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How Good Are Natural Sweeteners Really?


You may scratch your head about this article. Didn’t we have an article on natural sweeteners already? Don’t worry mate. You’re right, but we’re not going to double up on the information here. We’re here to talk about new research on artificial and natural sweeteners, compare the two and determine what can be done to minimise their negative effects. Relax and don’t spit the sugar coated dummy just yet.

Just a recap:

Artificial sweeteners (low or no calorie): acesulfame potassium (Sweet One), aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet, AminoSweet), saccharin (Sweet & Low), sucralose (Splenda), neotame, advantame

Natural sweeteners (caloric sweeteners – except stevia and xylitol): agave, barley malt syrup, brown rice syrup, honey, maple syrup, stevia, xylitol, erythritol

The problem with artificial sweeteners…

artificial-sweetenersNumerous studies have found that artificial sweeteners stimulate the sweet taste receptors in the oral cavity and induce the secretion of insulin from the pancreas, even though they are non-caloric. Many of these studies were done in rats, but don’t worry testing in humans is also being done.

These studies tell us that no matter which artificial sweetener you use, the sweet taste produced in your mouth will still be perceived by your body as a form of sugar and release insulin. Scientists are baffled as to how this happens exactly. Does it take a central route (directly from mouth to brain) or a peripheral route (mouth, gut and then brain)? Remember, insulin promotes storage of glucose AND fats. So the aim is to keep it low.

What happens next after insulin is released? As expected, insulin sweeps glucose from your blood because it’s expecting more glucose to arrive from that sweet thing you just ate. But what if it wasn’t actually food, but just a non-caloric (zero/diet) soft drink that gave your taste buds that sweet kick? Well then the blood glucose can end up lower because your soft drink doesn’t replace the glucose that your insulin just took out of your blood. So this begs the question: Is it better to just have sugar and other caloric sweeteners in small amounts than to consume large quantities of non-caloric sweeteners?

Everyone expects artificial sweeteners to be part of the solution for obesity. However a number of studies, this time with human subjects, have demonstrated how artificial sweeteners promote weight gain. They significantly alter your normal gut flora. You may well be informed that if you mess with the normal flora of your gastrointestinal tract, you can adversely imbalance insulin and glucose metabolism.


Furthermore, consuming artificial sweeteners on a daily basis can promote insulin resistance, migraine, metabolic syndrome, allergies and even cancer based on recent studies. Remember artificial sweeteners are synthetic unlike the natural sweeteners we’ll discuss next.

And now you want to use natural sweeteners.

Now that you know these worrisome concerns about artificial sweeteners, you turn to natural sweeteners. How good are natural sweeteners really?

The problem with natural sweeteners…

Generally speaking, natural sweeteners are good and safe. However consuming too much can lead to numerous health problems like weight gain, poor nutrition and tooth decay to name a few…just like regular sugar does. Moderation is key.

honeyFor example let’s take, honey, a popular natural sweetener. Honey is about 30% glucose and about 40% fructose, it also contains a very small amount of sucrose (table sugar). Because of this, it can also raise your insulin levels, similar to what sugar does.

Brown rice syrup contains complex carbohydrates that allow it to be absorbed a little more slowly than honey. This causes your insulin levels to spike more slowly. Though in the end it still raises your insulin. Most natural sweeteners will raise your insulin levels because of the natural sugars they contain. Stevia is an exception to this because it contains virtually no calories. But if we apply the above research to Stevia, the question is: Does it stimulate insulin simply by awakening your taste buds with sweetness like the artificial sweeteners do?

Ultimately, the choice between the two (artificial vs. natural) will fall on you. There is no question that natural sweeteners are better for our overall health than artificial sweeteners because they’re natural and non-synthetic. But when it comes to insulin, which is best?

The best solution is to wean yourself off the need for constant sweetness. When did we start relying on a sweet taste every minute of the day? mealOnce you reboot your body’s affinity for something sweet, you will be amazed how sweet regular foods, like carrots, taste! Also, when you think you want something sweet, give it a second thought. Do you really want something sweet or are you just hungry? More often than not, you’re hungry and eating a healthy meal will curb your sweet craving.

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  1. Dia Beekman 30/05/2015
  2. Dia Beekman 30/05/2015

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