Not so good products
There’s conflicting evidence regarding the safety of aspartame, a common chemical sweetener used in diet soda and other low-cal or low-sugar goods, but some people report headaches or generally feeling unwell after ingesting anything containing this chemical. Studies have found that aspartame actually becomes toxic to brain cells. Making matters worse, aspartame is used in many diet sodas, and studies have found drinking diet soda may increase your risk of developing diabetes. Also a concern with aspartame, researchers have found that one harmful breakdown product is formaldehyde.
While your health food store likely stocks agave sweeteners, it may be best to keep them out of your cart. Many agave nectars consist of 70 to 80 percent fructose. That is more than what’s found in high-fructose corn syrup. If you don’t want to give up agave, look for types that contain no more than 30 to 40 percent fructose. Agave is also very heavily processed in an extremely energy-intensive manner that’s similar to the way corn is converted into high-fructose corn syrup.
While sucralose, better known by its brand name, Splenda, may originate with sugar, the end product is anything but natural. It’s processed using chlorine, and researchers are finding that the artificial sweetener is passing through our bodies and winding up in wastewater treatment plants, where it can’t be broken down. Tests in Norway and Sweden found sucralose in surface water released downstream from treatment discharge sites. Scientists worry it could change organisms’ feeding habits and interfere with photosynthesis, putting the entire food chain at risk.
Good Guy #1: Stevia
“We need to be off of sugar, but we need good alternatives, and stevia seems to be the safest sweetener. All types of stevia are extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant. People tend to overuse powders, in which the sweetness is really concentrated, so if you’ve tried powders in the past and didn’t like them, try liquid forms. Stevia contains zero calories, but its one downfall is that it doesn’t work well for baking. Expect to see more stevia on store shelves, as Coke and Pepsi got the green light to use Truvia (a sweetener made in part from stevia) starting later this year.
Good Guy #2: Sugar alcohols
Popular sugar alcohol sweeteners include xylitol, sorbitol, and erythritol, natural sweeteners made through a fermentation process of corn or sugar cane. They contain fewer calories than sweeteners like pure sugar and honey, but more than stevia. They also leave a cooling sensation in the mouth, and have been found to prevent cavities. Avoid excess though it can cause stomach distress.
Good Guy #3: Organic, raw local honey
While honey does boast higher fructose levels, it also contains a bounty of cancer-defending antioxidants, and local honey has been said to help alleviate allergy symptoms. Don’t limit raw honey’s use to your tea, either. Use it to speed healing on burns, and as a natural antiseptic on cuts and scrapes. Honey also has a low glycemic index, so adding it to your tea or yogurt won’t lead to energy-busting blood sugar drops later in the day.
Good Guy #4: Blackstrap molasses
Although it is high in calories, blackstrap is rich in iron, potassium, and calcium, making it a healthier choice than the artificial sweeteners or even regular refined sugar, despite the fact that blackstrap and refined sugar both come from sugar cane.
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