Updated: Mar 26, 2022
We all have a sweet tooth, and whether you get your fix by eating an apple or slamming your favorite 20 oz. soda makes a difference! It's partly about the quality of the sweetener and partly about the quantity and velocity with which it hits the bloodstream.
Consuming sugar in absence of its natural antidote (plant fiber) is not as healthy. Fiber slows the absorption of sugar into the bloodstream, allowing your insulin pump to respond optimally. That results in lower fat storage, suppressed appetite, and reduced diabetes risk, For the same reasons, eating whole foods is far superior to juice or even smoothies, where you drink a fright of blended fruits/veggies/seeds/nuts much faster than if you chewed them all first.
But what about sweetened commercial foods? The kind of sweetener makes a difference. First, fructose has a negative impact on the liver. That's why our country's massive influx of high fructose corn syrup (doubling the fructose over table sugar) isn't working out so well. Dr. Robert Lustig, author of Fat Chance suggests that 60% of today's youth have Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).
Before suggesting sugar alternatives, let me express my passionate opinion about added sweetness in general. If you continually feed your sweet tooth, no matter what the sweetener, you will have a much harder time appreciating the more subtly sweet, and deliciousness of whole foods. Cut the added sugar and your brain will adaptively begin to prefer the flavors of your favorite fruits and veggies, while your body reduces your fat storage.
Regarding taste, Sucrose (table sugar) is our gold standard, and the zero-calorie Non- Nutritive Sweeteners (NNS) can't compete, including Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet), Saccharin (Sweet-n-Sow), or Sucralose (Splenda). After tons of research, there is little evidence that any of these causes toxicities when consumed in reasonable amounts.
Yet there are a handful of recent studies showing they might result in gut dysbiosis, insulin resistance, or increased appetite. Many patients ask me about Stevia, which tastes good and seems safe but has been studied far less than Aspartame. Warning: Just because something is "naturally occurring" doesn't necessarily make it safe.
Alcohol sugars such as Erythritol, Sorbitol, and Xylitol are not considered NNSs because they have some calorie count, though each has some advantages. I frequently recommend Xylitol for my cavity-prone patients, because, unlike any other sugar, it inhibits our cavity-causing bacteria to excrete acid.
Two good-tasting and promising sweeteners on our forefront are Monk Fruit (from the Luo Han Guo plant) and Allulose, the mirror image of the fructose molecule but behave opposite, metabolically. Allulose is fully absorbed (so it has no GI effect), fully excreted by the kidneys, and drags blood glucose with it, actually lowering your insulin resistance.
I hope this small article on a vast subject whets your appetite to keep learning together.