13 'Healthy' Sugars and Sweeteners That Are Actually Harmful
Everywhere you look, various sugars and sweeteners are being marketed as healthy alternatives to regular cane sugar.
These can come in handy for those looking to reduce calorie intake and lower blood sugar levels. These different products are used as a natural and easy substitute for sweet drinks and baked goods.
But, many of these "healthy" sugars and sweeteners can do more harm than good.
1. Raw cane sugar
Raw cane sugar comes from sugarcane, a plant that is found in many tropical areas of the world, such as Hawaii. Sugar sourced from sugarcane accounts for 40-45% of the sugar produced in the US.
Sugar is used to sweeten everything, from sports drinks to desserts, and is used instead of other sweeteners because of its availability and its sweet taste.
There is a new trend of marketing raw cane sugar as a healthier alternative to regular sugar, and it is not true. Both raw cane sugar and plane sugar are identical in chemical composition and makeup.
If you consume large amounts of raw cane sugar, you will see the same effects as regular sugar. You can gain weight, and it can cause chronic conditions to develop like diabetes and heart disease.
Saccharin is a ubiquitous artificial sweetener that is commonly used in low-calorie candy, gum, and desserts.
Since the human body cannot digest it, it is considered to be a non-nutritive sweetener. Long story short, it doesn't add any calories or carbs to your diet.
There has been research showing that using this sweetener can help to support weight loss by reducing calorie intake.
While it can help in weight loss, there have been animal studies showing that this sweetener can cause changes to the gut microbiome, and can reduce good gut bacteria. These bacteria play a surprisingly important role in your immune system, as well as digestive health.
Disruptions to the bacteria in your gut have been linked to many different health issues, including obesity, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), and cancer.
Aspartame is an equally popular artificial sweetener that you will find in many different diet products, such as sugar-free soda, ice cream, and candy.
Much like other artificial sweeteners, it has no carbs or calories, making it accessible to those who are trying to lose weight.
However, there have been recent studies that have shown that aspartame can adversely affect your waistline and overall health.
When you compare aspartame to sugar, there was little reduction in calorie intake but a significant decrease in HDL (good) cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart disease.
Some claim that they suffer from symptoms like headaches, dizziness, and even depression. Although there is no research to prove these side effects are caused by aspartame.
Sucralose, better known as the zero-calorie artificial sweetener Splenda, is often used as a sugar substitute in hot drinks like coffee or tea.
Numerous studies have shown that it does not have any effect on blood sugar levels, and it does not change the hormones involved in blood sugar control.
Some research has indicated that this sweetener does have some harmful side effects.
There have been some animal studies that found sucralose can cause reductions in good gut bacteria, increasing the risk of inflammation, and causing weight gain.
While baking with sucralose can be dangerous in a different way, due to the formation of chloropropanols. These are chemical compounds thought to be toxic to the human body.
5. Acesulfame K
Acesulfame K, or Ace-K, is slightly bitter and often combined with other artificial sweeteners to cover the taste.
It is used in frozen desserts, candies, and low-calorie sweets. This is thanks to its heat stable qualities, something that many other artificial sweeteners don't have.
It is considered safe by the FDA, but it is still highly controversial because of the inadequate and flawed testing that was involved in its approval process. Many researchers claim that more studies are needed to evaluate its possible cancer-causing effects better.
There was a 40-week study that discovered Ace-K had no cancer-causing effects in mice, But there has been no further research on if it can affect cancer growth.
There have also been other studies that showed it could damage many different aspects of your health. For example, a 40-week mouse study concluded that Ace-K impaired mental function and memory.
There is still a need for more high-quality human studies to analyze the safety and potential side effects better.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is growing in popularity; it is extracted from birch trees and used to sweeten mints, toothpaste, and most gum.
It has a much lower Glycemic Index score than regular sugar, and this means it will not raise your blood sugar or insulin levels as much as sugar would.
There has been research that's concluded xylitol is very effective in preventing dental cavities in children without adverse effects.
It has been shown that xylitol can cause a laxative like effect when consumed in larger doses. It can also cause symptoms in people with irritable bowel syndrome. These symptoms range from stomach pain to gas, diarrhea, and constipation.
Since it can cause these adverse effects, it is a good idea to start with a small amount and slowly increase as you assess your tolerance. It is also important to note that xylitol is very toxic to dogs and can cause many different problems, including death.
7. Agave nectar
In most cases, it is known as agave syrup, and this popular sweetener comes from several different species of the agave plant.
Many people claim that it is a healthier alternative to using sugar. It has a low GI and will not affect your blood sugar levels the same way regular sugar would. This happens because it is mostly comprised of fructose, which is a pure sugar that does not affect insulin or blood sugar levels.
You will see this sweetener used in sweets and snacks designed for people with diabetes.
Consuming large amounts of fructose does have its downsides; there are studies on how this increase can cause fatty liver disease and increase your insulin resistance. It can also increase LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease.
This is another naturally occurring sugar alcohol that is found in numerous fruits and plants. But unlike other sweeteners, it only has about 60% the sweetening power and contains 1/3 fewer calories.
It is considered to be safe but can have a laxative effect if consumed in large quantities since it stimulates movement in the digestive tract.
