Hmm, maybe I'll just try to outsmart Mother Nature?
Now, I know what some of you are think, “I’ll avoid the pitfalls of sugar consumption by using artificial sweeteners instead.” I compare this line of thinking to the whole butter vs margarine debate or the removing of “unhealthy” yolk from eggs. People are wrongfully taught to be scared of saturated fat so they turn to a truly deadly manmade substitute instead.
Artificial sweeteners also generate a false sense of security amongst its users. Health concerns aside, artificial sweeteners may actually contribute to weight gain. Sure, artificial sweeteners are non-caloric, but they still stimulate the sweet receptors of your tongue. This in turn signals the body to prepare for sugar so the pancreas begins to secrete insulin. Your blood glucose level was at fasting levels before this surge of insulin and will now plummet to lower than normal levels. This will put you in a hypoglycemic state and you will crave more sugar and more than likely overeat while drinking that diet soda.
With those thoughts in mind, let’s take a look at your options:
Saccharine (Sweet ‘n Low)
This one was an original in the artificial sweetener game. It consists of an organic molecule made from petroleum. Animal studies conducted during the 1970s showed saccharine to cause cancer of the bladder, skin, uterus and overies, among other organs. Due to these findings, the USDA moved to ban saccharine, but a deal was struck. Instead, food products could contain saccharine as long as a label, warning against the possible cause of cancer, was used. In 2000, this requirement was removed. To this day, the true risk is still unknown. However, it is known now that saccharine does indeed cross the placenta during human pregnancy.
Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal)
To create aspartame, one must combine two amino acids, phenlalanine and aspartic acid, with methanol. Women who are pregnant and individuals with liver disease or the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) may have an inability to metabolize phenylalanine. This is a problem because high levels can result in brain damage. This is why an FDA-mandated warning exists on the packaging.
Also of note is that aspartame, like MSG, is thought to be an excitotoxin. That is, a compound that overstimulates nerve cells in the brain until they die. Thus, each serving of aspartame has the potential to cause a little bit of brain damage. This damage can accumulate over time and eventually lead to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or some other neurological disease.
Sucralose (Splenda, etc.)
Sucralose starts out as sugar, but turns into something that has 600 times the sweetening kick that sugar does. This is accomplished through chemically adjusting sugar by swapping three hydrogen-oxygen groups with three chlorine molecules. This results in a non-caloric sweetener that you are unable to metabolize.
Relatively new to the scene, there have still been reports of some people experiencing allergic reactions from sucralose containing products.
OK, so stevia is herb-based, making it an alternative to sugar and not an artificial sweetener, but I had nowhere else to touch on it. Stevia is similar to the artificial group only in that it is non-caloric. Like sucralose, it packs a very powerful punch. A few drops of liquid stevia have about the same sweetening power as an entire cup of sugar.
Stevia is currently banned in the US, Canada, European Union, Hong Kong, and China. Toxicologists claim that stevia consumption may cause reproductive problems, cancer, or even metabolism disruptions. More specifically, males may experience reduced sperm production, lighter seminal vesicles, and increased cell proliferation in the testicles while females may experience fewer and smaller offspring. Cancer concerns arise from the metabolizing of stevia which may produce a mutagenic compound. As for the metabolism concerns, stevia may interfere with your body’s absorption of carbohydrates and disrupt the conversion of food into energy.
Stevia is currently sold in the US as a dietary supplement. This is because stevia has the potential to interfere with your body’s absorption of carbohydrates and disrupt the conversion of food into energy. You can see how this would be popular amongst people looking to lose weight. This becomes a major concern though if it were to be used in such things as diet pop because children would also be put at risk.
Stay tuned for part 7 where we will wrap this all up.
OK, I’ll stick to “natural”
I have heard a lot of people refer to honey, especially raw honey, as healthy because it is natural. This kind of justification will keep you sick and fat though. Just because something is found in nature doesn’t mean it is healthy for human consumption. Honey actually contains the same ratio of fructose as HFCS-55 and will therefore wreak just as much havoc on your body. Makes one wonder how honey has seemingly escaped the same public wrath as HFCS.
Another touted sweetener in the “health food” circles is agave nectar. Unlike honey, agave nectar is not truly raw due to the extraction process requiring heat. The amount of fructose found in agave nectars various greatly from 56-92%, putting it somewhere between HFCS-55 and HFCS-90.
