Fitness Truth About Artificial Sweeteners
I'm often asked
about sugar substitutes. One of my consulting clients
asked me a question to which I provided a very complete answer
on the topic. I'll share that Question and Answer with
I noticed the sugar free gum that I chew every day has xylitol.
Someone told me that is sugar alcohol. What exactly is it
and is it bad for me, and if this is bad, are there any artificial
sweeteners that are good?
Nothing is necessarily good or bad. Some "good"
foods have potentially bad properties and vice versa. Where
use of many of the artificial sweeteners such as aspartame
and acesulfame-K replaces sugar with zero or negligible calories,
sugar alcohol does provide sweetness, texture . . and calories!
I'll explain what sugar alcohol is, the good and the bad,
and then, in response to your question, I'll do something
that I've been meaning to do for some time . . . provide the
"real story" on all of the most oft-used artificial
I want to apologize
in advance. I'm going to give you a very long answer! I've
had this stuff bottled up inside me, waiting to come out,
so I'm about to let loose. Don't be surprised if within this
answer I refer to politics, corruption, and deception perpetrated
by the sugar industry! OK . . .there's a lot to cover, let
me get started . .
also called polyols, are forms of natural sugars. In chemical
structure they resemble both alcohols and sugars, although
they are not actually classified as either. Keep in mind,
alcohol is actually the simplest sugar in existence, with
7 calories per gram, so it shouldn't be so much of a leap
to understand how these compounds can resemble both.
may be listed on the label by specific name. These names include
sorbitol, mannitol, and xylitol.
When added to
food products in place of sugar, these sugar alcohols provide
sweetness, texture and help retain moistness. You'll find
sugar alcohols in sugar-free candies, chewing gum, frozen
desserts, cookies, cakes, and pastries.
sugars contain 4 calories per gram, sugar alcohols contain
an average of only 2.6, thus if you have equal amounts of
sugar and sugar alcohol (i.e. sucrose and sorbitol) you'd
only be getting about 60% of the calories of sugar with sugar
alcohol in its place. It's important to note that while they
may not bring about the same sudden rush of sugar into the
bloodstream as simple sugars, sugar alcohols can have an effect
on your blood sugar and ultimately insulin production, albeit
less than sucrose would bring about.
xylitol are found in plant foods such as fruit and berries,
but keep in mind, sugar is extracted from a plant food, namely
sugar cane. Although the sugar alcohols are present in certain
fruits, the supply that is used in commercial product manufacture
is usually synthetic . . . created in a laboratory.
Polyols are absorbed slowly when compared to sucrose. A percentage
of the sugar alcohol ingested will not be absorbed. While
that is presented as a benefit, in that you never transfer
those calories through the gastrointestinal wall, an excessive
amount remaining in your digestive tract can result in intestinal
discomfort and diarrhea. The polite way of describing this
on disclaimers is, "sugar alcohol may have a laxative
effect." 30-50 grams of sorbitol would likely be enough
to bring about that effect.
It's also important
to note that sugar alcohols do not add sweetness to foods
at the same level as sugar. Sorbitol, for example, is about
50-60% as sweet as sugar. In order to mimic or come close
to the taste of a sugar laden food, greater amounts would
be needed or the sugar alcohols would have to be combined
with simple sugars and/or other artificial sweeteners.
been loosely accepted by the AMA as "OK" for people
with diabetes, mainly because the slow absorption keeps blood
sugar spikes far lower than sucrose would. In other words,
the glycemic response is lower. Again, that doesn't make it
ideal. Although it is not absorbed completely, or as rapidly
as simple sugars, a good amount of sugar alcohol ingested
can be absorbed, those calories DO count, and a bllod sugar
spike is quite possible.
label indications of sugar alcohol present include Hydrogenated
Starch Hydrolysates (HSH), erythritol, and mannitol
Xylitol is the
sugar alcohol most commonly found in chewing gum. This is
actually due more to the American Dental Association than
any panel of nutrition experts! Xylitol does not allow mouth
bacteria to ferment and cause decay, thus incidence of cavities
may be reduced. Diabetics and those concerned with blood sugar
irregularities should not see this as open license to chew
xylitol sweetened gum. While small amounts may be OK, more
than 60 grams per day can be hazardous for diabetics. When
you begin to take in large amounts of xylitol, the liver converts
the excess to glucose, simple sugar, and if enough insulin
is not produced to handle the increase in glucose, high blood
sugar and the associated risk factors are imminent. Even if
you do not have blood sugar irregularities, the increase in
glucose can hormonally alter insulin and glucagon levels to
limit fat release.
out by sugar sellers may isolate xylitol as a carcinogen,
however, that information is the result of a single study
where xylitol was fed to lab rats in excessive dosages.
