Sweeteners

Some chemical dependency treatment programs try to limit their patients’ consumption of sugar and other sweeteners. Addicts of all sorts who have some concerns about weight management, including most eating addicts, have some questions about sweeteners.

Sucrose is what most people mean when they say “sugar.” It is the most widely known sweetener, though it now follows high fructose corn syrup as the number one sweetener in processed foods. Since sucrose is half dextrose and half fructose, the dextrose part is metabolized very quickly, while the fructose part must be converted by the liver.

High fructose corn syrup, found in everything from soft drinks to soups, contains 42 to 90 percent fructose; the rest is dextrose. Thus its rate of metabolism depends on which variety it is — the 42 percent formula would likely be metabolized much faster than the 90 percent one.

Dextrose, also known as glucose (blood sugar), is used directly by the cells of the body, so people sensitive to sugar would theoretically be more sensitive to pure dextrose than to sucrose.

Fructose (fruit sugar) must be converted to glucose by the liver before being used by the body. Therefore it takes a little longer to elevate the blood sugar level. Fruits, however, contain a mixture of sugars; oranges, peaches, and melons, for example, contain more sucrose than fructose.

Lactose (milk sugar) is a combination of glucose and galactose. The galactose part also must be changed by the liver before it can elevate the blood sugar level, but the glucose part is metabolized directly, so its general speed of metabolism should be comparable to sucrose. Since it tastes only about one-seventh as sweet as sucrose, it might be found in significant quantities in dairy products that don’t taste particularly sweet.

Galactose (grape sugar) is a slower-metabolized sugar usually found as part of lactose or fruits.

Maltose, hexose, and any other —ose are probably disaccharides (other combinations of simple sugar molecules).

Sugar Aliases

Because of the concern that people have about eating too much sugar, the food industry is trying its best to hide it in foods. This is because food without sweeteners doesn’t sell well. From a marketing standpoint, the best of both worlds is to be able to say on the package that there is “no sugar added” while loading it with “natural sweeteners” so you’ll keep buying it because it tastes so good.

Corn syrup, corn syrup solids, and corn sweetener are all products of differing amounts of fructose and dextrose.

Molasses is heavy sucrose syrup that does at least have some iron remaining in it.

Brown sugar is usually ordinary table sugar to which some molasses has been added to make it brown.

Honey is a mixture of sugars, with a little more fructose than table sugar. The health food properties of honey have been overrated; it is not significantly better nutritionally than other sugars. And because of pollens and other substances included, it may actually aggravate allergies in those sensitive to airborne matter.

Natural sweetener is a euphemism for sugar.

Malted barley, also called simply malt, is germinated barley. It is used by brewers to convert starch to sugar, which is then fermented into alcohol. When malt is added to a carbohydrate, then, its function is to increase the sugar content of the food.

Maltodextrin is a starch product usually used to change the texture of foods, so it is not a sugar, but it is a processed starch. We include it here only because it sounds like a sugar.

Fruit Juices

These are sugars, usually with a high percentage of fructose, but sugars nevertheless. The more sensitive you are to sugars, the more careful you should be of fruit juices or dried fruit. Few people are so sensitive to sugar that they cannot tolerate eating an orange, but you can easily squeeze the juice (including the sugar) from three oranges into a glass and get about the same amount of sugar as a regular Coke.

Dried Fruit

When you dry fruit, you are evaporating only the water, so all the sugar stays behind in the fruit. If you eat dried fruit, like raisins, count the pieces, not the handfuls. A small box of raisins is the sugar equivalent of a pretty large bunch of grapes.

Sweet Alcohols

Sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, and similar substances are sweeteners that are classed chemically as sweet alcohols. They are only half to three-quarters as sweet as sucrose and, like sugar, contain about 4 calories per gram. They metabolize much more slowly than sugars, so they provide energy for intestinal bacteria, which attract water and produce an irritating waste that can cause diarrhea. They are marketed as “sugar free” primarily because they do not contribute to dental caries (cavities). They have other purposes, such as keeping chewing gum soft and from sticking to the paper, and because of the diarrhea, they are also laxatives if you eat very much of them. We suggest that you use them in moderation if at all.