Finally, there is evaporated cane juice. Many consider it a healthier alternative to table sugar because it does not suffer the same lengths of processing that table sugar does. The fructose content here also varies, but only from about 42.5-47.5%.
The point I am trying to make is that your body doesn’t know the difference at the cellular level between table sugar, HFCS-55, honey, etc. It all has almost identical ratios of glucose and fructose which will result in the internal damages we already discussed.
Stay tuned for part 6 where we will discuss artificial sweeteners.
When 2 become 1
Table sugar, also known as sucrose, is the most common disaccharide. It consists of 50% fructose and 50% glucose. This means that each and every molecule of sucrose consumed results in one molecule of fructose heading to the liver and one molecule of glucose entering the bloodstream.
What about HFCS?
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), currently demonized by our society, generally comes in one of the following forms:
- HFCS-90 – 90% fructose and 10% glucose – used to produce the other two
- HFCS-55 – 55% fructose and 45% glucose – used in soft drinks
- HFCS-42 – 42% fructose and 58% glucose – used in baked goods
As you can see, HFCS is similar to sucrose (table sugar) in that it contains fructose and glucose. In fact, HFCS-55 isn’t much worse than sucrose in terms of fructose content and HFCS-42 is actually better in that regard.
The marketing simply has everyone fooled. There is absolutely nothing healthier about a sauce or dressing made with sugar instead of HFCS unless the total amount of sugar decreases. HFCS is sweeter than sugar though so it is more likely that foods in which HFCS was replaced with sugar will have to include more sugar to achieve the same taste. This results in more sugar in your diet, more insulin in your bloodstream, and more fat around your waist.
Stay tuned for part 5 where we will discuss "natural" sweeteners.
What about Fructose?
Glad you asked. Fructose, found mostly in fruits and some root vegetables, is processed differently than glucose. Instead of entering your bloodstream and triggering an insulin response, fructose heads directly to your liver for processing. This is why carbohydrates with a higher percentage of its sugars in the form of fructose will naturally have a lower glycemic value. Simply put, your blood glucose levels cannot be increased if you are consuming fructose instead. This is one of many reasons why the glycemic index is of very little value.
As the liver processes fructose, multiple elements of heart disease become elevated. That is, triglyceride levels are increased and LDL particles are oxidized. The sad thing is, cholesterol gets blamed as being at fault when it is the fructose consumption that is turning the cholesterol into something harmful.
The elevated level of triglycerides also impairs the transport of leptin into your brain. Fructose is unable to enter the cells of your brain (think wrong key/lock combination). If leptin does not reach your brain, your brain will not send out the signal to stop eating. This means that fructose does not have the same satiety effect compared to that of glucose.
At the same time, the amount of leptin secreted has already been decreased because of the smaller insulin response produced by your consumption of fructose. It is the secretion of insulin which triggers leptin secretion in the first place.
Leptin is not the only hormone responsible for hunger. Ghrelin, produced in the stomach, signals hunger. Contrary to leptin, ghrelin increases before meals and decreases after meals. Fructose however does not suppress ghrelin levels as much as glucose does.
As if obesity and heart disease weren’t bad enough, fructose consumption also increases uric acid levels in the body, which in turn results in gout. Again, fructose somehow escapes all blame though and gout sufferers are instead told to refrain from red meat.
Your liver itself isn’t safe either. Having to process excessive amounts of fructose can actually lead to fatty liver disease. That’s right, your liver will look identical to that of an alcoholic if you eat enough fructose.
Not all of the fructose makes its way to your liver though. This is a problem because it is significantly more reactive in the bloodstream than glucose. In fact, fructose is 10 times more effective than glucose at inducing the cross-linking of proteins that leads to advanced glycation end-products (AGEs). AGEs are toxic and contribute to such things as atherosclerosis, asthma, arthritis, myocardial infarction, nephropathy, retinopathy, and neuropathy. These AGEs are also more resistant to the body’s disposal mechanisms than those created by glucose.
Stay tuned for part 4 where we will discuss sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup.
Something You've Heard Before
Most carbohydrates contain some level of glucose, whether it is by itself or paired with fructose to form sucrose. When you eat or drink a glucose containing food, the glucose enters your bloodstream upon digestion. The rate at which this happens determines the glycemic value of the given food. A higher glycemic value is equal to a faster absorption rate and vice versa.
