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Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Alcohols: Are They Safe?

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Purevia is made from dextrose, cellulose powder, natural flavors, and rebaudioside A. Dextrose is a corn starch, cellulose is the woody fiber that comes from plants, and as already discussed, natural flavors can be anything that’s less than 1% of the product. At the bottom of the ingredients list is rebaudioside A, the least important ingredient in the Purevia recipe. Like Truvia, Purevia does not measure the same as sugar, but it can be used in cooking.

Stevia by itself is not all that sweet, which is why an enhanced sweetening agent is needed. Most typically, stevia is blended with erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Some stevia blends are made with sugar and may be referred to as light sugar. Always read the ingredients list when buying a stevia product so that you know for sure what you’re getting.

Sugar Alcohols
In layman’s terms, a sugar alcohol can be thought of as a half-sugar. That’s because sugar alcohols have (very roughly) half the sweetness and half the calories of sugar. Most sugar alcohols are about 60% to 75% as sweet as sugar and range from 2.0 to 2.6 calories per gram instead of 4. In chemical terms, a sugar alcohol partly resembles sugar and partly resembles alcohol, but it’s neither a sugar nor an alcohol, and no one gets drunk consuming sugar alcohols. Rather, sugar alcohols are compounds known as polyols. It’s easy to identify a sugar alcohol by the “ol” ending.

The most common sugar alcohols include erythritol, maltitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. Erythritol and xylitol can be purchased by individuals as a table-top supplement. But more typically, these substances are ingredients in a blend. Maltitol and sorbitol are the most common sweetening agents used in sugar-free or no sugar added products.

Sugar alcohols are made from corn (or another starch) that’s been treated with enzymes. Some sugar alcohols are made by the hydrogenation of the treated starch and others are made by the fermentation of the treated starch. Note that anything with the word hydrogenation in it should be viewed with suspicion. Hydrogenated fats, for example, are trans fats, which scientists and researchers universally agree is the most toxic man-made kind of fat. It’s unknown whether hydrogenated carbohydrates have the same toxic impact on health, and it’s impossible to know which treatment you’re getting from information on the food label.

The downside of any sugar alcohol is that it’s not fully absorbed by the body, and it ferments in the intestine. This can cause digestive and elimination problems like bloating, cramping, farting, excessive pooping or diarrhea. Because of this, it’s very important to notice and to observe the recommended serving size when consuming a sugar alcohol, which is usually 50 grams or about 1.8 ounces per serving. Not everyone is affected by sugar alcohols in the same way, and some sugar alcohols may be more disruptive than others. The population most at risk for gastrointestinal problems are children, people who are smaller than average, and people who have pre-existing digestive or elimination issues.

Sugar alcohols are also made for industrial purposes. Ethylene glycol and methanol are two non-consumable, highly toxic sugar alcohols that are used in antifreeze.

Conclusion
One choice is to simply stick with sugar and other caloric sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, agave nectar and corn syrup. Weight Watchers, for example, publishes and recommends recipes that use table sugar rather than artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. Obviously, then, you can eat sugar and still lose weight. Still, for some, caloric sweeteners are metabolic poison and lead to excessive pigging out. You have to decide where you fit on the continuum. Can you handle a little sugar or not? Are highly processed caloric sweeteners more or less objectionable to you than artificial sweeteners, which are also highly processed?

Another choice is to eat clean. Eating clean is a style of eating where all processed foods are eliminated from the diet and only whole, natural foods are consumed. Under this scenario all caloric sweeteners, all artificial sweeteners and all sugar alcohols are eliminated from the diet. Eating clean is the ideal choice in an ideal world, but it may be too big of a leap for anyone except the most inspired people. Again, you have to decide for yourself if you’re ready to make a dramatic eating and lifestyle change or if you’d prefer a smaller one.

About Karen Bentley

Author, Educator, Founder of The SugarFreeInstitute and SugarFree Nutrition and Weight Loss Expert. Over 15 published books. The Power to Stop: Stopping as a path to personal power, self-love and enlightenment is currently a bestseller on Amazon Kindle. For more info visit www.sugarfreeinstitute.com, www.powertostop.com or www.karenbentley.com.