By Jeffrey Eisenber, MD

Natural and Artificial Sweeteners

So if sugar and high fructose corn syrup are toxic when over consumed, where can we turn to satisfy our addiction for sweetness?

How about natural sugar substitutes? They must be a healthy alternative to that Darth Vader sugar… They have the word “natural” attached to it which just exudes safety right? Hmmm...not so fast.

This category of contestants include Agave, Maple syrup, Molasses, coconut palm sugar, and Honey.

Let's discard with Agave first as it is highly processed, and mostly fructose (evil). It wins the prize for the unhealthiest natural sugar substitute. Coconut palm sugar is less processed and may have some nutrients, but it is high in calories and fructose. Maple syrup and Molasses can boast some trace minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants…but they are still sugars which clearly outweigh any of the above benefits.

Honey from the typical grocery store is refined…stripped of any of its natural gifts. If unrefined (usually from health stores or farmer’s markets) it does have antimicrobial, antioxidant, anti inflammatory, and immune benefits along with trace vitamins and minerals. Unfortunately, the catch is the same…it is loaded with calories and fructose.

Ok…the natural sugar substitutes strike out. How about artificial sweeteners? They aren't sugars and they have virtually no calories. Surely they are the preferred alternative…the teachers pet!

Ah, not so fast. Artificial sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than glucose. The result: our taste buds are tricked and become dulled…normally sweet foods and drinks become irreparably bland causing us to crave higher and higher amounts of the sweet stuff to satisfy us.

The artificial sweeteners also stimulate the same dopamine brain reward pathway as sugar, cocaine, marijuana, barbiturates, and gambling. But the brain never sees the sugar! And this reward center does not like to be tricked. It responds by directing us to fulfill its anticipated sugar load by loading up on anything sweet it can find. (think “diet drink anomaly” where people who consumed diet drinks on a daily basis gained significant weight)

The artificial sweeteners also lead to an insulin release which lowers our blood sugar levels and increases our cravings for food.

They also alter our gut Microbiome and diminish the signals from our gut that tell us we are full.

Who are these not so fab-five artificial sweeteners? Aspartame, Sucralose, saccharin, xylitol, and ACE K.

Bottom line: natural and artificial sweeteners are not the teacher’s pets with regards to sugar substitutes and improved health…they are imposters. We have to retrain our taste buds to accept healthier food choices that may seem bland at first but are packed with the nutrients and vitamins our cells crave. With our taste buds retrained, we won't have to douse our palate with processed food. The real food, the stuff that Mother Earth produces, will be appreciated in a whole new and healthier light.