It’s no secret that Americans consume too much sugar. In fact, by 2010 Americans consumed 66 pounds of refined sugar per person. Add to that the consumption of 64.5 pounds of corn-derived sweeteners and 1. 5 pounds of honey and edible syrups; the total annual sweetener consumption per person is 132 pounds (excluding artificial sweeteners and alternative sweeteners such as stevia). To focus on sugar alternatives, or more specifically, natural sugar alternatives, it’s important to consider why we should reduce sugar consumption.
Excess sugar consumption contributes toward diabetes, dental caries (cavities), a compromised immune system, kidney damage, atherosclerosis, oxidative stress and cancer. Furthermore, even short-term overconsumption can result in problems.Research shows that blood drawn from normal human subjects after they consumed glucose, fructose, sucrose, honey, or orange juice demonstrated a significantly reduced capacity of neutrophils (the most abundant type of white blood cell produced by the immune system) to engulf bacteria. Also, a diet high in simple sugars and refined carbohydrates may slow bowel transit time, increase fermentation and increase exposure to potentially toxic bowel contents. This could provide a similar inhospitable environment for friendly microflora.
REDUCING CONSUMPTION OF SUGAR
Given the ramifications of sugar overconsumption, it clearly makes sense to reduce sugar intake—which is not as easy as it sounds. Sugar has addictive properties that involve the same dopamine receptors in the pleasure centers of the brain as for cocaine, nicotine and alcohol. Nevertheless, one good way to reduce sugar consumption is by using sugar alternatives.
The following discussion will present two non-caloric natural sugar alternatives to sweeten your food and beverages without the consequences or risks attributed to sugar. Keep in mind, that just because these are zero calorie, moderation is still important for the body to digest and function in balance.
NON-CALORIC, NATURAL SUGAR ALTERNATIVES
Currently, there are two natural sugar alternatives that are noncaloric and GRAS (generally regarded as safe): stevia (or more specifically its compound, rebaudioside A) and luo han guo. Here’s a closer look at both:
Native to subtropical and tropical regions from western North America to South America, stevia is a genus of herbs and shrubs in the sunflower family. Stevia rebaudiana, commonly known as just stevia, is grown for the sweetness of its leaves. Stevia’s sweetness occurs more slowly and lasts longer than sugar. The limitation of stevia is that its extracts generally have a bitter aftertaste, sometimes described as licorice-like. The compounds in stevia providing its sweet taste are called steviol glycosides, and provide up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar. The major steviol glycosides are stevioside and rebaudioside A (aka, RebA). It is important to note that wholeleaf stevia or crude stevia extracts have not had GRAS approval as a food additive. Rather, Sweet Green Fields, Blue California, McNeil Nutritionals, Cargill, and Whole Earth Sweetener/Merisant have all received GRAS approval for concentrated rebaudioside A products derived from stevia.
In addition to its functioning as a sugar alternative, stevia may offer other health benefits. Human research indicates that stevioside (750-1500 mg/day) may be effective in lowering blood pressure in hypertensive patients.10 Other clinical research suggests that stevioside (1000 mg/day) might reduce postprandial glucose levels by 18 percent in people with type 2 diabetes. However, since the GRAS approved stevia compound is rebaudioside A, it is not clear that commercially available products will have the same effects.
Luo Han Guo (Monk Fruit)
Luo Han Guo , or monk fruit (Siraitia grosvenorii), is native to southern China and northern Thailand, and has been used for hundreds of years in China as a natural sweetener and as a traditional medicine for the treatment of pharyngitis, pharyngeal pain, as well as an antitussive remedy. The dried fruit is used in whole, in powder form or in blocks for beverages, seasoning, in herbal soups, teas, cakes and candy. A naturally produced lou han guo fruit concentrate that is non-caloric and is 300 times sweeter than sugar was developed, accepted by the FDA and registered as GRAS. The sweet taste of this fruit is primarily a result of a group of triterpene glycosides called mogrosides that make up about 1 percent of the flesh of the fresh fruit. Via extraction, a fruit powder containing 80 percent mogrosides can be produced.
In addition to its effects as a sweetener, luo han guo extract was shown in animal research to have significant antifatigue effects. Recent research suggests isolated mogrosides have antioxidant properties and, as with stevia compounds, were shown to inhibit skin cancer in animal research. In-vitro research has also shown that mogrosides inhibit induction of the Epstein- Barr virus.
The overconsumption of sugar has serious health ramifications. Efforts should be undertaken to curtail intake, especially of refined sugar products such as table sugar, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, etc. Stevia and luo han guo are viable, non-caloric sugar alternatives that can be used in this effort. Caloric sugar alternatives such as sugar alcohols, honey and maple syrup, may also be used, but more sparingly.