In many supposedly
sugar free candies, canned foods, and chocolates, sorbitol
is used. It is used in some low sugar or sugar free "sports
bars" since it does help keep certain ingredients moist
are not limited to supermarket foods. You'll find them in
cough drops, breath mints, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and even
some pharmaceutical products.
If you are ever
confused by the apparent math that goes into calculating calories
of foods containing sugar alcohols, note that while simple
sugars provide 4 calories per gram, different polyols will
throw off different numbers of calories. HSH for example presents
3 calories per gram, which is only 1 calorie short of actual
next one to note would be aspartame since it is so widely
used and so many misconceptions abound.
you don't recognize the name, Aspartame, there's no doubt
you'll notice its commercial presence under the names of Equal
and Nutrasweet. I've written about Aspartame in response to
several questions asked over the last year, so I'll keep it
brief here. While many have heard that aspartame causes everything
from headaches to seizures, and most health food stores avoid
products sweetened with aspartame, aspartame is composed of
two amino acids found in any health food store, Aspartic Acid
and Phenylalanine. There is a condition known as phenylketonuria
(PKU), a congenital condition that makes it
for the body to metabolize phenylalanine. If an individual
with PKU ingests aspartame, or pure phenylalanine for that
matter, they do run serious risks. Toxic compounds accumulate
in the body and lead to nerve damage and, in some cases, severe
brain damage. It appears that since aspartame has become such
a threat to sugar sales, and the sugar lobby is so powerful
in the U.S., the risks present in individuals with phenylketonuria
have been used to steer the public away from aspartame use.
The supposed research evidence that anti-aspartame groups
usually quote is sketchy at best, the propaganda is presented
in hyped up scare language, and while I don't encourage constant
use of aspartame, my experience has never led me to anyone
who suffered any of those dreadful side effects we hear about.
It leads me to the opinion that, if it helps you enjoy a cola
or diet soda one in awhile, and you strive to avoid sugar,
aspartame, to my satisfaction, has proven OK. A 1-gram packet
does yield four calories, however, aspartame is much sweeter
than sugar. That influenced the FDA to allow food manufacturers
to discount the calories present in aspartame on food labels.
Since so little is needed, I don't know that in this case
it's a major bone of contention. In fact, on this particular
product I believe the FDA has acted admirably. The pressures
the sugar lobby placed on the FDA throughout the 80's, 90's,
and going into the next millennium did not cause the turnover
of aspartame approval. That's likely why there is so much
underground disparaging of aspartame attempting to "scare
the masses" one person at a time. Some of that underground
literature suggests that the amounts used in testing was negligible
when compared with actual use. After several court visits,
hearings, and reviews, the FDA reviewed data including clinical
studies in which humans who received single doses of aspartame
up to 200 mg/kg of body weight -- equal to consuming 70 cans
of aspartame-sweetened soft drink in one sitting -- showed
no ill effects whatsoever.
over 100 million people are reported to use aspartame. The
CDC estimates 15,000 people in the US have PKU. It seems absurd
to use such a small segment of the population to evidence
supposed danger which has never been documented in conclusive
research. Sure, people with PKU should avoid aspartame, but
they should also avoid milk and meats, two foods that contain
more phenylalanine than diet cola. You don't see the same
effort going into pressuring the FDA to make the sale of milk
and meat illegal. To further satisfy pressures without pulling
this product from the market, the FDA required all products
sweetened with aspartame to contain the words, "Phenylketonurics:
of the reasons producers of health supplements steer away
from using aspartame as a sweetener is due only to public
perception. It you are trying to lose fat, there's no question
simple sugars can interrupt the fat release process. When
I created my EAT! formulas, I knew I wanted to make something
sugar free. I didn't like the calorie content that would be
added and the risk of stomach upset if I chose to use sugar
alcohols. I had samples prepared using varied sweeteners.
With aspartame, because it is so much sweeter than sugar,
such a small amount was required I decided to run the risk
of limited sales due to public perception and create the most
viable product possible. In order to reduce further the amount
of aspartame in EAT!, I combined it with acesulfame-K which
I'll describe next.
might know acesulfame-K (acesulfame-potassium) commercially
as Sweet One or Sunette. It is actually 200 times sweeter
than sugar! It has received some bad press (again, I believe
the "Sugar Powers" are to blame) in its chemical
structure being compared to that of saccharin, a product that
was once pulled from the shelves due to suggestions that it
might be a carcinogen. While one study did show that acesulfame-K
fed rats grew more tumors than those not fed the compound,
more than ninety credible studies have shown that this potassium
compound passes through the body unchanged. Because it is
so sweet, such small amounts are used it has not been associated
with any negative digestive concerns. It has an excellent
shelf life, is unaffected at a wide range of temperatures
and humidity, and can be used in baking so it is quite appealing
for lowering or eliminating sugar content in foods. The reason
I didn't use acesulfame-K exclusively in EAT! is because,
although in most foods acesulfame-K offers a clean sweetness,
when mixed with the vitamin-mineral formulation in the EAT!
product there was a slight bitter aftertaste. By finding the
right mix of acesulfame-K and aspartame, we created a delicious
sugar free formula. Studies on acesulfame-K have show no effect
on blood sugar levels which makes it acceptable for diabetics.
