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: Sweet Confusion: When Some Sweeteners Aren’t So “Sweet” After All

Sweet Confusion: When Some Sweeteners Aren’t So “Sweet” After All

Senior Communications Strategist

Sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, agave, aspartame, stevia, xylitol, sorbitol, erythritol, black strap molasses, and the list goes on…

When did something as simple as what we use to sweeten our coffee become so complicated? Not too long ago, people didn't even have to think about it. They used a cube or spoonful of sugar--plain old table sugar. Today things have changed--both in the types of sweeteners available and the amount we use.

In the past 20 years, sugar consumption in the United States has increased from 26 pounds to 135 pounds per person per year! Prior to the turn of this century, the average consumption was only 5 pounds per person per year.

In the 1970s, food and beverage manufacturers began switching their sweeteners from table sugar (sucrose) to corn syrup when they discovered that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was far cheaper to make. This switch drastically altered the American diet.

By USDA estimates, about one-quarter of the calories consumed by the average American is in the form of added sugars, and most of that is HFCS. Today, 55 percent of sweeteners used in food and beverage manufacturing are made from corn. America's number one source of calories is soda, packed with HFCS.

Looking at the statistics, you can see a direct parallel in the increase in sugar consumption and obesity.  Even with the introduction of artificial sweeteners, the obesity epidemic continues to grow at an alarming rate. In fact, for the first time in history, there are more obese people in the world than there are starving people.

So what's the solution? The way I see it, we need to get back to the basics-less sugar, more natural, unprocessed foods, and smaller portions. When using sweeteners, choose those that come from the most natural source. Here are four to use in moderation:

1. Organic unrefined cane sugar. Unrefined sugar cane offers nutrients and minerals that refined and white sugars cannot. The process of refining introduces many harmful ingredients to sugar cane, such as sulfur dioxide and phosphoric acid.

2. Organic raw honey. Although honey contains higher fructose levels, it also contains a bounty of antioxidants, and local honey has been said to help alleviate allergy symptoms.

3. The herb Stevia. All types of stevia sweeteners are extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant, but some forms taste better than others. Stevia contains zero calories, but its one downfall is that it doesn't work well for baking.

4. Sugar alcohols(xylitol, sorbitol, and erythritol). These are natural sweeteners made through a fermentation process of corn or sugar cane. They contain fewer calories than sweeteners like pure sugar and honey but more than stevia. Just don't overdo it-- too much can cause gastrointestinal distress.

Most importantly, read your food labels and know what you are eating. And if you're confused about food labels….well, that's another blog post for another day.

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