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Nutrition & Fitness Newsletter

SWEETENERS: TRICK or TREAT? (updated for 2019)

Remember when white sugar and brown sugar were our only sweetener choices?  Now we can choose from a rainbow of sweeteners in pink, blue, yellow and brown packets.  It seems that new and improved alternatives are added yearly.  While we're trying to reduce calories from sugar or trying to reduce artificial sweeteners, they're hidden in unexpected foods such as salad dressings and breads, and even in plain sight with new names.  Artificial sweeteners are manufactured to be hundreds of times sweeter than sugar which may not be desirable if you're trying reduce your cravings for sweet things.  


 In general, it's best to eat less sugar and any of the sweetener alternatives to allow our taste buds to adapt to how real food tastes and reduce our desire to reach for something sweet.  Let's try to lessen the confusion, start checking ingredient lists and become more aware of what we're really getting.  I've grouped them into three categories of "Most Desirable", "Less Desirable" and "Least Desirable" but let's keep in mind that we want to reduce sugar and sweetener alternatives in our diet.


Note: a recent study found that some artificial sweeteners (saccharin, sucrolose, or aspartame) may alter gut flora (the bacterial balance in your gastrointestinal system) and impair glucose tolerance leading to metabolic diseases such as type 2 diabetes. 

Natural Sweeteners: Most desirable, least processed sweeteners.  Use sparingly.
  • Honey—Flower nectar collected, modified, and concentrated by bees.   Should not be given to children under two years old.

  • Maple syrup—Made from the boiled sap of sugar maple trees.   High in potassium and calcium.  Don't be fooled by “fake” maple syrups or pancake syrup often made with high-fructose corn syrup.  Look for 100% pure maple syrup.

  • Cane Sugar— also know as “dehydrated or evaporated cane juice, or ”sucanat”, it's just that, sugar cane juice with the water removed.   Can be used in place of granulated or white sugar for cooking and baking.

  • Brown-Rice Syrup—Made by sprouting brown rice in water.   Lightly sweet.

  • Agave—extracted from the agave cactus, sweeter than sugar, has a low glycemic index.

  • Stevia—Derived from a shrub (Stevia rebaudiana) , the sweet chemicals are stevioside and rebaudioside. Brand names are ”Truvia” and ”PureVia” which have been purified from the crude extracts of stevia leaves, this becomes a more processed product and intensifies the sweetness.  Stevia is the only product in this category that does not raise blood sugar and has no calories.  

  • Others Sweeteners— Fruit concentrates, blackstrap molasses, barley malt sugar, and date sugar.
Processed Sugar/Sweetener: Less desirable.
  • Brown sugar—Granulated sugar coated with molasses.  Basically the same as granulated sugar, see below.

  • Granulated Sugar—Refined sugar or white sugar from sugar cane or sugar beets which may be genetically engineered.   Refining sugar with the use of bone char is what makes granulated sugar white.  A better choice than HFCS.

  • Xylitol, Sorbitol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Erythritol (Zero), lactitol—Low calorie types of sugar alcohols derived from wood, corncobs, corn syrup, seaweed, lactose or sugar cane.  Since these are not digested by bacteria they do not promote tooth decay.  These in excess may cause stomach upset or diarrhea.

  • High fructose corn syrup (HFCS)—Inexpensive sweetener derived from cornstarch.  It has the same number of calories as sugar.  Blamed for the obesity epidemic our population because rates of obesity have risen along with HFCS consumption.  HFCS appears to promote belly or liver fat thereby, increasing risk of heart disease.  Mostly found in sodas and processed foods.   Best to reduce or avoid HFCS in your diet.

  • Monk Fruit Extract—Also known as Lo Han Kuo or Luo Han Guo.  Derived from a fruit with a long history in China and used as an herbal medicine.  A multi-step process is used to extract the sweet substance from the monk fruit.  This is not a whole fruit sweetener but an refined extract.  It is 200 times sweeter than sugar with no calories.  This product has not be well tested in animals.  It's safety is unknown at this time.
Artificial Sweeteners: Least desirable. Best to avoid these chemically processed sweeteners, they have been poorly tested and have unknown long-term effects on health.
  • Sucralose/Splenda—A very popular artificial sweetener made by chemically reacting sugar (sucrose) with chlorine.  Questionable safety of ingesting chlorinated molecules.  No long-term studies are available for this product.

  • Saccharin/Sweet n’ Low—350 times sweeter than sugar.  Derived from coal tar.   Tests have found saccharin to be associated with cancer, birth defects, and kidney damage in test animals.

  • Aspartame/Nutrasweet/Equal—Combination of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine.  Suspected potential of altering brain chemistry, affecting mood and behavior.  Some animal studies show that it may increase risk of various types of cancer.  Those with Phenylketonuria (PKU) a genetic disorder, should avoid this product.

  • Acesulfame-K/Ace-K—200 times sweeter than sugar.  Derived from sulfur and potassium.   Controversial, as few animal studies have been done on this sweetener.  Check closely, it’s easy to miss this one on the ingredient list.

  • Monatin, Thaumatin—These are artificial sweeteners are not widely used in the market but may be ones to watch for.

Here are few reasons to see a nutritionist/personal trainer/health coach: relieve tension & stress in the body, properly train or progress in an activity, improve your microbiome, assess nutrient intake, disease prevention through evidence-based diet, and exercise, maximize exercise performance, improve sleep quality, enhance mental clarity, optimize digestion and nutrient absorption, establish long-term healthy habits, meal planning for a whole foods diet and eat in a way to sustain the planet.  Please consider Sheri for nutrition counseling and/or fitness appointments to help you develop a healthier lifestyle for you and the planet. 


Dietary Guidelines for Sugar (2015-2020)
Recently proposed USDA dietary guidelines for 2015-2020 recommend added sugar to be less than 10% of total calories.  That is equivalent to less than 50 grams or approximately 12 teaspoons for a 2000 calorie diet.  In comparison, the American Heart Association recommends less than 9 teaspoons of sugar for men and less than 6 teaspoons for women.  That may still sound like a lot but its surprising how often sugar is hidden in many foods that can add up quickly.  These recommendations do not include naturally occurring sugars in fruit and dairy products.  Supporting the focus on reducing added sugar intake is the evidence from studies that reveal higher risks of high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease.  Sugar has its flaws; it has little nutritionally value, appears to reduce immunity and leads to inflammation which is the precursor to multiple chronic conditions.  Sugary foods can be difficult to give up due to our natural preference for sweet foods and how it influences our brain chemistry to want more.

Sheri is a Certified Nutritionist with a master's degree in nutrition, with over 15 years of clinical counseling experience, an ACE-certified Personal Trainer with advanced certifications in medical exercise, senior fitness and health coaching.  All nutrition consultations include exercise guidance, dietary analysis and meal plans to meet your individual lifestyle, calorie and nutritional needs.

Free introductory 15-minute appointments are also available.

To schedule an appointment with Sheri Mar, email:  or call:  206.789.6440

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