natural” product, there is nothing natural in it: it is the end product of a process of complex chemical processing of natural raw materials. Finally, agave syrup contains more – “for which” sugar is now often in fact scolded – than cheap and widely used in the food industry (HFCS) … Some doctors even agave syrup “a corn syrup that mimics a healthy food product.” In general, agave syrup, in fact, is no worse and no better than sugar …. The famous American nutritionist Dr. Oz, who publicly admired agave syrup in his early broadcasts, is now his.

What to do?! What to choose if not sugar? Here are 3 possible alternatives that seem to be the safest – according to information from open sources. They are not perfect, but the sum of the “pluses” and “minuses” win:

1. Honey – a strong allergen. And natural honey is more of a medicine than food (remember the sugar content of 23%). But if you are not allergic to honey and other bee products, this is one of the best “sugar substitutes” (in the broadest sense). It is only necessary to take into account that, with all due respect to raw food products, raw honey and honey “from the beekeeper” (which has not passed control and certification – which means that it may not meet GOST!) Is even more risky to take than heat-treated: like, say, , raw milk from a cow you are not familiar with… Children and cautious adults should buy honey from a well-known, well-established brand (including, for example, “D’arbo” (Germany), “Dana” (Denmark), “ Hero” (Switzerland)) – in any health food store. If you are not at all limited in funds, the fashion abroad is Mānuka honey: a number of unique properties are attributed to it. Unfortunately, this type of honey is often counterfeited, so it is worth asking for a quality certificate before placing an order. Honey is not recommended for Vata type people (according to Ayurveda). .

2. Stevia syrup (if you are not afraid of that strange story about the fertility of rat-boys!), agave syrup or a domestic product – Jerusalem artichoke syrup. Judging by the data from the Internet, this is … a kind of analogue of agave nectar, or, frankly, touted as a “healthy food product”.

3. .. And, of course, other sweet dried fruits. It can be used as a sweetener in smoothies, eaten with tea, coffee, and other drinks if you are used to drinking them with sugar. One has only to take into account that any, even high-quality, dried fruits also have both useful and potentially harmful properties.

Finally, no one bothers to limit the consumption of authentic sahara – to avoid the effects of sweets on the body. In the end, it is the excessive consumption of sugar that harms, sugar itself is not a “poison”, which, judging by some scientific data, are individual sweeteners.

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