Today we are a culture that revolves around sugar. It surrounds us, it tempts us, it pleases us. But it also, kills us. So what do we do? What are our best options?
Rumors persist about the health hazards of artificial sweeteners such as Sweet'N Low, Splenda, and Equal, but several food-safety groups and regulatory bodies, including the FDA, have consistently deemed them safe for consumption. After all, when has our government ever been wrong? (We’ll save that for another article)
The good news is that we have several natural alternatives that are much less controversial at our disposal, so let’s explore those.
Agave Nectar: Several types of agave, the plant that's used to make tequila, are blended to create this liquid sweetener. It is far sweeter than sugar or honey so you can use reduced amounts, but it is still somewhat controversial due to its high fructose content.
Whey Low: Three naturally occurring sugars--fructose, the sugar in fruit; sucrose, or table sugar; and lactose, the sugar in milk, are blended to create this sweetener. Whey Low has one quarter of the calories and less than one third of the glycemic index of sugar.
Sweetleaf and Truvia: These sugar alternatives are the latest made from stevia, an herb found in Central and South America that is up to 40 times sweeter than sugar, but has zero calories and won't cause a jump in your blood sugar. Stevia was slow to catch on because of its bitter, licorice-like aftertaste, but makers of Truvia and SweetLeaf have solved this problem by using the sweetest parts of the plant in their products.
Sugar alcohols: Sorbitol and Xylitol These naturally occurring sugar alcohols are found in foods such as beets, berries, and corn. They are used as the sweetener in over-the-counter medicines and sugar-free products, especially chewing gum. Sorbitol is more commonly used primarily related to cost. They can also cause stomachaches, gas, and diarrhea if you have too much of it.
Sorbitol does not share the same effectiveness in preventing tooth decay as xylitol. Unlike xylitol, cariogenic bacteria (the bacteria that cause tooth decay) can ferment sorbitol, although very slowly. This means that technically sorbitol does promote the growth of cariogenic bacteria. Additionally, sorbitol metabolism can result in the formation of acidic byproducts that might lead to tooth decay formation.
When purchasing xylitol products make sure you evaluate their labeling first. Some of them will be found to be sweetened with xylitol-sorbitol mixtures instead of just xylitol. In most cases these products are made by lesser manufacturers who want to be able to make a xylitol claim but skimp on the xylitol content in favor of the cheaper sorbitol.
So the winner is.... Xylitol in small doses for products like chewing gum. For baking either Agave, Truvia or Whey Low. But then again if you bake with flour (of any kind) your body pretty much treats that as sugar so you can’t win!