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April/May 2013

The Skinny on Alternative Sweeteners

Most Americans are eating 122 grams of sugar per day or more, rather than the 30-45 grams most experts recommend.

With the sweet fructose that makes up 50% of sugar linked to increased rates of obesity, diabetes, stroke, heart disease, and even Alzheimer’s, it’s no wonder that many people are turning to alternative sweeteners to replace it. But are they any safer?

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  Other Names Origin Health Concerns Fructose Content Green America says:
Sugar alcohols Erithrytol, glycerol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, xylitol Refined from various plants, including
corn, mushrooms, and plums.
With the exception of erythritol, can cause bloating, diarrhea, and flatulence when consumed in large quantities. Xylitol is known for contributing to dental health, and some studies say it may help combat osteoporosis. 0% A best option in moderation (under 20 grams a day). Avoid if you have irritable bowel syndrome.
Honey   Beehives. Can be purchased from local
beekeepers or stores that import it from as far away as China.
Because of its high fructose content, honey has the same health risks as sugar. It also contains trace minerals and has antibacterial properties. Honey
from China may
contain lead.
40% Organic or local honey is a best option in moderation.
Agave Nectar   Agave grows in Mexico, the Southwestern US, and parts of South America. Highly processed agave can contain fructose levels nearly twice that of table sugar. Raw agave has trace amounts of beneficial minerals and fiber. Its fructose level is only slightly higher than that in table sugar. There is no evidence that either processed or raw agave contains harmful components besides fructose. Processed:
up to 90%

Raw: 55%
Raw, organic agave is a good option in moderation. With slightly higher fructose content than refined sugar, raw agave is linked to the same health issues.
Raw Cane Sugar Demerara, muscovado, turbinado Extracted from sugar cane. Contains the same amount of fructose as table sugar, but has trace minerals, vitamins, and fiber that have been refined out of table sugar. 50% Only slightly preferable to refined sugar. With the same fructose content as refined cane sugar, raw sugar is linked to the same health problems. Consume in moderation.
Stevia Rebiana, rebaudioside A, PureVia, SweetLeaf, Truvia Refined into powder from the stevia rebaudiana plant. Also available in whole-leaf form. UCLA researchers raised concerns in 2008 about stevia’s possible ability to cause mutations in DNA at high levels. High amounts of stevia have resulted in reproductive harm to rodents. These results aren’t conclusive and haven’t yet been demonstrated in humans. Powdered stevia is highly processed. 0% The FDA has not approved wholeleaf stevia for use in food. Given the lack of safety data on all types of stevia, avoid or at least limit it.
Luo Han Guo Extract Luo Han Kuo extract, monkfruit extract, mongrosides Refined from the luo han guo fruit, which grows in China. Several studies point to beneficial health effects of chemical compounds in the extract called “mongrosides,” such as the ability to inhibit hyperglycemia and tumor growth. Little research exists on the long-term safety of mongrosides. 0% Probably not the most dangerous
sweetener available, but given the lack of research, avoid it.
High Fructose Corn Syrup HFCS, corn sugar Processed from corn that is often genetically modified. Glucose molecules have been changed to fructose to increase sweetness. 5% more fructose than sugar, which is the compound of conern that's linked to health problems. Both HFCS and sugar from sugar beets are derived from genetically modified organisms. 55% Because of the high fructose levels and potential health risks of GMOs, avoid it.
Sucralose Splenda A chemical formed by combining sugar with chlorine, so most of it passes through the body undigested. Most studies point to Splenda as fairly safe in moderation. A 2002 study in the Journal of Mutational Research found that extraordinarily high doses were linked to DNA damage in mice. However, Splenda is one of two artificial sweeteners which the CSPI lists as safe. 0% The Center for Science in the Public Interest lists as safe. However, Green America recommends avoiding most artificial, chemically proecessed sweeteners.
Neotame   A complex chemical process including many of the same components as aspartame. At this time, research
points to it being safe in moderate doses. Consumers don’t always have a choice as to whether to avoid neotame or not: Due to the small doses needed to achieve sweetness, it doesn’t always have to be listed on the ingredient labels, even on organic food.
0% The Center for Science in the Public Interest lists as safe. However, Green America recommends
avoiding it due to the lack of independent safety testing.
Aspartame Equal, NutraSweet A complex chemical process involving amino acids and bacteria. A number of rodent studies have found that it may cause cancer, including a 2007 and a 2012 study from Brigham and Women’s Hospital of lifetime soda consumption in men and women found a small link between diet soda and cancer risk and recommended “further research.” 0% Although the FDA considers aspartame to be safe, a link between aspartame and cancer is considered still possible by some scientists. Avoid it.
Saccharin Benzoic sulfilimine, Sweet & Low A complex chemical process. Saccharin has been established as a cause of bladder cancer in rats, but the link between it and cancer in humans hasn’t been proven. 0% Any evidence linking saccharin to cancer is cause for concern. Avoid.

 

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