The Skinny on Sneaky Sweeteners

10 Oct

We humans love us some sweet taste, but we’re a calorie-conscious bunch, so replacing calorie-dense sugar with a variety of calorie free sweetening products has been our preference for over 25 years. Well, the expression “too good to be true” was proven correct again after recent studies gave us a legit wake up call that we might be poisoning ourselves.

By now, we all know to totally avoid aspartame, saccharin, sucralose and the other chemically sugar replacements (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s time to get out from under your rock). But as our collective awareness of what we put in our bodies increases, so does the nasty trickiness of the food industry. Food labeling can be incredibly misleading to people who are genuinely trying to make the right choices, and that is totally not ok.

There’s a new generation of sweeteners on the market and their manufacturers are just so into using cute buzzwords like “raw” and “natural” to get us to think they’ve got the next best thing since, well, Splenda (it was sweet because it came from real sugar, remember?). Not a lot of studies have been done on these guys yet as they’re all fairly new to market,  but a closer look at the manufacturing process should set off some red flags.  I’m not demonizing these products because, welp, clearly I’m not a scientist (I can hear you laughing) But you should be quite aware that you’re not necessarily getting what you think you’re being sold.


Agave: Ugh. Agave as a natural food is a total joke. Ever walk down the baking aisle, see Organic Raw Blue Agave and think “well that sounds cool and healthy?” So many buzzwords! Well hold please. It’s packaged as a “natural” food and sold as a healthy alt to sugar, but did you know that agave has more concentrated fructose than high fructose corn syrup? Doh.

Agave “nectar” isn’t  nectar at all. it comes from a carbohydrate in the plant’s root, similar to the difficult-to-digest starch in corn or rice. It’s chemically converted into “nectar” through a process using caustic acids, clarifiers, and more chemicals, end result a fructose-rich syrup. In summary?  It’s highly refined.  The chemical makeup is typically over 70% fructose. Compare this to high fructose corn syrup, which is 50%.

Double ew.

Xylitol:  Xylitol is marketed as being 100% natural and derived from xylan – found in the fibers of plants such as  berries, beets, bitch, and sugar cane. Awesome. But wait: like agave, it’s also highly refined. Let me get scientific on you for a sec:  Xylitol is produced by the process of sugar hydrogenation. Does that process sound familiar? It should – you’re probably thinking about hydrogentated fats, which we now know (after years of not knowing) are way damaging to the human body.  Hydrogenating sugar involves a nickel-aluminium alloy.  Aluminium= yeah, not so good for the body.

Stevia: Stevia falls into a grey area for the time being – while there haven’t been many studies claiming that it’s harmful,  it’s still very much a refined product. Many processed Stevias also contain other ingredients – like glycerin and Xylitol. A big argument against Stevia claims that calorie-free sweetners trick the body into a state of hypoglycemia which (long explanation short) releases the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline. There isn’t much information available about how Stevia is processed, but for me personally, the bottom line is that I don’t want to eat processed or refined foods.

So what to use instead?

Personally,  I stick with 100% pure maple syrup, raw honey, and blackstrap molasses – all of which are awesome for baking.  And despite deeply hating the name, I occasionally bake with Sucanant (dehydrated sugar cane juice that retains its nutrients)  when a recipe calls for brown sugar. It’s just a little less sweet.   I like to know exactly what I’m putting in my body and these allow that –  I’ll take calories over chemicals any day of the week.




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