Once the glucose has entered your bloodstream, some of it will be used as energy through the process of glycolysis. This is why you may feel a rush of energy when you eat sweets. Your pancreas must then secrete enough insulin to escort the unused glucose into your cells. Think of insulin as the key needed to gain entry to your cells. At this point, you will be in a state of hypoglycemia because the insulin did its job and cleared the blood of glucose. This results in the body thinking it needs more energy and you begin to crave more of the quick-hit, simple sugars that you just consumed. This is the beginning of the sugar craving cycle.
As you give in to your cravings this downward cycle continues. Your pancreas continues to secrete insulin to clear your blood of glucose, but over time, the locks on your cells begin to jam and the keys (insulin) no longer work like they used to. It requires the help of additional insulin to be able to enter. In the mean time, the glucose is essentially locked out of your cells. This need for more and more insulin to clear the glucose from your blood is referred to as insulin resistance.
At the same time that your pancreas is working overtime to produce the insulin you need, it also begins to reduce glucagon production. Like insulin, glucagon is a hormone produced by the pancreas. Instead of letting glucose into your cells like insulin does, glucagon is responsible for the process that converts stored glycogen into glucose and lets it out of your cells to be used as energy.
You see, when your blood glucose levels are low, the pancreas secretes glucagon so that glucose can be released from your cells for energy. However, if you are insulin resistant, your blood glucose levels are consistently elevated, signaling to your pancreas that additional glucose should not be released from your cells. Thus, dramatically hindering your efforts of reducing stored body fat.
Stay tuned for Part 3 where we will discuss fructose.
Jennie and I received the ice cream maker attachment for our KitchenAid mixer and plan on making some ice cream this weekend. I have no clue what flavor we will be shooting for, but will be sure to document the process. In the meantime, here are a few recipes that I found in my cookbooks and online. If you give any of them a shot, please be sure to share your experience with the rest of us.
Chocolate Nut Butter Ice Cream (Performance Menu)
- 1/2 C coconut milk
- 1 tsp unsweetened cocoa or carob powder
- 1 Tbsp cashew butter
- 1 Tbsp crushed walnuts
- Few drops pure vanilla extract (optional)
Prepare the ice cream about an hour before you want to eat it. Pour the coconut milk into a coffee cup or small dish. Add the other ingredients, mix well. Place into the freezer for one hour. To get a good, ice cream-like consistency, the mixture needs to be stirred periodically to break up the portions that will get frozen hard.
Coconut Milk Ice Cream (Performance Menu)
- 1 can coconut milk
- 2 C fresh fruit
- 1 tsp vanilla (optional)
Simply place all ingredients in a blender and puree. Pour into dessert cups (coffee cups work equally well) and put in the freezer for about 1 hour or until it has chilled to an ice cream-like consistency.
Optimal Ice Cream (Hyperlipid Blog)
- 1 pint double cream
- 6 egg yolks
- 10 drops vanilla extract
- sweetener to taste
Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream (KitchenAid)
- 3 C cream
- 6 egg yolks
- 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
- 1.5 C canned pumpkin
- sweetener to taste
Scold half of the cream. In a separate bowl, whisk the 6 egg yolks. Add the vanilla and sweetener to the yolks. Slowly whisk the scolded cream into this mixture. Add the pumpkin pie spice and stir entire mixture over medium heat for about 10:00. Be sure not to boil the mixture. Add the remaining cream and the canned pumpkin and whisk. Strain the mixture to remove any egg parts that may have solidified and chill mixture in the refrigerator. Once chilled, pour into ice cream maker. Churn for 15-20 minutes until desired consistency.
What is Sugar?
All carbohydrates, otherwise known as saccharides, are a form of sugar. The simplest form of sugar is known as a monosaccharide. The two most common of which are glucose and fructose. When two monosaccharides are joined together, a disaccharide, such as sucrose (table sugar), is formed. Monosaccharides, as well as disaccharides, are referred to as simple sugars. If multiple monosaccharides or disaccharides are joined together in a long chain, polysaccharides, or complex carbs, result. Starches are a form of complex carbs and include such foods as potatoes, rice, wheat, and corn.
You need to know that you are hard-wired to crave sweetness. You come from an environment where every calorie had to be found and then dug up or killed. Concentrated sources of sugar were very rare. Therefore, the brain urges you to eat more of these calorie dense foods whenever the tongue tastes it. This has become bad news in our current world where sugar is cheap and in great abundance.
Stay tuned for Part 2 where we will discuss glucose.