published Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Sweet! A little sugar is fine, just don't overdo it

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    Staff Photo by Allison Carter/Chattanooga Times Free Press - Feb 15, 2011 - A variety of different sweeteners are available to sweeten beverages and foods such as honey, Agave nectar, regular sugar, corn syrup, Splenda and a variety of different packaged sugars.

Sugar is still sweet, in moderation, experts say.

With many options of sweetening agents available—processed or raw sugar, Stevia or Sweet'n Low, honey or agave—local dietary experts say nothing need be eliminated entirely. The key is to indulge the sweet tooth judiciously.

The American Heart Association recommends women limit their sugar intake to 100 calories, or six teaspoons, per day. For men, the recommended limits are 150 calories or nine teaspoons.

"It breaks down to moderation, but you have to be an informed consumer about what you're buying," said Brian Jones, registered dietitian at Memorial Hospital. "There's not one sweetener I would brand as the devil."

Questions surrounding the safety of artificial sweeteners have been circulating for decades.

"Some artificial sweeteners were considered to increase risk of cancer," said Indi Maharaj, registered dietitian at the Chattanooga Lifestyle Center at Erlanger hospital, "but there is not enough substantial research on it."

The website for the National Cancer Institute indicates carcinogenicity studies have not provided clear evidence of a correlation between consumption of artificial sweeteners and cancer in humans. While products containing saccharin, including Sweet'n Low, used to contain a carcinogen warning, the substance was delisted and the warning label repealed in December 2000.

However, the controversies remain. A recent study from the University of Miami suggested that those who drank diet soda daily had a 61 percent increased risk of stroke.

But Jones said this study raises more questions than it provides answers.

"That was not peer-reviewed research," he said. "They did not control for family history or obesity. And they did not say what kind of artificial sweeteners were in those sodas."

Though artificial sweeteners have been vilified by proponents of the natural food movement, they do have some benefits, particularly for diabetic patients.

"The rules change a little bit," said Jones, "artificial sweeteners do not create an insulin response, so they are going to be healthier (for diabetics)."

Maharaj added that artificial sweeteners also don't cause the cavities and dental decay sugar can.

And while dieters might prefer non-caloric sweeteners, Maharaj and Jones both say a diet high in sugar substitutes can still lead to weight gain.

"Sugar substitutes aren't a magic bullet for weight loss," said Maharaj.

"It seems to be more of a behavioral problem," said Jones, "because people who use artificial sweeteners tend to eat more because they aren't satisfied."

The best way to lose weight, both say, is to focus the majority of the diet on whole foods.

While certain sweetening agents perceived as natural—honey, agave syrup, brown rice syrup or date sugar—are promoted as a healthier, more pure options, Maharaj said these products often do undergo a processing that alters them from their natural states.

"To go from a date to date sugar is highly processed," she said. "To go from the agave plant to the agave nectar is highly processed. Even stuff like Stevia to Truvia is highly processed. If you use limited quantities, a better option would be to use a little bit of [raw] sugar."

Jones noted having "patient after patient" in recent weeks mistake agave nectar as being calorie-free. In fact, agave nectar contains the same calories as honey or corn syrup.

Agave nectar is touted as having a low glycemic load, a measure of the effects of carbohydrates on blood sugar levels. The glycemic load of two tablespoons of agave nectar is 9.6, compared to a GL of 9 for one tablespoon of honey and 8 for one tablespoon sugar.

"Agave nectar might have a little bit of an advantage, but it's not as much as people think," said Jones.

One sweetening product that has recently come under attack is high fructose corn syrup.

"It's become the No. 1 target from the health-food movement," said Jones. "And partially, it's unfounded, from my point of view."

The Corn Refiners Association is seeking to have high fructose corn syrup renamed as corn sugar to remove the stigma from the product. A Feb. 10 press release noted the National Consumers League, a Washington, DC-based nonprofit, filed formal complaints with the Food and Drug Administration to reject a petition by the CRA.

