23 February 2012

Sugar's Charlatan: A Safe Alternative?

Having studied the materials from my last post on the toxic nature of sugar and HFCS, most of you should be inclined to, at a minimum, reduce your sugar intake (if not completely eliminate it) within your diet. (I use diet here, not in the restrictive sense, rather, the kinds of food that you habitually eat; this is not a quick-fix or fad, it is a change of habit).

So, now that your rituals of sugary-debauchery have been proscribed, how might you get that sweet fix you just “need.”  Notwithstanding the fact that you will see health benefits from simply reducing your sugar intake (and by more than a few grams a day), I would strongly recommend that it be eliminated completely, for health and safety’s sake. Your next propensity, then, may be one of three notions: a) Cry, because I “stole” your candy, b) eat an abundance of fruit (which, in reality, is just alcohol without the buzz; but that’s for another post), or c) use substitutes for sugar (or as I call them, Sugar’s Charlatans). I will continue now with the latter of your options.

Aspartame, sucralose, stevia, and the like, are familiar alternatives for a sweet additive without the calories. However, if it actually were true that the accumulation of fat (adipose tissue) was due to an over-consumption of calories directly, then the answer would be simple: zero calories, perfect solution! However, this long-standing belief that fat loss or gain are dependent variables of energy in versus energy out is a great irony. We are not overweight because we eat too many calories, per se; rather, obesity is a disorder of fat accumulation – it is that your fat cells are storing too much fat. [Peter Attia explains this idea more in a short video] So, this begs at least two questions:
1)   Are non-sugar substitutes safe?
2)   Will they make me amass fat?

Well, let’s look at how they work: Artificial and natural sweeteners add sweetness without the “burden” of calories – why? Chiefly, because they are so sweet – up to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar – consequently we need only a tiny amount to achieve the same sweetness. Additionally, the body does not fully break down or absorb them; so the few calories they would contain do not fully contribute to our energy taken in; nor do most of these arouse the secretion of insulin from our pancreas, thus, not directly promoting fat storage. However, this is not true for every individual and every non-sugar substitute sweetener. Other sugar substitutes, such as sugar alcohols (e.g., sorbitol, xylitol), are not actually “sweeter” than sucrose, they just “have different metabolic and digestive properties,” as quoted by Dr. Attia. Although you are consuming non-zero calories (e.g., a stick of gum contains 1-2 grams of sugar alcohols and 5 calories), in most people, unlike sugar, they do not cause secretion of insulin due to their distinct chemical structure. Just note that an excess of sugar alcohols will most likely cause gastrointestinal distress, not limited to bloating, tenderness, and even diarrhea – YUCK!  [See figure below for chemical structures] On this account, it is reasonable to believe that non-sugar substitutes will not cause an accumulation of fat if ingested, however, this cannot be said for everyone; we would be wise to experiment for ourselves.

On the matter of safety, the American Dietetic Association has approved the use of products such as, NutraSweet/Equal (aspartame), Splenda (sucralose), Sweet ‘N Low (saccharin), Sweet One (acesulfame), and Truvia (stevia) for people with diabetes, pregnant women, and children. Although these sweeteners are “generally regarded as safe,” as is sugar, experts remain wary. In moderation, however, they can satisfy cravings for sweets while limiting your insulin response. If you must add something sweet to a beverage or meal, you are better off using a substitute for sugar than sugar itself. Still, if you are looking to kick the habit of needing a taste of something sweet, you’re best to avoid sugar and it’s Charlatans altogether. In time, your cravings will subside and you will not miss a thing!

 Until next time..... M

1 comment:

  1. What about honey and maple syrup? In the comments of Gary Taubes NYT sugar article, he says they're still fructose, but surmises that people are inclined to use much less of them as they have distinct flavors that come through.

    From an environmental perspective, both are better in terms of cultivation and processing (especially honey - unless you ask a bee).

    Artificial sweeteners scare me; they haven't been around long enough to know what the real effects on our bodies are. There was also a study in 2005 that made a link between Diet Coke and obesity, though they were quick to say that it wasn't clear if it was really the Diet Coke or some related lifestyle factor.