Sweetening the pot

An eight-year study of 350,000 Europeans done by InterAct, which focuses on diabetes research, showed no correlation between artificial sweeteners and pre-diabetes, however. Other experts have called the sample sizes of mice and humans too small to prove anything. Since we’re all different, with different microbial populations in our gut and different amounts of predisposition to diabetes, it may be that not everyone has to stay away from artificial sweeteners.

It’s not an either/or proposition, either. There are many alternatives to artificial sweeteners, whether table sugar or the faux stuff. Dozens of others are out there, with glycemic indices from zero (stevia, made from a plant) to 115 (maltodextrin). A few of them even offer added nutritional benefits, especially the more natural and less refined ones, like the vitamins, minerals and fiber of date sugar or the antioxidant properties of honey or the mineral content of blackstrap molasses. Or the new sensation, yacon syrup, which contains a kind of soluble fiber that our intestinal flora friends like.

Other sweeteners include agave, maple syrup and coconut sugar (made from the blossom not the fruit), and also sugar alcohols like sorbitol and xylitol and even naturally processed sugar like turbinado. Space doesn’t allow for a full roundup here, but there have varying levels of processing/refinement and glycemic indices.

All these nutritional benefits are relatively low compared to getting your sweetness in the form of whole foods that are naturally sweet. Try carrots, cabbage, sweet potatoes, squash, beets, tomatoes and apples, for example, which offer you vitamins, minerals, fiber, antioxidants and other nutrients. Once your diet is based on whole natural foods instead of processed stuff with lots of added sugar (you’d be surprised where it lurks: 20 grams in a one-cup serving of canned baked beans or 31 grams in a Hungry Man Veal Parmigiana TV dinner), then you will crave the natural sweetness of your food instead of that big spoonful of sugar.

But when that ice tea calls out for just a bit of extra sweetening, go ahead. Just choose carefully.

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