The Truth About Sweeteners
I received a question this week from a patient of mine in Illinois who wanted to know about a new chocolate bar that used erythritol and oligofructose as the sweeteners. She was confused by the ingredients and wanted to know if they were safe, healthy, and how they impacted her weight/body chemistry.
I thought it was a great question because there are a LOT of sugars and sugar alternatives on the market and it can be down right confusing when we are trying to buy something as simple as a breath mint.
Remember the good old days when there were 3 choices? When all we had was a white packet (sugar), a blue packet (equal, aspartame), and a pink packet (sweet n low, saccharin)? Then came sugar in the raw, the yellow packet (splenda), and the green packet (stevia).
I was at the gym Monday morning on the elliptical machine watching the overhead TV and there right in front of me was a commercial for a new healthy sweetener, the product name escapes me, but what didn’t escape me was the ingredient list 50% cane sugar 50% stevia. Leave it to corporate America to take a perfectly good sugar alternative, namely stevia and mix it with the ingredient that it is attempting to replace. The problem here is that the average consumer actually believes what he or she sees on television and will probably go out and buy that product. 2010 is the year that stevia hits the mainstream and many new products with it as well as many old products will be re-formulated to contain stevia. It is buyer beware as industry takes the latest “sheik” ingredient from nature and mixes it with another natural ingredient or worse a chemical.
The latest stevia sugar alternatives are Purevia & Truvia – which contain approximately 97% stevia and 3% erythritol. I have also see a packet called nustevia, which is stevia, mixed with dextrose (a definite no-no).
As a shopper today we have to be super savvy about the ingredients listed on the packaging of the products we buy. It seems as if weekly new ingredients are hitting the shelves and being inserted in the products that we regularly purchase. It can be extremely confusing for us to sift through each ingredient and know what it is derived from and exactly how it will impact our health. This is especially true of sweeteners. I have categorized the various sweeteners on the market into groups for simplicity.
*Sugar (corn syrup, sucrose, glucose, dextrose, table sugar, white granulated sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar, Sugar cane and sugar beet.)
*Fructose (crystalline fructose, honey, high-fructose corn syrup, agaves nectar, honey, molasses, and fruit juices).
*Sugar alcohol (Xylitol, maltitol, erythritol, sorbitol, lactitol.)
*Milk sugar (lactose.)
*Artificial Sweeteners (aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, acesulfame potassium, neotame.)
*Plant based Sweeteners (Stevia aka rebiana, Agave Syrup. Luo Han Guo, Inlin aka oligofructose or Fructoligosaccarides FOS)
Sucrose and high fructose corn syrup are a combination of glucose and fructose. Fruits and vegetables all have a glucose to fructose ratio some have more of one than the other. For example apples have a fructose content of 5.9 g and a glucose content of 2.4 g.
Apricots have a fructose content of 0.9g and glucose content of 2.4 g.
Bananas have a fructose content of 4.9g and a glucose content of 5.0g.
Grapes have a fructose content of 8.1g and a glucose content of 7.2g.
Now lets take a look at high fructose corn syrup (HFCS -55) fructose content of 55g and a glucose content of 41g.
Honey is a mixture of different types of sugars, water, and small amounts of other compounds. Honey typically has a fructose/glucose ratio similar to HFCS 55.
Due to its fructose content and the fact that the glycemic index measures only glucose levels, agave nectar is notable in that its glycemic index and glycemic load are lower than many other natural sweeteners on the market.
A discussion on High Fructose Corn Syrup:
High-fructose corn syrup is usually a mixture of nearly equal amounts of fructose and glucose. There are three types of HFCS, each with a different proportion of fructose: HFCS-42, HFCS-55, and HFCS-90. The number for each HFCS corresponds to the percentage of synthesized fructose present in the syrup. HFCS-90 has the highest concentration of fructose. HFCS-55; HFCS 55 is used as sweetener in soft drinks, while HFCS-42 is used in many processed foods and baked goods. HFCS comprises any of a group of corn syrups that has undergone enzymatic processing to convert its glucose into fructose and has then been mixed with pure corn syrup, which is 100% glucose. Both fructose and glucose contain 4 cal/g
The Center for Science in the Public Interest in 2007 won the argument that stated: HFCS is not a “natural” ingredient due to the high level of processing and the use of at least one genetically modified (GMO) enzyme required to produce it. Fructose is absorbed into the body faster than regular sugar because it does not require insulin to transport it into the cell. Fructose directly entering the cell causes triglyceride synthesis and fat storage in the liver. This leads to the condition called fatty liver and pre-diabetes. Because of its direct access to the cell it does not trigger leptin release to aid in appetite suppression. It has been suggested in a recent British Medical journal study that high consumption of fructose is even linked to gout. Cases of gout have risen in recent years, and it is suspected that the fructose found in sugar beverages is the cause. Traditionally humans consumed less than 15 g/day of fructose. In 1997 the daily consumption was estimated at 81grams.
Eating fructose instead of glucose results in lower circulating insulin and leptin levels, and higher of ghrelin levels after the meal. Since leptin and insulin decrease appetite and ghrelin increases appetite, some researchers suspect that eating large amounts of fructose increases the likelihood of weight gain.
Dr. Purcell’s Pick on Sweeteners:
I am of the philosophy that nature is wise and does produce healthy sweeteners for us that are not detrimental to our health. The key items to look for are whether or not a sugar causes a glucose response, if it has any caloric value, and if it causes an insulin response, Here are the top 5 sweeteners on my list: Happy Shopping!
2) Inulin (oligofructose)
3) LuoHan Guo
5) Agave syrup
PS:the final answer on the original candy bar question that prompted this discussion is that it is fine in moderation. There are still calories and a fat content to the chocolate although the oligofructose adds quite a bit of fiber to offset the carbohydrate load.