I have seen so many articles and videos around various types of diet or lifestyle meal plans all claiming to be the best of the best for your body. Whole30, Keto Diet, and Intermittent Fasting are just a few of the many examples, which I know people who have tried all, or have made a lifestyle change to one of these programs. This article is NOT about the pros or cons of diet or meal plans. I am here to talk about the one thing everyone can agree on is that SUGAR contains calories, and a lot of them. Whether you are sugar conscious or not, since we were kids we were always told “Don’t eat all that sugar” but what I did not know was the VAST amount of natural versus artificial sugars that are out there! So what is a gal to do? Well, go ahead and research different types of sugars and figure out what all the commotion is about!
What did I find? Well to start, there are numerous types of sugar, although many times we picture the big ol’ bag of white sugar next to the Kitchen Aid mixer at grandma’s house. This “white sugar” is actually called sucrose and comes from sugar beets or sugarcane. Fun fact, sucrose appears in every plant, along with glucose and fructose since sugar and oxygen are products of photosynthesis! Sadly, unlike sugar beets and sugarcane, our other budding friends don't produce sucrose in sufficient quantities for harvesting, so you aren’t buying a bag of sugar at the store from a field of daisies.
Let’s look at a few other sugars that are found in nature:
Fructose: found in fruits and honey (please DO NOT confuse this with high fructose corn syrup - they are not the same)
Galactose: found in milk and dairy products
Glucose: found in honey, fruits and vegetables
Lactose: found in milk, made from glucose and galactose
Maltose: found in barley
Sucrose: made up of glucose and fructose and found in plants
Xylose: found in wood or straw - oh hey trees coming in with a sweet side
Besides beets and cane, sugar can be derived from honey and fruits such as dates and coconuts. I am sure you have seen or heard the term coconut sugar because it is making a big buzz on many baking shows today! Now that we have covered the naturally occurring sugars, let's talk about “fake sugar” or what we know them better as:“artificial sweeteners”.
The FDA has approved five artificial sweeteners: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. We are going to focus in on sucralose today because it is found most frequently in foods and supplements today.
According to the manufacturer of sucralose, Tate & Lyle, sucralose is an ingredient in over 4,000 food and beverage products.Although the FDA claims sucralose is safe, it is a novel compound that has never before been eaten by humans until the 90’s. We know that other artificial sweeteners like aspartame have been reported to cause negative health effects, so what does the science say about sucralose?
According to a study published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, sucralose negatively impacts the gut microbiome.
I have no idea what a gut microbiome is, but it sounds like something we all have and I should probably learn about it. I found that the gut microbiome does a lot - a few of the major functions are to keep us “regular”, absorbing antioxidants, vitamins and nutrients that help keep our immune system strong, and to fight off bacteria and things that should not be in our large intestine (if you want to learn more about your awesome gut microbiome click here).
I hope we can all agree that the gut microbiome is important, so how does sucralose affect it?
Well, as I mentioned before, sucralose is a novel compound that was never eaten by humans before the 90s therefore our bodies do not innately break sucralose down during regular digestion. Sucralose just doesn’t go away on its own. It leaves the small intestine where regular digestion occurs and moves to our large intestine in full force. The gut microbiome does its job and chomps down the whole sucralose elements to get rid of it causing our good gut microbiomes to die off. We have now killed healthy immune supporting, body regulating microbes because we added this artificial sweetener to our diet.
This leaves us in a bind. I want sweetness in my foods but I don’t want to destroy my healthy, happy gut... So now what? TA-DA - natural, low-calorie, sweeteners!
Magically there are other ways to sweeten our foods that are low in calories such as stevia, which for many years have been proven to not only be safe to consume, but to have positive effects! Stevia is actually 250-300 times sweeter than regular sugar or sucrose so you only need small amounts to sweeten your foods or beverages.
Now that we have this information, what is the moral of the story?
Check Your Labels & Do Your Research. Ah the power of google search! Medical journals and scientific articles are published all the time around the findings on products that we use everyday. No need to be a keyboard warrior, but take a look at the labels and if you cannot read it, research it. Find out what is in your products and you can make an educated decision; your health depends on it!
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