Now that there has been such an extreme backlash against artificial sweeteners like saccharin and Splenda, a great deal of attention is now being paid to sugar substitutes. The goal is to get a sweet taste from a natural source that is safe. So are these sugar substitutes really better for us? The answer is: It depends.
There are literally dozens of sugar substitutes that claim to be natural, healthier than sugar, and so on. The trouble is that many of these claims are unregulated. They also sound natural and safe, but can actually be more dangerous than you can imagine.
Brown Rice Syrup
For example, most people would consider brown rice to be a health food, so brown rice syrup would seem to be a healthy sweetener. This is a reasonable assumption, until you discover that it has a significant impact on blood sugar and a great deal of it is contaminated with high levels of arsenic.
Arsenic, a metal that is poisonous to humans, is found in the water where the rice grows. When the rice is processed to make the syrup, the arsenic becomes more concentrated. Arsenic can damage every organ in the body even if it doesn’t kill you outright, so this is one natural sugar substitute to steer well clear of.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
HFCS has been the mainstay of the food industry for decades as a natural sweetener. It is found in almost every packaged food on store shelves in one form or another. It is a cheap by-product of the corn industry, and cheaper than cane sugar. As the low-fat eating trend hit in the 1970s, HFCS started to hit its stride, adding more flavor to the foods that had had their fat content drastically cut. The result: unprecedented levels of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the last 40 years in the US, far out of proportion to that experienced in other countries around the world.
Here are a few others to watch out for:
- Dehydrated Cane Juice, Evaporated Cane Juice=sugar from the sugar cane plant
- Fruit Juice Concentrate=usually apple juice, very sweet already, even sweeter if it is concentrated
- Honey=a natural sweetener produced by bees, but with a comparable glycemic index (GI) to that of sugar (55 vs 70), so has a significant impact on blood sugar
Your best bet for a natural sugar substitute with no impact on blood sugar and no calories is stevia. But buyer beware. Check the label to make sure it has as few added ingredients as possible. Then see what a difference it can make to your health.