It has not escaped my attention that sugar and the many substitutes for it, has been under recent, if not constant, attack. In one week, I absorbed an article warning of the dangers of artificial sweeteners, a discussion of the merits (oxymoron) of sugar versus high-fructose corn syrup and news of skincare products to ward off glycation, the alarming “age accelerating” affects of sugar on the skin. This hasn’t exactly knocked Ebola off the front pages, but in terms of what comes through my mail and across my computer, it’s significant.
Saccharin actually dates as far back as 1878 when it was discovered but became more widespread due to the sugar shortage of WWI. “Sugar substitute” was not yet synonymous with weight loss, but it would soon change eating habits dramatically.
I think I was one of the earliest adopters of artificial sweetener. The year was 1958. I was all of 10 but already worried about my weight. When RC’s Diet Rite Cola hit the shelves, my best friend, Sharon, and I were guzzling it, sure that we would lose weight. Never happened, but it didn’t stop there. Soon even my Dad was carrying a little bottle of saccharin pills to sweeten his coffee or tea. Artificial sweeteners crept into the public consciousness and then proliferated with speed. Soon little pink packets of Sweet ‘N Low were everywhere.
They were followed by a host of others rushing to cash in on the market for diet products which exploded in the ‘60s. Soon we had Cyclamates. Remember them? They surfaced in the early ‘60s and were banned by 1969, linked to liver damage, bladder cancer, birth defects and (what no doubt put it over the top with federal officials) testicular atrophy in mice!
Then along came Aspartame, still present in blue packets as Equal and included in a host of food products. Read your labels, you’ll see how prevalent it is. Although never banned, Aspartame has 92 documented side effects on Wikipedia. I read the list with astonishment. Eye, ear, neurologic, psychiatric, gastro intestinal, skin, endocrine and metabolic conditions can result from ingestion. And, oh yes, brain damage, increased craving for sweets, depression, hyperactivity in kids and the big one, DEATH. It may also mimic or trigger a host of syndromes ranging from Alzheimers to Lupus, all things you don’t want. I personally experience headaches and dizziness from Aspartame and am careful not to consume it. I can’t recommend strongly enough that you do the same.
So now we come to the attack on my favorite sweetener, Splenda. According to the well researched article by Marc Ambinder in THE WEEK, Splenda, as well as all the other artificial sweeteners, chemically alter glucose intolerance (hyperglycemia), “the very syndrome that these fake sugars are marketed to prevent.” The testing (on three groups of mice) showed that those consuming saccharin at the same rate as those consuming sugar, or those drinking neither of these, exhibited glucose intolerance while their fellow vermin had no tolerance change at all! The scientist then did further fecal testing (TMI!) which showed “the processing of the artificial sugars in the intestines accounted for the entirety of the higher glucose intolerance.” In other words, they may be causing us to GAIN, rather than lose, weight, depending on our individual body response. Many experts also believe that a dose of artificial sweetness only whets our appetite for more sugary foods, a real diet buster.
Where does this leave us, we who cannot consume our latte or green tea without some sweetening? Sugar has been shown to be EVIL! (re-read Sugar Busters for reinforcement).Not only does it trigger weight gain, but it causes a sharp spike in insulin production, diabetes, and systemic and chronic inflammations like acne. Not to mention the resultant damage to skin: wrinkles, destruction of collagen and elastin and loss of elasticity. Being married to a dentist, I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that simple sugars are the source of tooth decay for you and your grandkids. Never put one to bed with a bottle of juice, or milk, which has even MORE sugar and will destroy their adorable little teeth.
High Fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is just as bad. It’s ultra cheap so frequently included in countless processed food products. Dr. Jacob Teitelbaum, MD author of Beat Sugar Addiction NOW! claims “sugar and HFCS are equally poisonous because of the massive volumes that are added to our diet each year…It boils down to which poison you want to take, and the answer should be neither.” The Corn Refiners Assoc., feeling vilified, is trying desperately to rebrand HFCS as “corn sugar” to escape the negative reputation it so richly deserves. DON’T be misled. (As an Iowa girl, it pains me to be anti-corn, but I have to bite the bullet here.)
Honey, HFCS, sucrose and molasses are all the same in terms of added sugars to our diet according to Joan Salge Blake, MS,RD, LDN and spokesperson for Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. But Agave nectar has a slim edge, in the view of Dr. Jessica Wu, noted dermatologist and author, because it is raw food, vegan friendly and has a lower glycemic level than white sugar.
And so, my friends, we have come by process of elimination to Stevia, the only sugar substitute all these experts seem to agree on. I tearfully boxed up my yellow packets (Bye bye, Splenda) and welcomed the white packets into my home. In all honestly, nothing will ever replace the pure taste of sugar, but considering the downside of all those I have left behind in the sweetener graveyard*, I’m taking one in the name of healthiest alternative.
*Caveat: Baking is my forte and like the Barefoot Contessa, I will NEVER replace sugar in a recipe with ANY artificial sweetener, although I may use less than called for. Use real ingredients in your baking and savor the results (on rare occasions) to the fullest!!