You have most likely seen the T.V ads for the low calorie sweetener Splenda by now. These ads claim that Splenda is “made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar.” But what is Splenda? How can something that is made from sugar, which we all know has a caloric value, be calorie free? What has been done to create Splenda? Is it really safe to consume? Lets look at some facts and decide together if this is something that you should put into your body or not.
What is Splenda exactly?
Splenda is the brand name for an artificial sweetener called Sucralose. Splenda is the number one selling sugar substitute in North America, catering to a whopping 20% of the population. The manufacturing process is a little technical. All you really need to know is that sucrose or table sugar is chemically altered through the introduction of three chlorine molecules which causes sucrose to become Sucralose. Sucralose cannot be metabolized by the body because this particular chemical concoction does not occur in nature.
Basically what this means is that your body does not recognize it as food and thus your body cannot effectively absorb all the calories it contains. Sucralose does have calories, your body just can’t access them and this is why it is known as a “low calorie sweetener.” That being said, of the few studies done on human consumption of Sucralose, it was reported that some participants absorbed as much as 15% of the calories provided by Sucralose, while others absorbed as little as 4%. Each person is different so know that you may be metabolizing more than you think when you ingest Splenda.
The other most important factor to keep in mind when you are considering using Sucralose or Splenda is that there have been no long term health and safety studies done for this sweetener nor have any studies been done on those who are pregnant or nursing. The longest study that has been conducted to date was only 3 months long. We still do not know if there will be any adverse effects from prolonged consumption of Splenda.
Splenda Won’t Help You Lose Weight
One of the main problems that we see when we look at low or no calorie sweeteners is the effect that it has on the brain, and on the diet overall. Biologically speaking, when your tongue tastes something sweet it sends chemical signals to your brain which communicate that you have ingested something that is going to provide your body with calories.
Everything in nature that has a sweet taste is either a mono, di or polysaccharide – meaning it is a carbohydrate or in simple terms, it is a sugar of some sort. Your body runs on glucose – which is a sugar. So when your body believes that you are eating a carbohydrate it expects to get some quick, usable energy from that food. When you eat an artificially produced low or no calorie sweetener, you don’t get those carbohydrates. What this does is causes your brain and your body to essentially “look” for the missing carbohydrates. This causes you to crave more and more sugar until your body finally gets the hit it was expecting. This is why eating artificial sweeteners can actually lead to increased appetites and increased overall sugar and calorie consumption, even though you’d expect this to be the opposite since your sweetener has no calories.
8 Sweet Alternatives
If you are looking to replace your white sugar habit with something that is healthier, we have a few suggestions for you that are natural. Artificial sweeteners are not your only option when it comes to supporting healthy stable blood sugar levels and a healthy stable weight. Here are a few of our favourite natural sweeteners:
1. Stevia Leaf: Stevia is a green leaf that is naturally sweet, which has been used medicinally for thousands of years. It has been used for the treatment of high blood pressure, heart burn and lowering uric acid levels. Stevia leaf extract is about 300 times sweeter than regular sugar so a little goes a very, very long way. You can purchase the whole leaf ground into a powder, which you can then steep in warm water and then strain. The remaining water will have a sweetness that you can add to drinks and other food applications that require liquid sweeteners. You may also find stevia in a liquid extract form – again this type of stevia will be about 300 times sweeter than sugar so be sure to taste what you are making as you go along until you get used to how much you need to use in your recipes. Stevia extract is obviously not 100% natural as it has been through an extraction process. Stevia does not raise blood sugar levels. Please note: We do not recommend using the white powdered stevia.
2. Coconut Sugar: Coconut sugar is the dried sap from the coconut palm flower. It is a low glycemic index sweetener which means that it will not cause blood sugar spikes and drops, but rather will help to keep blood sugar levels more stable. Coconut sugar has a flavor similar to brown sugar, but has a far greater nutrient content in comparison. Coconut sugar is rich in potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, Vitamins B1, B2, B3 and B6 as well as a sizeable amino acid profile. Coconut sugar is made by reducing the liquid content of the sap until you are left with only the dry solids. Coconut sap has been used in Indonesia and the Philippines for thousands of years due to the fact that the coconut tree is native to these countries.
3. Coconut Nectar: Coconut nectar is very similar to coconut sugar, the only difference being that it has not been reduced as much as coconut sugar so it has a higher water content and remains in liquid form. It is rich in the same nutrients as coconut sugar, and is also a low glycemic index sweetener.
4. Xylitol: This sugar alcohol is found naturally in the fibers of variety of fruits and vegetables. Xylitol is a low glycemic index sweetener that has been shown in studies to help reduce the incidence of root caries in teeth. It is not a no calorie sweetener, but it provides about 1/3 fewer calories than regular table sugar. There are no known negative side effects of xylitol aside from the laxative effect that it may have when taken in large doses. Remember that all alcohol sugars will have a laxative effect at high enough doses. Xylitol can also be used to help prevent ear infections because it can’t be fermented, it can’t be used as an energy source for bacteria.
5. Maple Syrup: Maple syrup is not a low glycemic sweetener like the others, but it is a good natural option if you have healthy blood sugar regulation. It is made by boiling down the sap of maple trees which concentrates the sugars by reducing the water content of the sap. Maple syrup is far from an empty calorie sweetener as it contains potassium, calcium, zinc and manganese. Maple Syrup also contains phenols which are antioxidants that help prevent oxidative damage. Just be sure that you are purchasing pure maple syrup and not maple flavored syrup. Look for “grade B” maple syrup or darker, as these contain the most minerals.
6. Organic local honey: Local honey has some awesome health benefits. Again, this is a sweetener best chosen if you have healthy blood sugar levels already. Local honey will contain pollens from local plant life that when ingested can help your body produce antibodies. This means that regular consumption of local honey can help to treat seasonal environmental allergies. Unpasteurized honey contains vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants such as Vitamin C. Each variety of honey will have different nutritional components based on the conditions of the plants and bees.
7. Dates/dried fruits: Dates are a wonderful sweetener because there are so many varieties to choose from, each with their own flavor profile. Medjool dates are one of the most popular choices due to their highest water and sugar content. Other choices are the deglet noor, peanut butter date, honey date, hafez dates and kadwari dates. Dates are rich in fiber, potassium, manganese, calcium and iron, as well as B vitamins. Dates can be soaked and blended and used as a sweet paste in baked goods, raw desserts, dressings and sauces or chopped up and added to items that could use a chewy, sweet note. Dates are also a great energy shot alternative! You can use other dried fruits to add sweetness to foods such as raisins, prunes, apricots and figs.
8. Yacon Syrup: Yacon Syrup is made from the yacon root which is native to the Andes mountains. Due to its high concentration of FOS (fructooligosacharides), which is an indigestible fiber, yacon syrup is lower in calories and sugars than other sweeteners like table sugar. This sweetener is considered safe for use by those with diabetes because it does not spike blood sugar levels. It is also highly nutritious and will help to nourish the good bacteria in your gut! Yacon tastes similar to maple syrup and has a nice caramel-like flavor.
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