How Sweet It Is – Is There a Safe Sugar Substitute?

In 2006, when I was wheeled into the operating room to have my Open Lung Biopsy, I was a very slim man of 145 pounds on a 5′ 7″ frame. I wore a size 32″ pants, and my casual dress was always very neat in ironed jeans and a shirt, sometimes tucked into my pants. After the surgery, my weight dropped to 140 pounds, which I would admit was too low and I looked too skinny. In June of 2009, I weighed 189 pounds, and today I have managed to come down to 173 pounds, and now I have a closet full of jeans that don’t fit, and all I wear are sweats because I refuse to buy anymore jeans until I am back down to my old weight.

How did I manage to put on 42 pounds, an almost 33% weight increase? One word. Sugar. Being on prednisone I have that insatiable hunger that needs to be satisfied immediately or someone dies. If you have never been on Prednisone, imagine you have had nothing to eat for a week, and your stomach aches for food. That’s how I felt every couple of hours. I did my best to control it, and according to my doctors, a 30 pound (my current overweight) weight increase is really not bad for being on Prednisone for 4 years now. Some people put on over 100 pounds! Prednisone can actually cause Type II diabetes also. The consumption of too much sugar also has its own side effects – obesity, cavities, hypertension, hypertriglyceridemia and also Type II diabetes.

My Sarcoidosis specialist told me last year that I had to bring my weight down to 150, and I told him that I would try, but it was so hard because the prednisone made me put on weight. He looked at me and told me that a pill weighs nothing. And that really did hit me. Although it’s a chemical thing that makes you crave food, especially sugary snacks, there are ways to control what I eat. One way is to eliminate sugar.

That seems so easy in today’s world with all the sugar substitutes available to you – Sweet & Low, NutraSweet, Equal and Splenda – but I dislike the after taste of Sweet & Low, Equal and NutraSweet. Also, NutraSweet and Sweet & Low are supposed to cause cancer in rats etc. All that’s left is Splenda, which I found did not have the after taste and was the closest thing to sugar, and it is made from sugar. So Splenda is made from sugar, but with out the calories and all the taste of regular sugar, and should be safe, right. Apparently not, according to a new study. Splenda is the trade name for sucralose. Sucralose is a synthetic compound, which is basically sugar modified by adding chlorine atoms. Sucralose was discovered by researchers looking to create a new pesticide. The reason Splenda produces no calories, is that the majority passes through the body without being digested. Most studies show that only around 15% of Splenda is actually digested. The worrisome fact for some researchers is that people with healthier GI systems, will absorb more of the Splenda, and thus more of the dangerous chlorine.  Splenda’s manufacturers, McNeil Nutritionals, did their own studies and found that test rodents suffered from dangerous side effects such as shrunken thymus glands, and enlarged livers and kidneys, and there were only short term studies. There were no long term studies performed before Splenda was approved by the FDA. Like most drugs in the world today, I think that we the consumer, and the effect it has on us, is the long term study.

So if all of the artificial sweeteners are dangerous, and I want to reduce my sugar intake, what do I do? Well, why not go back to nature and use a natural sweetener. There is good old honey. But it too has its calories and own sugar content. It is 80% natural sugar — mostly fructose and glucose. And a tablespoon of honey has 64 calories and 16g of sugar. A regular tablespoon of sugar is 45 calories and 12g of sugar. Yes, honey is sweeter than sugar, and more fattening. So switching to honey is not really a good substitute.

The Stevia Plant

Here steps in Stevia, a natural sweetener derived from the stevia plant’s leaves. Used for hundreds of years in south America, for decades in Japan and Europe, The FDA has vehemently fought the approval of Stevia for years, going so far as to ban its import into the United States. The FDA eventually backed down and approved it as a dietary supplement.

But is it safe? Not according to some scientist studying the potential toxicology and toxicity of stevia. They have several main concerns. One is Energy Metabolism. The claim that large amounts of stevioside, the compound responsible for the sweetness of Stevia, can potentially interfere with absorption of carbohydrates in animals and that it can further disrupt the metabolising/conversion of food into energy. Steviol has also successfully been converted into a mutagenic compound, which may promote cancer by causing genetic mutation of a cell’s DNA. However, scientists do not know if this will happen in human cells. And then there are reproductive problems. European scientists cite potential adverse side effects to the male reproductive system. When fed high doses of stevioside for nearly two years, sperm production in male rats was noticeably reduced and the weight of seminal vesciles declined. Also, when female hamsters were fed large amounts of a stevioside derivative called steviol, their offspring were found to be fewer and smaller. This however has been not been tested nor proven in humans.

What is one to do? If we were to listen to every single thing that made us potentially sick, we would not be able to eat anything. Therefore, everything in moderation. And that’s what i am trying to do. Just take everything slowly. Eat all natural, organic foods. Stay away from sugary foods and avoid artificial sweeteners. But if we do need to use artificial sweeteners, there are some safe ones out there.

The sweeteners that you should avoid are: Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, Canderel), Sucralose (Splenda, Altern), Acesulfame-K (Sunette, Sweet & Safe, Sweet One), Saccharin, Sugar, High Fructose Sweeteners (Corn Syrup). The sweeteners that are so far considered safe are: Evaporated Cane Juice, Stevia (Safe for diabetics), Fruit Juice, Honey (remember, it’s sweeter than sugar), Sugar Alcohols (xylitol, sorbitol), Maple Syrup (Without Added Sugar), Amasake.

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