Despite pressures from "political groups" to step
up testing, acesulfame-K has an excellent track record of
safety. I don't want to scare you with the "carcinogen
suggestion," so I'm going to balance it out with some
pretty powerful evidence as to the apparent safety of this
sweetener. To date, over 100 credible studies have been conducted.
Joint Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA), the scientific
advisory body to the World Health Organization and the Food
and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, reviewed
the available research on acesulfame-K and concluded that
it is safe. The Scientific Committee for Food of the European
Union published a comprehensive assessment of sweetening agents
in 1985. This committee of toxicological experts from member
countries accepted acesulfame-K for use in foods and beverages.
Acesulfame-K has been used in Europe since 1983, and in the
U.S. since 1988, with no known documented adverse health effects.
saccharin so I'll cover that one next. You know it as Sweet
n' Low. This compound was discovered over 100 years ago. Those
who discovered it found it to be intensely sweet. Food processors
now recognize that saccharin can actually be hundreds of times
sweeter than sugar. That allows them to cut food costs substantially.
Since it also passes through the body unchanged, it found
its way into the marketplace initially as a sweetener for
diabetics. Of course the weight loss market soon jumped on
the bandwagon and saccharin became quite popular. It always
seemed to raise eyebrows with the FDA, consumer groups, and
of course sugar concerns, and while it was banned early on,
it was restored during the sugar-short years of World War
I. For the next few decades, it was manufactured in foods,
in powders, and in little tiny pills. It's only drawback was
a slight metallic aftertaste. Food processors learned that
if they added cyclamate to saccharin (I'll get to that one
next), they could minimize that aftertaste. Of course consumer
groups and scientists went to work feeding cyclamates to rats.
In the 1960's two different studies suggested that cyclamate
causes cancer . . . at least in rats. Testers went to work
feeding those little furry creatures saccharin until they
were able to surmise it might cause bladder tumors in rats.
(Note that any time something threatens the sale of sugar,
it sooner or later is considered unsafe or dangerous). The
FDA moved to limit the use of saccharin, but Americans were
consuming 2,500 tons of saccharin a year. That gave the saccharin
manufacturers some money, some clout in Congress, and the
ability to launch the politically oriented Calorie Control
Council. They managed to hold off the FDA and keep saccharin
on the market. The FDA did, however, remove it from their
"Generally Recognized as Safe" list in 1972. Laws
were finally passed that any products containing saccharin
had to post the words "may be hazardous to your health"
and "has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory
animals" on their labels. The power of the saccharin
groups held up and while it is classified by the FDA as a
"weak carcinogen," Sweet'n Low sales soar.
do not contain calories and offer sweetness 30 times that
of sucrose. I won't go any further on this one since they
were banned in the 1970's. There are efforts taking place
to reintroduce it, but for now, you won't find cyclamates
being sold commercially as a sweetener.
Leave it to science. They've figured
out a way to chemically make sugar 100 times sweeter. The
end result . . . Sucralose, sold commercially under the brand
name, Splenda. I use sucralose in some of my meal replacement
formulas. Because it's so sweet, such a tiny amount is needed
it's relatively insignificant in terms of its ability to spike
blood sugar. Of course, as all other sugar substitutes, it
will get some bad press, but based on the information I've
come across, I don't see any reason to avoid it.
I told you that would be a long answer, but I believe that
about covers it. One final note, stevia has not yet received
full FDA approval. It is a natural sugar compound found in
a plant, but is 100 times sweeter than sugar. It can act as
a sugar replacement and is not likely to throw sugar levels
out of whack due to the tiny amounts required. I won't get
into blaming sugar politics for the slow approval (although
I feel strongly that it is a fair representation of the delay),
but I will let you in on a little secret. Many Oriental markets
sell stevia. You might want to give it a try.
Now, if you'd
like to know what's legit and what gets a big thumbs down,
check out the section on questionable products, [ Does
It Work? ]
You Haven't Been There Yet:
on [ Supportive Eating ] to
learn the keys to the "Right Nutrition."
on [ Fitness Superstore
] to get any of Phil's Proven products.
on the [ MENU ] to explore other topics
and fitness truths.
Pages to Explore:
Fitness Superstore ]
[ Home ]
[ Fat-Free ]
[ Sugar Free ]
[ Does It Work? ]
designed and operated by
Phil Kaplan's Fitness Associates
3132 Fortune Way, #D-1
Wellington, FL 33414
Fax 561 204-2184