22 September 2013

Paleo Guide to Natural Sweeteners: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Inflammation is an essential part of the body's healing system. Without it, injuries would fester and simple infections could be deadly. Too much of a good thing, however, is downright deadly.

Chronic low-grade inflammation is intimately involved most chronic disease, including Alzheimer's, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and autoimmune disease.  One of the underlying factors causing this increase in inflammation is our love affair with sugar.  We have been led to believe that if we switch to alternatives, we can go on with our sweet addiction and pay no health penalties down the road.  One of the very first things I teach patients to do is KICK THE SWEET HABIT!  If you go off sugar and all sweeteners for just 30 days, I promise you.... your body will adjust it's taste-meter so that a piece of fruit with have more flavor and sweetness than you've ever dreamed possible.  And if you do indulge in a glass of soda or something full of sugar, you just might spit it back out due to the sickening sweetness that your body had become accustomed to prior to your sugar detox.

But I do get questions all the time from patients... "If I do need to use a sweetener occasionally and sparingly... what are my best options?"  

Glad you asked!  So here's a Guide to Natural Sweeteners just for you...

The Good:  Natural - Use sparingly

  • Stevia (organic green leaf or pure extract)
  • Organic Local Raw Honey

The Fair: Natural - Use sparingly

  • Dates
  • Date sugar
  • Coconut nectar
  • Coconut sugar/crystals
  • Fruit juice (only fresh squeezed, real, organic)
  • Maple syrup 
  • Palm sugar

The Bad:  Natural but recommend avoidance

  • Agave
  • Barley Malt
  • Beet sugar
  • Brown sugar/light brown sugar/muscovado
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Cane sugar or juice
  • Caramel
  • Carob syrup
  • Corn syrup or solids
  • Dextran
  • Dextrose
  • Ethyl Maltol
  • Fructose
  • Glucose/glucose solids
  • Golden sugar
  • Grape sugar
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Lactose
  • Levulose
  • Maltitol
  • Malt syrup
  • Maltodextrin
  • Maltose
  • Mannitol
  • Raw sugar
  • Refiner's syrup
  • Sorbitol
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Sucrose
  • Xylitol (or other sugar alcohols, end in "-tol or -ose"

The Ugly:  Artificial - never consume

  • Acesulfame K (Sweet One)
  • Aspartame (Nutra-Sweet, Equal)
  • Saccarin (Sweet'N Low)
  • Stevia - white/bleached (Truvia, Sun Crystals)
  • Sucralose (Spenda)
  • Tagatose (PreSweet)

More on Truvia... the one you THOUGHT was ok

Is Truvia made from a leaf?  Well the answer is kinda, sorta.  Truvia has three ingredients:  erythritol, rebiana, and natural flavors.  Rebiana is made from the stevia leaf by soaking it in water.  Although Cargill whitewashes the process as similar to making tea, the truth is revealed in Coca Cola's patent where it outlines a 40+ step process that includes the use of acetone, methanol, ethanol, acetonitrile, and isopropanol.  I don’t know about you, but when I make a cup of tea, I’ve never used any of those ingredients.

The second fallacy of Truvia’s “guilt-free” naturalness is it’s main ingredient, erythritol.  Now while erythritol is a naturally-occurring sweetener found in many fruits, in nature it is present in such small amounts that Cargill manufacturers Truvia’s erythritol by chemically converting genetically modified corn into a food grade starch which it ferments to create glucose and then processes further to create erythritol.   All Natural?  Truvia sounds more like a GMO lab experiment than a sweetener straight from nature.  

But Dr. Jill, I need more carbs!

If you've gone Paleo and removed grains, legumes and refined foods from your diet, you don't have to let go of carbs altogether.   Here are some high carb delicious healthy veggie alternatives for you to munch on that are packed with nutrients...
  1. Yam
  2. Sweet potato
  3. Parsnips
  4. Cassava
  5. Taro root
  6. Plantain
  7. Winter Squash
  8. Onion
  9. Beets
  10. Carrots
  11. Butternut squash
  12. Rutabaga
  13. Jicama
  14. Kohlrabi or Purple kohlrabi (pictured)
  15. Spaghetti squash
  16. Turnips
  17. Pumpkin
  18. Zucchini
More references:


  1. Please share why we should avoid Agave. I thought it was up there on the "ok" list. Thanks.

  2. Agave has brilliant marketing but is no "health food" Organic raw honey is a much more natural nutrient-rich alternative. Agave syrup is neither a natural food nor organic.

    Fully chemically processed sap from the agave plant is known as hydrolyzed high fructose inulin syrup.
    According to Dr. Ingrid Kohlstadt, a fellow of the American College of Nutrition:

    “[Agave is] almost all fructose, highly processed sugar with great marketing.”

  3. This review explores whether fructose consumption might be a contributing factor to the development of obesity and the accompanying metabolic abnormalities observed in the insulin resistance syndrome.

  4. Sorry I needed to make a correction. By the way, the kohlrabi is beautiful in that picture!
    If one grows a Stevia plant, you can taste a leaf, at first tastes like grass until mushed up quite a bit then the sweetness comes out. I would think ethanol extraction is how many herbs are made into tinctures but methanol and the rest sure don't sound like good idea.
    I did find this website for making your own stevia extract and she offered one method using vodka (ethanol) and one using water. I'd try the latter first myself.

    Are you aware of a more naturally prepared stevia that is commercially available and easy to use if one was making say a special dessert for a diabetic friend? Or even if you want to sweeten iced tea? (I don't do iced tea but asking for others).

    Hope you are doing well out there in Colorado!
    Methodist is probably buying Proctor back here in Peoria.