Sweeteners: the good, the bad and the ugly



Let’s talk about sweeteners.  First of all, it deserves mentioning that the average American consumes 60-100 pounds of sugar per year (numbers vary according to the source).  This is a drastic increase over the past 200 years, from approximately 18 pounds per year. Obviously, humans like the taste of sugar.  It doesn’t take much extrapolation to associate the increase in sugar consumption with the increase in obesity and diabetes, among other health problems.  It’s also easy to assume that the increase in available processed foods and drinks have made this easier to attain.

Of course, no sweeteners are good for you in large quantities, but let’s minimize the harm.  I hope you already know that natural sweeteners are the only way to go.  Honey and maple syrup are the best, because they don’t need to be processed to be good.  They are naturally sweet and don’t require chemical modification.  They can be used in almost any recipe that calls for sugar (you may need to adapt the other liquid ingredients).  Other great sweeteners include fruit purees, dates and other dried fruits or juices.

Here’s a breakdown of the bad stuff:

White sugar is a highly processed product from sugar cane.  Brown sugar is just slightly less processed, containing more of the natural molasses.  Molasses is just what comes out of processing sugar cane to make white sugar (molasses actually has some nutritional benefits, unlike white and brown sugar which have miniscule to NO nutrition).  High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a chemical experiment that is 40-55% fructose (fruit is naturally 0-20% fructose).  It is known to be a major contributor to obesity- do not consume it.  Agave nectar is just as processed and bad for you as high fructose corn syrup.  It actually has more fructose than HFCS, at a whopping 55-90%!  If you own it, throw it away.

Artificial sweeteners like Splenda, NutraSweet, and Equal are chemicals that trick your taste buds into thinking that there is something useful like sugar coming down the tube. Therefore, your body gets all excited for it but then nothing comes of it.  Your gut and liver have to break down these strange chemicals and they don’t know what to do with them.  There have been many studies linking bladder cancer to these sweeteners.  Do NOT use them.

Stevia is a “natural” sweetener, but is rather processed to be in form that is useful.  Have you ever tasted it and noticed the strange aftertaste?  It’s the best out of the other processed sugars, but… Why?  Just use fruit, honey or maple syrup for those times that you want something sweet.

If you have ever tried to completely avoid sugar, you know how hard it is.  It is in products that you would never expect.  Also, taking it away creates a strong desire for it, just like an addiction.  Although it’s not easy to give up, once you do you will realize that you do not need it. You will also notice how excessively sweet everything is! You will be all the better for it.


{Disclaimer: this is not considered personal medical advice, and you should speak with a physician before making diet and lifestyle changes. I’m happy to be that physician; all you need to do is schedule an appointment with me}

Diabetes and Blood Glucose Stabilization

Diabetes is a prevalent condition throughout the world, but is becoming much more so in the United States and other western countries.  The increase is partially attributed to better diagnostic methods, but unfortunately the “western lifestyle” is also to blame.  The CDC reports that 8.3% of the US population has diabetes, and almost 2 million adults are diagnosed every year.

There are several types of diabetes and blood glucose imbalances, outlined below.  Some people do not have a diagnosis of diabetes but are considered pre-diabetic, hyperglycemic, or hypoglycemic.  Much of the information below can be useful for any type of blood glucose disorder.

  • Type I diabetes is an autoimmune condition, often diagnosed in youth.  In a typically short period of time, the pancreas will stop making insulin and the patient must inject it.
  • Type II diabetes is generally more gradual and occurs in adulthood, and is often a result of diet and lifestyle factors. If caught early, it can sometimes be reversed or halted with treatment. Pre-diabetes is the very early stage of this disease.
  • Type 1.5 diabetes is a combination of the above two types.  It often begins in late childhood or adulthood, and has an autoimmune component as well as lifestyle component.
  • Glucose stabilization issues: this is a catch-all term to include hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia, episodes of low or high blood glucose.  These are often described symptomatically with dizziness, lightheadedness, low energy, fatigue, decreased athletic performance, and food cravings.  Although difficult to diagnose, diet and lifestyle changes can make dramatic improvements.

Tips for stabilizing your blood glucose:  Diet and lifestyle changes can be incredibly effective!

Physical activity: A mix of aerobic and resistance training is the most effective.  Studies have shown that high intensity interval training works well.  This type of exercise is quick, easy and doesn’t require any special equipment.  Plus, studies have shown that just 150 minutes of physical activity per week lowers the risk of diabetes (that’s only 22 minutes per day!).

Diet:  There are a ton of studies on what to eat and what not to eat with diabetes or blood glucose issues.  I’ve found that it’s not just what you eat, but how you eat that affects your blood glucose the most. These are the tips that I find are most successful for my patients:

  • Follow the anti-inflammatory diet guidelines as much as possible (see last post)
  • Protein, Fat and Fiber at EVERY MEAL!
  • Eat a small portion every 4 hours during the day
  • Do not eat at least an hour before bedtime
  • AVOID: high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, soda, energy drinks
  • MINIMIZE: baked goods, corn, alcohol, caffeine

Nutritional and botanical medicine:  Many individual nutrients have been studied rigorously and determined to be helpful with blood sugar stabilization.  Although most of these nutrients are part of a healthy daily diet, some are notched up to therapeutic doses.  Botanical therapies are used regularly in Naturopathic Medicine.  Discuss these with a physician before beginning;  to find healthy and safe doses tailored to you.

  • Chromium: improves insulin sensitivity, central obesity, and glucose control
  • Vitamin D: Supplementation improves insulin sensitivity and reduces inflammation
  • Magnesium: Deficiency independently associated with the development diabetes. Supplementation lowers fasting blood glucose
  • Botanical therapies: Curcumin/turmeric, fenugreek, bitter melon, berberine/Oregon grape are used to lower blood glucose.

{Disclaimer: this is not considered personal medical advice, and you should speak with a physician before making diet and lifestyle changes. I’m happy to be that physician; all you need to do is schedule an appointment with me}

National Diabetes Fact Sheet.  CDC.  http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/factsheet11.htm

The cost-effectiveness of lifestyle modification or metformin in preventing type 2 diabetes in adults with impaired glucose tolerance. Herman WH, Hoerger TJ, Brandle M, Hicks K, Sorensen S, Zhang P, Hamman RF, Ackermann RT, Engelgau MM, Ratner RE; Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. Annals of Internal Medicine 2005 Mar 1;142(5):323-32.

Acute high-intensity interval exercise reduces the postprandial glucose response and prevalence of hyperglycaemia in patients with type 2 diabetes. Gillen JB,  Diabetes Obes Metab. 2012 Jun;14(6):575-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1463-1326.2012.01564.x.

Blood sugar and insulin stabilization. Pizzorno, J. Presentation from 11/2012.