"The FDA should not play spin doctor for the corn refining industry," Sally Greenberg, executive director of the NCL, said in the release. "... Should it turn out that HFCS does contribute to obesity or other adverse health outcomes, a regulatory decision allowing manufacturers to hide this ingredient from consumers could come back to haunt FDA."

Corn syrup yields the same calories as honey or agave nectar. All three are 25 percent higher in calories than sugar.

Studies about the adverse affects of corn syrup have yielded mixed results, said Maharaj.

about Holly Leber ...

Holly Leber is a reporter and columnist for the Life section. She has worked at the Times Free Press since March 2008. Holly covers “everything but the kitchen sink" when it comes to features: the arts, young adults, classical music, art, fitness, home, gardening and food. She writes the popular and sometimes-controversial column Love and Other Indoor Sports. Holly calls both New York City and Saratoga Springs, NY home. She earned a bachelor of arts ...

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james_r2323 said...

I found some information about stevia: THE natural sweetener.

There are several applications and regulation: -> in food -> in pharmaceutical products

It's just concerned europe. regards, James

February 17, 2011 at 4:49 a.m.
maryann said...

According to my research, agave has a glycemic load between 2.75-5 which makes it significantly lower than honey and sugar. You can do the calculation. The glycemic index of various brands of agave range between 17 and 32. This is why most diabetics find that they can tolerate it. Also, agave really is not highly processed. The process of hydrolysis (or heating it) really does not constitute as highly processed. Also, although agave does have more calories than sugar; it is important to note that it is much sweeter; therefore, you can use much less of it to achieve the same sweetening power and consume less calories and less of the sweetener as a whole.

February 17, 2011 at 6:24 p.m.
DiabetesRD said...

From the body's point of view,these nutritive sugars (honey, agave nectar, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose, brown rice syrup, date sugar,fruit juice concentrates, beet sugar or cane sugar) are virtually the same in caloric content and the way they are metabolized. High fructose corn syrup is a natural sugar made from corn without synthetic ingredients and there is no scientific evidence to support the linking of corn syrup to the incidence of obesity, gout, or elevated blood insulin levels. In 2008, both the American Dietetic Association and the American Medical Association released statements that high fructose corn syrup was nutritionally equivalent to any other fructose containing sugar. Non-nutritive or calorie-free sweeteners have been studied exhaustively and found to be safe as well. It is wise to consume all sugars in moderation.

Kathy Warwick,registered dietitian and member of the Corn Refiners Association RD Advisory Panel

February 18, 2011 at 6:44 p.m.
WindyD said...

Dear Kathy Warwick of the CRA: I am a health teacher and hypnotist who works to improve the health of my fellow Americans--unlike you, Kathy. Please do not use the American Dietetic Association or the American Medical Association to prove that high fructose corn syrup is perfectly "fine" for your fellow Americans. A soft drink company sponsors the ADA. Please do your own research to discover this.

The AMA certainly profits from the "dis"ease of their fellow Americans and would certainly support the profits being discovered from increasingly sick and diabetic Americans. Obesity is now an epidemic. (Thanks in a major part to HFCS).

I served on a research team in the past and results can certainly be biased when reported. Ethically, I couldn't keep working on the team, although what they did was perfectly legal. We could put in the statistics in different ways on the computer, and come out with totally different looking results on our "rat" research.

The research supported by aspartame companies is totally different than research from independent companies. Kathy and readers of this post can start with this from Dr. Mercola's website:

And Kathy, please let the readers know how much of that artificial red "HFCS" laced drink (from the advertisement) do you drink in a day, and how much do you give to your children in a day (in ounces, please)? You tell parents to give it their children. As a responsible dietitian, let us know how much you drink? We are waiting. I have asked you this on other posts--and no answer. Could the answer be "none". As a dietitian, you should feel a responsibility regarding the health of fellow Americans and not spread biased research. That artificial red drink has no part--absolutely no part--in a healthy diet--not even if used "in moderation." Shame on you--and the entire CRA for endangering the health of fellow Americans by suggesting that they "drink" this "cool-aid."

February 21, 2011 at 11:20 a.m.
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