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Sweeteners: Which Ones Are Best And Why You Should Avoid The Others

Hey, there! Dr. Alan Christianson here, and thanks so much for taking the time to ask some questions. It shows you’re really trying and wanting to sort this stuff out. Hearing that, lights me up! I am here to make this easier for you and am totally jazzed to assist. We have a great question about sweeteners. Is coconut sugar good stuff, or what is safe to use as a sweetener? Great question, and I want to go into a few points to make some sense of this.

It is helpful to understand that the taste of sweet is a calibrated taste. What I mean by that is the number of sweet taste buds you have, and how the nerves respond to them, changes rather promptly. A friend, JJ Virgin, had a show, called “Freaky Eaters.” I remember one episode where a woman ate sugar. I know that does not sound shocking, but this woman ate sugar by the spoonful. That is pretty much all she ate for years. Her health was pretty wrecked because of this. JJ tried to get her to taste other foods. For example, JJ gave her some very fresh, ripe mango, which is the sweetest tasting fruit you can imagine. The woman tasted the mango and thought it was very bitter and repulsive. I would imagine it tasted to her like bitter Chinese herbs. That was not psychological but a very real effect of her taste buds and taste apparatus. They were so numb. The more you taste heavy, powerful, intensely sweet things, the more you numb yourself to the sweet taste and the less you experience it easily. The cool thing was that in just over a week, she revisited that mango. This was after some tough days of eating foods that didn’t naturally taste good to her, but she stuck with it, and the mango was a whole different experience for her. At the same time, she also tasted some straight sugar and thought it was repulsively sweet.

If you are eating processed foods, getting a lot of sugar in your diet or a lot of intense, fake, sweet things, you will find yourself more sweet-resistant. This will cause you to seek stronger versions of sweet to break through the resistance. When you are eating unprocessed foods, eventually you reach a point where carrots or beets start tasting really sweet. Then, fruit is totally a dessert. The idea about sweeteners will not be very compelling. Your body can change and will shift. It is really based upon what you are eating. Do not worry as much about sweeteners, but just eat real foods, and you will do well.

One thing I get asked about a lot is stevia. Stevia is an extract and is crazy safe. Donna Gates, who is a good friend, was the gal that actually brought stevia to America back in the late 1980’s. Historically, the versions of stevia that were used were green-leafed or white stevia, and they are fine, safe and may even have some health benefits. You do not need to use a lot, as small amounts work very well. There is a compound, called rebaudioside, which is the sweet element of stevia. The purified versions of stevia are fine and non-toxic; however, there are now some highly-refined versions available. The big one out now is called Truvia. The sad thing is, although Truvia is stevia-based, it has a lot of GMO corn and other synthetic chemicals and solvents in it. I’m not a fan of the super-processed types.

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Another sweetener I like to use here and there is xylitol. Xylitol is dried from foods. The cool thing about it is it’s not really absorbed, so there are not substantial amounts of it that come into your body. It mostly just rides through, eventually heading out to the toilet, without actually interacting with your system. There is a lot of data showing xylitol does good things to your intestinal flora. It kills yeast and some harmful bacteria. It has diminished ear infections in kids, as well as sinus and throat infections. Some have argued xylitol is bad for you, but again, you are not absorbing it, so it doesn’t make sense to say it can do harmful things. It is not going into your kidney, liver or elsewhere.

Some other popular sweeteners are coconut sugar, agave and honey. I lump all those together. They are natural, but they are pretty high in fructose. For a lot of us trying to manage our stress response, get our adrenals healthier and hit a good, lean body weight, fructose is public enemy number one. Of these three sweeteners, I could see getting small amounts of raw, unfiltered honey from the farmers’ market. Maybe use a teaspoon here and there. I can give that a pass. There are some food-like qualities to it. It may help your immune system. Honestly, only teaspoon quantities though, and you would not want to go above that.

Then, there is a long list of synthetic sweeteners, including saccharine, erythritol, Splenda and Nutrasweet. Those things are not foods. The biggest rule of nutrition is this: Do not stress about analyzing weird ingredients; avoid weird ingredients, as they are not foods. Eat simple foods. By doing so, you will become much more sweet responsive. You will more readily pick up on that sweet taste and not need super-intense things to season your foods.

That’s it! Thanks for being here, and we will talk more real soon.

Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet.

Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.