Guide to Sweeteners (the good, the bad & the ugly)

There are more types o’ sweeteners out there than I can wrap my brain around.

This is because:

  1. The food industry knows that the sweeter, the better, the more addictive, the more profit and…
  2. We consumers are a little obsessed with finding that ONE miracle sweetener – y’know, the one that doesn’t cause weight gain or blood sugar issues, that has zero calories, and that has all the sweetness with none of the consequences.

That sweetener, unfortunately, doesn’t exist. It does. Not. Exist.

Most sweeteners are just industrial junk – not just high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, but less-known sweeteners as well; the ones that often “pass” as healthy because 1) they’re a bit new-fangled and we don’t know enough about them and 2) because their names sound fancy, so we assume they’re legit.

When it comes to sweeteners, we’ve just got to stop looking for that magic bullet.

NO sweetener is healthy all the time. FEW sweeteners are healthy at all. Most sweeteners are total garbage – and artificial sweeteners are downright dangerous.

Again: most sweeteners are industrial junk. This goes for artificial sweeteners, which are incredibly toxic; well-known junk sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup; and the sweeteners that are commonly considered “healthier,” like agave.

Even many so-called “healthy” sweeteners are suspect, because just like ANY sugar, they can cause undue blood sugar spikes – this includes organic white and brown sugars, coconut sugar, coconut crystals, muscovado and various “nectars.” They may not be inherently “bad” – unlike high-fructose corn syrup, they’re not a deliberate ploy by the food industry to foster addiction – but they can be dangerous to our blood sugar regulation.

Some sweeteners, like agave, are sold to us as “healthy” because they DON’T cause the same blood sugar spikes as some of their counterparts. However, these kinds of sweeteners are actually processed differently by the body. They may not cause as dramatic a blood sugar spike, but they DO cause stress to other parts of the body – like the liver.

There is NO free lunch here.

Yes, there are a few sweeteners that are “safe” to use when a little sweetener is absolutely required. This does not, however, mean they’re ALL healthy all the time, in any amount. When used properly, judiciously, and rarely, the few “safe” ones are perfectly healthy. But they’re NOT for regular use!

Why? Because ANY sugar, even the most “natural” ones, stimulate the primal, caveman/cavewoman part of our brains that thinks natural sugar is rare. It helps me store fat for long winters without food. I must eat it all, as much as I can, whenever I can get it.

But in our modern world, NOTHING is truly rare. We have an endless supply of sweeteners. That’s why we’ve got to be cautious, and treat the “safe” sweeteners like the treats they are.

By “safe” I mean fulfills these criteria:

  1. It’s unprocessed or minimally processed AND
  2. It contains a few nutrients to help the body process the sugar spike AND
  3. It has a long history in the human diet. (This one is key. Lots of sweeteners are sold to us as safe because they sound “natural,” but these are generally new-fangled and not-so-safe at all.)
paleo-pancakes

THE GOOD

These can only be considered “good” if used judiciously and rarely! These are naturally-occurring, un-or minimally-processed, and have a long history of human consumption.

 

  • Pure, unfiltered raw honey
  • Fresh fruit or fruit juice
  • Whole dates (can be warmed and muddled with water to make a paste)
  • Grade-B maple syrup
  • Blackstrap molasses
  • Raw green stevia (white powdered stevia or Truvia are highly processed, chemically refined and NOT the same)

 

THE BAD

Some of these are considered “natural,” but don’t have many redeeming qualities other than they’re NOT artificial or high-fructose corn syrup. Not a great selling point!

 

  • Agave
  • Barley malt
  • Beet sugar (even “organic”)
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Brown sugar of any kind
  • Grape sugar
  • Malt syrup
  • Muscovado
  • Syrup of any kind
  • Xylitol

 

THE UGLY

These are highly refined non-artificial AND artificial sweeteners. Many of them are highly toxic to the human body; others are simply industrial derivatives – best to avoid them at all costs.

  • Corn syrup of any kind (solids, syrup, high-fructose)
  • Dextrose of any kind (solids, syrup)
  • Fructose of any kind (solids, syrup)
  • Glucose of any kind (solids, syrup)
  • Invert sugar
  • Lactose
  • Levulose
  • Maltidol or Maltose
  • Maltodextrin
  • “-Ose” (any word ending in “ose”)
  • Sorbitol
  • Sucrose

Artificial sweeteners

  • Nutra-sweet
  • Acesulfame
  • Aspartame
  • Equal
  • Saccharin
  • Sweet N Low
  • White/Powdered Stevia
  • Truvia
  • Splenda