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Sugar's Sweet, and So's High Fructose Corn Syrup
When it comes to artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes for Type 2 diabetes you can find every opinion under the sun, including the bizarre notion that they can cause Diabetes Mellitus*. Who's right and who's wrong? There's so much contrary information it's hard to decide but let's see if we can make sense of it.
First off, let's see where everyone agrees. That's easy: white, refined sugar (table sugar) and HFCS (high fructose corn syrup, the most popular sweetener in packaged foods). Both are terrible for you even if you're not diabetic, and very, very bad if you are. (Brown or cane sugar aren't much better really, for our needs, nor is honey, so stay away from them as well.)
We all know we should drink water, but aside from that what can we have? How do we sweeten our tea and coffee? Diet soda is a whole can of worms all on its own (some people think it would be better for you to have the can of worms instead of the soda.*)
Let's see what the professionals say:
The Mayo Clinic says that while artificial sweeteners have been the subject of intense scrutiny for decades, according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, there's "no sound scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States cause cancer or other serious health problems."
Pretty straightforward, right? Not so fast -
If you were around in the 70s you likely remember the media frenzy over cyclamate as a cancer-causing ingredient and it's subsequent ban. Here's a brief history ...
In 1937 at the University of Illinois a grad student, Michael Sveda, was working in the lab on a medicinal project, put his cigarette down on the lab bench and, when he picked it up again, found that it tasted sweet. He'd discovered cyclamate.
Decades later a study found that if rats were fed the equivalent of 350 cans of diet soda (with cyclamate) per day, about 3 per cent developed bladder cancer. It was taken off the market.
Although the diet foods lobby has repeatedly petitioned for its reinstatement, the FDA has maintained the ban even while admitting all available evidence does not implicate cyclamate as a carcinogen in mice or rats. Cyclamate is still illegal in the US but is currently approved in over 50 other countries, including Canada.
Aspartame is another one - originally approved in 1974, since then it's been under siege and even the US Food and Drug Administrations commissioner agreed that the testing was sloppy and the scientific integrity of the process was compromised.
To muddy the waters further, beginning in the late '80s an internet hoax spread about an Aspartame/Nutrasweet conspiracy, linking the product to dozens of physical and psychiatric problems, none of which is even remotely credible based on what Wikipedia calls one of the most rigorously tested food ingredients to date.
Do a search for aspartame conspiracy and see for yourself, but please don't get sucked in. Remember, this has been thoroughly discredited and none of it is true.
Aspartame/Nutrasweet has been okayed for human consumption in over 100 countries including Canada and the UK. In the US it would take more than 21 cans of diet soda per day to pass the allowable limit.
So who's right? Back to the Mayo Clinic, who advise us that the FDA's acceptable daily intake (ADI) is the maximum amount considered safe to consume each day over the course of your lifetime. ADIs are intended to be about 100 times less than the smallest amount that might cause health problems.
Based on that, and 40-plus years of worldwide testing, artificial sweeteners seem safe enough in reasonable amounts. Unless you plan on drinking between 20 and 350 cans of diet soda a day. In which case, you're on your own.
*Charges that diet soda can actually cause Type 2 Diabetes, and the whole diet soda health controversy, would have taken too much room to look at here. Click the Diet tab and select Diabetes and Diet Sodas for more information.
Natural Sugar Substitutes for Diabetes
So much for the artificial sweetners what about natural ones?
Some chefs have begun to use stevia, coconut sugar, molasses, barley malt, maple syrup, sucunat - cane sugar without the molasses stripped away- fresh and dried fruits and nectar from the agave plant where recipes call for sweetening.
Which is great but not particularly good for diabetics. Just because it's natural doesn't make it okay for someone who has problems processing sugar. They will still raise your blood sugar so use them sparingly.
Your best friend is the label - read it carefully.
You want to look at grams of sugar and grams of carbohydrate, which turn to sugar in your blood.
You'll see, for instance, that while agave nectar is indeed natural and better for you than refined sugar, it has almost the same amounts of sugar and carbs that white sugar does. It's only advantage from a diabetic point of view is that it has a lower Glycemic Index rating and will spike your blood sugar less than the white stuff.
Unless it's one of the agave products whose manufacturers have cut it with corn syrup, which is exactly the stuff you're trying to escape.
There's a lot of money in selling healthy products to people, and even more if you can cut your costs by slapping a Pure! Natural! Good For You! label on what is, essentially, crap.
That's why you want to read the other label, the one where they're forced to tell the truth. It's on the side or back and lists the nutritional particulars and ingredients.
And if they try to get around that by making it too difficult for you to see what's really in it, put it back on the shelf and buy something else.
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