Gums and Mints

Gums, mints, etc., add up quickly, whether they contain sugar or a sweet alcohol. They should be considered as sugarless only in the sense that they don’t promote tooth decay like sugar. For some food and nicotine addicts, they tend to continue the obsession by supporting the idea that you have to have something in your mouth to keep from putting food or a cigarette into it. This “substitution therapy” is a crutch at best, and a hindrance to solid recovery for many.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners probably do not trigger the carbohydrate / insulin / serotonin reaction or directly affect blood sugar level significantly. For some eating addicts, however, the very idea of eating something sweet may produce enough excitement to trigger an insulin response. This is especially true if they believe they must rigidly exclude all sugar from their diet to recover from eating addiction.

Artificial sweeteners may or may not help people lose weight. People rarely cut down on fats just because they switch from sugar to artificial sweeteners. If they are used in moderation with a low-fat food plan, artificial sweeteners may help, but if they stimulate your cravings, they may hurt.

Saccharin Saccharin used to be the most common purely artificial sweetener, with the most common brand name Sweet 'n Low but it was overtaken by aspartame. Saccharin is up to 500 times as sweet as sucrose (table sugar). It was implicated in cancer, but there is a controversy about how dangerous it is.

Aspartame Aspartame goes by trade names like NutraSweet when added in bulk to processed foods, and Equal when added at the table. It has a good taste, is somewhat more expensive than saccharin, and is unstable at high temperatures, so it cannot be used in baking, for example. It is about 200 times as sweet as sucrose.

Aspartame is composed chemically of the two amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine, plus a methyl group. The amino acids are broken down and used as other protein fragments in the body. People with phenylketonuria (PKU) have the hereditary inability to get rid of phenylalanine when it is ingested in excess of the body’s needs. Fortunately PKU is not very common, and if you have it, you would already know about it.

When aspartame’s methyl group is metabolized, it briefly becomes methanol (or methyl alcohol) and then formaldehyde, and finally carbon dioxide. Moderate amounts of aspartame will not produce significant quantities of these toxic chemicals, but you might remember that the FDA gave its approval of aspartame on the assumption that no one would consume more than about 50 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. This amounts to about eighty packets of Equal per day for a 132-pound person. This sounds like a very high amount, but it could be reached with about fifteen Nutra— Sweet soft drinks. Now that NutraSweet is in all sorts of processed foods, there is a clear danger of excess.

Sucralose Sucralose goes by the brand name Splenda. Because it is not sensitive to heat, it can be used in cooking and baking.

Stevia Stevia leaf extract, with brand names like Kal, Truvia, and Pure Via, is derived from the stevia plant. It is relatively new on the market, and beginning to make its way into commercial products.

Others Acesulfame-K (Sunette, Sweet One, is an artificial sweetener that tastes about as sweet and almost as good as aspartame but does not break down at high temperatures.

Sweeteners in Foods, Drugs, Vitamins, etc.

If you believe you are particularly sensitive to sugars, watch the labels of all kinds of foods, drugs, vitamins, and other preparations, because sugars are often used in these products. Even packages of saccharin and aspartame have small quantities of sugar to increase the volume of the packages. Most artificial sweeteners are so concentrated that they have to add something to the packet so you won’t think it is empty, and so it will pour freely. These amounts of sugar will not be significant unless you are using a lot of these artificial sweeteners. You can often find sweeteners in bulk without these fillers, with tiny spoons that give about the sweetening as a standard packet of sugar (sucrose).


Sweeteners, see also: Binge history, Constipation, Craving, Diet mentality, Eating addiction, Eating plans, Hunger & appetite, Metabolism, Moderation, Nutrition, Relapse & prevention, Sabotage of recovery, Sugar.

Updated 1 Sep 2015

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Addictionary 2 by Jan & Judy Wilson

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