The Most Dangerous Sweeteners If You Have Diabetes
Sugar is the worst stuff that you eat or drink. It’s not good for anyone, but it’s especially dangerous for anyone who has diabetes. It raises our blood sugar and increases our weight without giving us any nutrients in return. Sugar is insidious too because it’s disguised under at least 56 different names.
What we call “table sugar” is one of the worst sugars, sucrose. This sugar is actually two sugars, half fructose and half glucose. Fructose is the sugar that our liver metabolizes, which turns into fat when we eat more than the small amount in fruit. But when we eat a lot of fructose, we can get fatty liver disease and then cirrhosis of the liver.
Table sugar comes from sugarcane or sugar beets. High-fructose corn syrup, made from corn stalks by a secret chemical enzymatic process, has about the same ratio of fructose to glucose as table sugar does. But HFCS can damage the lining of our intestines letting bacteria get into our bloodstream and trigger inflammation. This can lead to diabetes and obesity or make them worse.
Besides honey, some of the most common natural sweeteners are maple syrup, molasses, and coconut palm sugar. Natural, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean healthful. Like honey, the main trouble with each of them is that they are about half fructose, according to the USDA’s National Nutrient Database and J.J. Virgin.
Sometimes the ads for agave nectar will say that it’s “good for diabetics.” When a doctor told me in 1994 that I have diabetes, that fooled me before I began to write about it in my first bookWhat Makes My Blood Glucose Levels Go Up…and Down? Agave nectar, which is sometimes known as agave syrup, does have a low glycemic index. That’s because agave nectar is almost totally sugar, 82 percent of which is fructose.
The names of typical natural sugars end with ose. In addition to fructose and sucrose, the most common one is glucose (dextrose). While our bodies handle glucose with less trouble than fructose or sucrose, any glucose we eat is very fast acting, spiking our blood sugar. That’s why some people use glucose tabs when they go hypo. The other common natural sugar, lactose, comes from milk. But sucrose and fructose are the only sugars used as added sweeteners.
The U.S. FDA has approved 6 artificial sweeteners. The main ones are sucrose (Splenda), saccharin (Sweet ’n Low, etc.), and aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Sugar Twin). The others are acesulfame potassium, neotame, and advantame, each made chemically to be many times sweeter than sugar. They usually have a few calories from bulking agents. The FDA says that they are safe, but they remain highly controversial.
Sugar alcohols aren’t sugar and they aren’t alcohol either. They are a type of carbohydrate known as polyols. Of the eight sugar alcohols that the FDA regulates, xylitol is the most common and is about as sweet as table sugar but has about 60% of its calories. Large amounts of xylitol can cause digestive problems. Erythritol is 60-80% as sweet as sugar, has the fewest calories, just 5% of sugar’s, and doesn’t cause stomach distress.
The best sweeteners are natural ones that don’t have any calories. They don’t therefore have any carbohydrates and their glycemic index is zero. It may sound too good to be true, but it’s for real. Stevia, extracted from the leave of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana), is readily available from many sources and can be found in either powdered or liquid form without any bulking agent. You can also get organic stevia. It’s the best for most people.
Some people don’t like the taste of stevia. For them the best sweetener may be monk fruit or Luo Han Guo, which is an extract from the Siraitia grosvenorii fruit. But it’s considerably more expensive than stevia and is generally only available as Monk Fruit in the Raw, which uses maltodextrin as a bulking agent. I like stevia and monk fruit, but I use much less stevia to get equivalent sweetness.