Posted on 09/06/2016 at 12:00 AM by Embria Health Sciences
Let’s face it…we all like sweet sugary treats. Throughout our lives we have always treated ourselves with something sweet as a reward or to comfort. There is a reason we have a tendency to be addicted to sweets. Our physiology is designed to be drawn to anything sugary because carbohydrates (anything that breaks down into glucose) are our primary sources of energy.
The problem lies in the quality of the carbohydrates that we are eating. If you have a diet rich in whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (complex carbohydrates) then there is a balance of glucose that gets infused into our blood stream for energy. When we eat too many simple carbohydrates (sugar) then the glucose gets released into our blood stream very quickly and we have to produce a bunch of insulin (the hormone that puts the glucose into our cells for energy or stores it as fat if we have too much glucose) to take the sugar out of our blood stream. Too much glucose in our blood stream leads to diabetes.
We are always looking for healthy sugar substitute options to appease our sugar craving. There are naturally occurring sweeteners such as maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, agave, and raw cane sugar that are certainly more natural forms of sugar as opposed to white processed sugar. However, those natural sugars are still sugar and if eaten in abundance, will still have an effect on our glucose and insulin balance as well as feeding unhealthy bacteria in our gut, which thrive on the sweet stuff. Sugar can also have a negative affect on the immune system directly after ingestion.(1)
So man has engineered sweeteners in hopes of creating something sweet that won’t damage our waistlines. But are all no- or low-calorie sugars better for you than regular sugars?
Definitely not. Aspartame and sucralose are no calorie sweeteners that have been widely used for decades and were once thought to be a great alternative for sugar-laden foods. It has now been discovered that they aren’t as inert as once thought. Long-term ingestion of these types of sweeteners is now thought to disrupt the gut microbiome and possibly lead to insulin resistance.(2) This means that the cells in our body start to become resistant to insulin so we have to produce more insulin to get the job done.
So what low calorie sugars should you try? A more promising group of sweeteners are the sugar alcohols. Sugar alcohols are a hybrid between sugar and alcohol and have about half the calories that sucrose (table sugar) has. In one study, xylitol and erythritol were shown to stimulate a hormone in the gut that produced satiety and slowed down gastric emptying as well as having little to no effect on insulin production.(3) Xylitol has also been shown to have positive effects on the gut microbiome. It seems that some gut bacteria are able to utilize xylitol and therefore it is a prebiotic.(4) Prebiotics are substances that we don’t digest but bacteria are able to ingest and use as food to grow more healthy bacteria. Dentists also seem to be a big fan of xylitol containing gum because it seems to prevent plaque-causing bacteria in the mouth.(5)
With anything though, too much of a good thing is not a good idea. Eating too much xylitol can lead to gastric distress and diarrhea. It is always best to eat a variety of whole foods and if you need a little treat now and then, try to pick wisely and only on occasion.