It's best to moderate your intake and stop if you notice any adverse effects.
All types of added sugar should be limited
No matter what type of sugar it is, even some of the healthier sugars and sweeteners can be harmful when consumed in large amounts.
Many people use raw honey as an excellent alternative to sugar, primarily since it promotes wound healing and can help lower both types of cholesterol. But, it is very high in both calories and sugar, which can cause weight gain.
It is imperative that everyone knows how consuming too much of any type of sugar can be detrimental to your health and cause significant weight gain. Numerous studies have shown that excess sugar consumption can cause weight gain, depression, heart disease, and negatively affect your ability to control blood sugar levels.
Even artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols that are used to replace natural sugar are not healthy for you. They are commonly found in highly processed foods and should be limited or removed from a healthy diet.
Why Sugar Is Bad for You
There is nothing good about sugar; it doesn't contain protein, fat, minerals, or vitamins. When you get down to it, there is no need for it in a diet.
Sugar interferes with certain hormones in your body that control hunger and blood sugar, which can lead to increased calorie intake and weight gain.
People who consume large amounts of sugar tend to be overweight or obese, which can cause adverse side effects to develop. This increased level of sugar intake is also known to cause several deadly diseases like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease.
It is much healthier to avoid sugar and limit your intake of both natural and artificial sweeteners.
Natural Substitutes for Sugar
All jokes aside, sugar is the worst part of our modern diet. It's associated with numerous serious diseases, including diabetes, cancer, and obesity.
Our consumption of sugar has exploded, and people consume too much of it every single day and have no idea the true amount they consume.
Stevia is a natural sweetener that comes from the leaves of a South American plant. It contains zero calories and is not known to cause any type of weight gain.
In human studies that have occurred, there have been no adverse health effects that can be associated with stevia consumption.
Surprisingly there have been some health benefits that are linked to the consumption of stevia. Some studies have shown that consuming stevioside, one of the compounds that give stevia its sweetness can lower high blood pressure by almost 15%.
It can also help to lower blood sugar levels and keep insulin levels lower, which in the case of many people with diabetes, can be very beneficial to overall health.
Stevia is probably one of the best options when it comes to sweetening foods and beverages. Especially when you take into account its numerous health benefits.
10. Yacon Syrup
Yacon syrup comes from an extract of the yacón plant, which is native to South America and has a sweet taste, with a darker color and a consistency similar to molasses
It recently was featured on The Dr. Oz Show and has since gained popularity as a weight-loss supplement. There was a recent study that showed significant weight loss in overweight women, but these claims have not been verified.
Yacon can contain up to 40–50% fructooligosaccharides; these are a distinct type of sugar molecule that the human body cannot digest.
Since these sugar molecules cannot be digested, it makes yacon syrup have significantly fewer calories than regular sugar.
There have been numerous studies that have shown these sugars can help to decrease the hunger hormone ghrelin, which can help to reduce appetite and lead to weight loss.
These sugars are also helpful in feeding the friendly bacteria in your gut, which play a pivotal role in your general health.
Yacon is considered to be safe, but consuming large amounts can cause excess gas or general digestive discomfort.
11. Maple Syrup
Most people have seen or tasted maple syrup, it is a thick sugary liquid that comes from the sap of maple trees. It contains numerous healthy minerals like calcium, potassium, zinc, and manganese.
Many natural maple syrups also contain several different types of antioxidants.
There have been some lab studies that showed it could have an effect on hindering the development of cancer cells, but more research in this area is needed.
While maple syrup does contain beneficial nutrients and antioxidants, it has a lot of sugar. That being said, it does have a lower Glycemic index than regular sugar. So it might not raise your blood sugar as quickly, but it should still be consumed in moderation.
Molasses, much like maple syrup is a brown, thick, sticky liquid. It's made by boiling down sugar cane or beet juice, much like maple syrup.
Depending on what is used to make it, it can contain numerous vitamins and minerals, as well as antioxidants.
Blackstrap molasses is known to be higher in antioxidants when compared to both honey and maple syrup.
In most cases, it is high in potassium and calcium and can benefit both bone and heart health.
Avoid Substituting Sugar With This one sweetener
Some alternative healthy sugars and sweeteners may cause more harm than good. Some of these can be even more dangerous than sugar.
Here are some of the substitutes you should try to avoid.
13. High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Probably the worst creation that has ever been made by humans is High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which is a sweetener made from pure corn syrup.
This is widely used to sweeten processed foods and soft drinks, and as the name implies, it is very high in fructose. It is very well known that this sweetener will cause weight gain, diabetes, and other severe diseases like obesity and cancer.
It is equally as bad If not worse than sugar and should be avoided at all costs.
The Stark Truth
Even though numerous sweeteners are advertised as healthy alternatives to sugar, they often come with their list of side effects. But, overeating sugar can cause several deadly diseases, including obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
The sweeteners that have been discussed are good alternatives, but they should be used instead of refined sugar. Many of them can be lower in calories and carbs than regular sugar. Still, many of them are known to cause digestion issues, affect blood sugar control, and can adversely affect your gut bacteria.
It is much easier just to moderate your intake of all sugars and only enjoy sweets and treats from time to time.
As with most nutrition advice, moderation is key.
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