Saturday, May 2, 2009

Sweeteners-not so sweet for your health

There is a tendency for things in health to be made far more complicated than they need to be. Coupled with this is the tendency to look for answers in just about every place but the one where it lies. Rather than ask which sweeteners to use (there is a “battle” raging –see link 1) ask should I use sweeteners at all?

Two recent reports focus on sweeteners in food. There has been much debate over the role of high fructose corn syrup in the development of obesity and diabetes. A study at University of California(link 2) showed that consuming beverages with high fructose syrup increased the levels of LDL or bad cholesterol in the blood stream more than those sweetened with glucose thus linking it to an increase in risk of heart disease.

The study was small and preliminary. It seems that it is the amount of fructose, which is the key. Hence eating fruit (which contains fructose) is not a problem. The concentrated form in processed foods is and especially if consumed often.

The other report(link 3) is about stevia the new artificial sweetener derived from a South American shrub. Whilst it is “natural” as against aspartame and saccharin, it is still processed before being used. The FDA has declared it “generally recognized as safe.”
There is some argument as to whether it is linked to cancer or not.

This is, surprisingly, beside the point. The issue with any sweetener artificial or “natural” is that it can lead to obesity. The body associates sweetness with energy (calories.) When they don’t arrive you remain hungry. This is particularly the case with low calorie sweet drinks. Sweet taste with no calories will make people hungry and hence they eat. Sweeteners may also affect our natural gut “good” bacteria.

Here is the thing about any sweetener. There is no need for them. It is much better to have real sugar but just not that much of it. There is no need to drink zero calorie sweet beverages when the best zero calorie beverage is water. The answer to the issue of obesity is not to consume “low calorie” sweetened processed foods. It is to consume “real” food, which will give your body the energy, and nutrients it needs.

You wouldn’t dream of pulling up at the gasoline (petrol) station and deliberately put fuel unsuited to your car into the tank. So why would you put food not suited to your body into yourself. Eat a diet based on real food - food that was until recently moving around or growing somewhere. Food, which will have to be thrown out next week if not eaten. Food, which has no numbers on the label. Food, which your great great grandparents would recognize as food.

When you do this the merits or problems of fructose, corn syrup or stevia becomes irrelevant. You will have the right fuel in your body and your health will be better for it. 1 2 3


  1. Great blog Dr Joe, keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks for the information (or should I say, raising the question) about stevia. Two friends who are very health-conscious have been singing its praises lately. I feel fortunate that I don't have a sweet tooth (or at least one that can be satisfied with a mango).

    I'm thinking even pineapple, natural as it is, can throw one off balance because it is so sweet.

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  4. Hi Dr Trent
    Thanks for your kind words
    Dr Joe

  5. Hi Leora
    There is not an issue with sweetness in nature unless one seriously overindulges.The issue with stevia is the concentration and processing.
    Pineapple is fine It is unlikely one would eat a whole one at a sitting hence moderation and common sense are the keys.
    Dr Joe

  6. What do you think about the new Truvia product? Sweetner packets made from the Stevia leaf? Just wondering...

  7. Hi Sandy
    As mentioned in the blog Stevia is "natural" but highly processed to make the sweetener.Also there is the issue of the body not getting calories it expects -leaving you hungry.It is likely "safe" My view is that it is better to have real sugar/sweetness but just not that much rather than use artificial sweeteners even if they are plant derived.
    Rice syrup is probably the pick of the bunch as it is absorbed more slowly
    Dr Joe