In part 1 of my sugar series, we covered why sugar is bad. But…what about dextrose? Maltose? Maple syrup? High fructose corn syrup? There are over 50 names for sugar…and it can seem overwhelming if you go in trying to avoid “the bad ones.” Are there good ones? Eh, kinda. Let’s take a look.
Two things you probably noticed: 1. You haven’t heard of half of these and 2. A lot of them end in -ose. Fructose. Dextrose. Sucrose. Yes, the -ose suffix means it is sugar. Simple. The most common type of sugar is table sugar/sucrose. It is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. If you missed Part 1 of this series, it covers how our bodies break down fructose and responds.
So which ones should we pay attention to? Let’s start on a positive note and talk about the “good ones” first. But before I continue, remember that our liver processes all sugar the same. Even though honey has good health benefits, there should be a limit.
The “Good Guys”
Stevia is one of your best options. It is sugar-free and non-caloric and is made from the leaves of the stevia plant. It won’t raise your blood sugar, so in reasonable amounts, it is fine. Normally I would say to avoid anything calorie-free…but stevia may be the exception. Coming from a plant, it isn’t that bad in moderation. The only drawbacks- there’s a small aftertaste to get used to, and if you go overboard, it could cause you to develop more of a taste for sweets. You could try this kind. You need to read ingredients when you buy Stevia- sometimes it is cut with other sweeteners.
Honey, although an even blend of fructose and glucose, has anti-microbial and anti-bacterial properties, which is why so many people use it in place or cough medicine. Raw local honey is known for treating allergies. The key word here is raw, otherwise, honey you buy in grocery stores is heat-processed and has lost all of the good benefits. Honey is high in calories and carbs, so a little goes a long way! Buying honey that is local to you is most ideal (mainly to help if you have allergies) but if you’re shopping online, try this one.
Maple Syrup, sap, has been used for centuries and boasts containing nutrients like zinc, potassium, calcium and manganese. It is also linked to health benefits such as skin health, fights inflammatory diseases, and can be a great alternative to other sugars to help with digestion and leaky gut. Just like with honey, though, only go for the “Pure” maple syrup. So that Aunt Jemima pancake syrup you love? It has none of these benefits listed. You want Grade A or B when purchasing maple syrup. Here’s a great brand.
Coconut Sugar, although mostly sucrose, gets a high ranking. It is made from the sap of coconut trees and is minimally processed. It can contain nutrients such as magnesium, potassium, and inulin, a prebiotic fiber. The cons? It’s also a high-calorie sweetener and can cause glycation end-products (AGEs) that can slowly break down your collagen. Moderation people. Moderation.
*This is usually what I use when I make homemade cookies! This is a good brand!
Raw Cane Sugar is a debatable “good” sugar. Also called turbinado sugar, it is extracted from the sugar cane plant and not refined. It could come in the form of cane juice, which is frequently used to sweeten milk alternatives (almond, cashew, etc) and also in baking as a healthier option. Since it still has some of the molasses and moisture from the plant, you consume a little less sugar and calories per serving in comparison to table sugar. But remember, its still a sugar.
Agave can contain up to 90% fructose, and lands at the bottom of the “good sugars” list. Although its claim to fame is a low ranking on the glycemic index, this can be misleading.
Lactose forms naturally in dairy products- milk, cheese, yogurt. For us to be able to digest lactose, we need to produce an enzyme called lactase. Lactase breaks down lactose through the small intestine in simpler forms: glucose and galactose. Then, they are absorbed through the bloodstream and we can use them as energy. If you’ve ever heard of someone who is lactose intolerant, or you are yourself, the amount of lactase the body is producing is decreased.
Dairy is one of the food types that are usually eliminated when trying to find allergens. Not everyone can tolerate dairy, but luckily for me, my body seems to respond great to dairy and makes keto very easy for me. But the reason that cow’s milk itself (apart from other dairy products) is frowned upon in some communities is that it has a lower fat content in relation to lactose (sugar)- especially skim milk. When you take out the fat, you’re basically drinking sugar and water (I may be exaggerating a little there, but not by much!)
What about Artificial Sweeteners?
Aspartame and Splenda are sugar-free and non-caloric. Sounds great, right? But unlike stevia, these are chemical compounds and not a true food. Aspartame is on the EPA’s list of potential carcinogens, but is still highly consumed worldwide in diet sodas. Simply put: stay away from artificial sweeteners as much as possible- if given the choice, I’d take a real Coke instead of a Diet Coke.
