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Alternative Sweeteners. What’s the Risk?

Alternative Sweeteners. What’s the Risk?

Further sugars come in numerous forms other than just your simple table sugar, and the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup. Alternative sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey, agave, and coconut sugar are promoted and sold as “natural substitutes’ and often publicised as healthier alternative. Yet what I want to know, is that is this actually true, or are they brain-washing us again within the millions?

Very Little Nutritional Value.

Just like sugar, these alternatives are offer very little nutrient value to us, yet they add substantial calories to our diet. Replacements such as maple syrup and honey elevate blood glucose similarly to sugar, leading to disease-causing effects in the body. Agave and coconut sugar rank lower on the glycemic index, but are still empty calories and have other negative effects…Repeated consumption to these overly sweet tastes, can actually dull our taste buds to the naturally sweet tastes of berries and other fresh fruits, which maintains those horrid cravings for sweets and can prevent weight loss. Even though some of these ‘natural’ sweeteners undergo fewer processing steps than sugar, they may retain some phytochemicals from the plants they originate from, but their nutrient-to-calorie ratio is still very low, and they contain minimal or no fibre to slow the absorption of their sugars. The negative health effects of added sugar to anything can include increased risk of weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer.

Fructose Stimulates Fat Production

Both fructose and glucose are broken down differently by the body. When fructose is absorbed, it is transported directly to the liver, where it is broken down to produce energy. Fructose itself does not stimulate insulin secretion by the pancreas. However, much of the fructose is actually metabolised and converted into glucose in the liver, so it does raise blood glucose somewhat, although not as much as sucrose or glucose would do. Despite its low glycemic index, added fructose in the form of sweeteners still pose health risks. For example; fructose stimulates fat production by the liver, which causes elevated blood triglycerides, a predictor of heart disease. These elevated triglycerides have been reported in studies after consuming fructose-sweetened drinks, such as cocoa cola and 7up, and even more was this effect heightened in the participants who were insulin-resistant. When used as a sweetener, fructose also seems to have effects on hunger and satiety hormones that may lead to increased calorie intake in following meals.

So what is a better alternative?

So in summary, when we ingest any sweetener, be it ‘natural’ or not, we get a mix of disease-promoting effects, such as the glucose-elevating effects of added glucose and the triglyceride-raising effects of added fructose. Sweeteners, unlike whole fruits, are concentrated sugars without the necessary fibre to regulate the entry of glucose into the bloodstream and fructose to the liver. All caloric sweeteners have effects that promote weight gain, diabetes and heart disease, regardless of their ratio of glucose to fructose, or what type of plant they originate from. So the better option? If you fancy something sweet, eat whole fruit! Simple!




  • Fagherazzi G, Vilier A, Saes Sartorelli D, et al: Consumption of artificially and sugar-sweetened beverages and incident type 2 diabetes in the Etude Epidemiologique aupres des femmes de la Mutuelle Generale de l’Education Nationale-European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition cohort.Am J Clin Nutr 
  • Malik VS, Hu FB: Sweeteners and Risk of Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes: The Role of Sugar-Sweetened Beverages.Curr Diab Rep 
  • Glycemic Index of Coco Sugar. Republic of the Phillippines Department of Science and Technology Food and Nutrition Research Institute.http://www.pca.da.gov.ph/pdf/glycemic.pdf. Accessed October 3, 2013

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