I may have saved my biggest pet peeve for last. That’s because it is somehow still used soooooo widely in “healthy” products that are marketed to us. Sucralose, although it was approved by the FDA, has widely contradicting evidence against it as a safe product for us to consume. When they concluded it was safe, what the FDA failed to mention was that all tests were done on animals. It has NEVER been proven to be safe for humans. It is made from sugar, but by no means is it a natural product. The chemical process it undergoes intensifies the sweetness to 600 times more than table sugar…and zero calories. If it sounds too good to be true….
Researchers have found these negative side effects with consuming sucralose (splenda):
Affects your gut health. Our gastrointestinal (GI) tract contains way more bacteria (good and bad!) than we have cells in our body. This also plays a big role on our immune system. So when researchers did a study on sucralose and the microbiome, they saw that sucralose decreased good bacteria up to 50%. Also, after 12 weeks, the good bacteria had also not returned- even if sucralose was not consumed. That’s a big deal!
So what does this mean for those of us exercising regularly? Exercise, we know, is a stress to the body, so when you add in protein powder with sucralose, it essentially creates the perfect storm and causes extra stress. Ever had stomach issues because of a new protein powder? So many do! It could be that you aren’t tolerating the whey, but it is also likely it contains sucralose. Over time, your body will probably adapt and you won’t get the stomachaches anymore- or vice versa. You may tolerate it at first, but overtime, your body can eventually reject it.
What is completely crazy to me is how many companies marketing “healthy” foods and meal replacements contain sucralose. Herbalife, a well known company for the last 30 years or so, has over 25 different products with sucralose- along with artificial flavors and colors- and they encourage drinking their products every day. I really cannot get on board or respect these companies that promote health and weight loss but do not have the integrity of leaving out toxic ingredients.
Sucralose also messes with your blood glucose and insulin levels. The sad irony is, some of the very people using it – like those with diabetes – are trying to manage their blood glucose levels, and instead, it increases. How many people do you know that reach for the splenda at a restaurant to add to coffee, thinking they’re making the healthier, informed decision?
If you’ve cooked or baked with Splenda, you probably did to reduce the calorie, but now new research is finding that Splenda is NOT heat resistant. When heated, it releases harmful chloropropanols at high temperatures- which are toxic and can lead to cancer and infertility in men.
Not to mention these side effects…
- Blurred vision
- Allergic reactions
- Weight gain
From Dr. Mercola’s findings, these were found to be side effects within 24 hours of consuming splenda.
- “Skin — Redness, itching, swelling, blistering, weeping, crusting, rash, eruptions, or hives (itchy bumps or welts). These are the most common allergic symptoms that people have
- Lungs — Wheezing, tightness, cough, or shortness of breath
- Head — Swelling of the face, eyelids, lips, tongue, or throat; headaches and migraines (severe headaches)
- Nose — Stuffy nose, runny nose (clear, thin discharge), sneezing
- Eyes — Red (bloodshot), itchy, swollen, or watery
- Stomach — Bloating, gas, pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or bloody diarrhea
- Heart — Palpitations or fluttering
- Joints — Joint pains or aches
- Neurological — Anxiety, dizziness, spaced-out sensation, depression”
What I hate about these symptoms is that most people think this is just normal for them. So many people go through life with these symptoms, never questioning WHY they feel like crap. And a lot of doctors don’t either. Not to go down a rabbit hole, but whenever I would see a doctor about my migraines, I would immediately be given a very strong prescription with never being questioned at all about my diet, habits, etc. If they had, I may have found out about my gluten intolerance years before I did and spared me dozens of miserable days with a debilitating migraine.
To summarize, not all sugars are made equal! Some, like honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar, are safe in moderation and actually have amazing benefits! Others should be avoided as much as possible!
When in doubt, just skip it or Google it (from a trusted source, of course). Just like in my last blog post about sugar, I won’t be the hypocrite who tells you to never eat sugar. I eat sugar and have the world’s worst sweet tooth. Full disclosure: at our family dinner last night, I had a HUGE slice of my grandmother’s pecan pie last night. And it was delicious and I didn’t feel one bit guilty because I know I won’t eat like that for the rest of the week.
What I’m trying to say is…..educate yourself, but give yourself some grace.
If you’d like to try a sweet dessert and not feel guilty about the ingredients…I highly recommend Keto Kookies! They are sweetened with erythritol and monk fruit extract, meaning NO ADDED SUGARS! And they taste amazing. Let me know which flavor is your favorite! Mine is the classic…Chocolate Chip!
This blog post does contain affiliate links. I only recommend products I am passionate about and use myself!