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Guide to Safe Sweeteners
There are five non-nutritive sweeteners compatible with the Wheat Belly Lifestyle Institute program that have proven to be benign and useful for use in our diets and recipes. The safe and knowledgeable use of sweeteners allows us to re-create tasty cheesecakes, cookies, and pies without the problems associated with their conventional versions.
Definite no-nos include sucrose (table sugar), agave, and high-fructose corn syrup, all substantial sources of fructose. Honey and maple syrup, while natural, also contain a substantial proportion of fructose, so should be used sparingly. We avoid fructose due to its potential to increase visceral fat, increase triglycerides, and its failure to satisfy appetite.
The majority of people who are wheat-free experience heightened sensitivity to sweetness and the need for sweeteners of any sort diminishes over time. Sweeteners are therefore meant to be used sparingly, adding only enough to make your recipe slightly and pleasantly sweet. You may therefore need to adjust the quantity of sweetener used in our recipes to suit your palate. Also be aware that an occasional person experiences increased appetite with the use of any sweetener and may need to be extra careful with use of sweeteners, even avoid their use.
Stevia plants are naturally sweet, often called “sweet leaf.” Some people grow the plants and chew the leaves for their sweetness or add the leaves to recipes.
Stevia can be obtained in pure liquid or powdered form. It is also widely available as powdered and liquid forms combined with other ingredients, such as erythritol, xylitol, monkfruit, inulin, or maltodextrin to add volume or to mimic the look and feel of sugar. Maltodextrin is the one common additional ingredient to stevia preparations that should be avoided, as it raises blood sugar.
The quantity required to equal the sweetness of sugar varies from brand to brand. Two drops of the Stevia Clear sweetener from the SweetLeaf brand, for instance, equals one teaspoon of sugar, while other brands require five drops for equivalent sweetness. Most preparations will provide advice on what quantity matches the sweetness of sugar.
Erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar found in fruit. In commercial production, erythritol is produced from glucose with a process using yeast.
Erythritol yields no increase in blood sugar even with a quantity of 15 teaspoons all at once. There are less than 1.6 calories per teaspoon in erythritol. Studies have demonstrated modest reductions blood sugar and hemoglobin A1c (a reflection of the previous 90 days’ blood sugar) in people with diabetes who use erythritol.
Erythritol is somewhat less sweet than table sugar. It also has a unique “cooling” sensation, similar to that of peppermint, though less intense. It may therefore confer a cooling sensation to your baked products. It also does not hold up in baking quite as well as stevia.
Xylitol is also a natural sugar found in fruits and vegetables. It is also produced by the human body as part of normal metabolism.
Teaspoon for teaspoon, xylitol is equivalent in sweetness to sucrose. It yields two thirds of the calories of sucrose and, because digestion occurs in the small intestine rather than the stomach, triggers a slower and less sharp rise in blood glucose than sucrose. Most people experience minimal rise in blood glucose with xylitol. In one study of slender young volunteers, for instance, six teaspoons of sucrose increased blood sugar by 36 mg/dl, while xylitol increased blood sugar by 6 mg/dl. Interestingly, several studies have demonstrated positive health effects, including prevention of tooth decay and ear infections in children, both due to xylitol’s effects on inhibiting bacterial growth in the mouth.
Xylitol can be used interchangeably with sugar in recipes. It is also among the most baking friendly. One caution: xylitol is toxic to dogs and should not be allowed to consume it.
Monk fruit, or lo han guo, is a relatively new sweetener. Its track record suggests that, like stevia, it is a naturally sourced and benign sweetener. Many people prefer the taste of monk fruit over stevia because of less aftertaste. It is best obtained as pure monk fruit or combined with other of our preferred sweeteners, such as erythritol or inulin. Many mainstream supermarkets now carry the Nectresse brand (same manufacturer as Splenda) that contains erythritol, sucrose, and molasses and is therefore not among our preferred choices. For this reason, the Wheat Free Market sweetener was created, a combination of erythritol and monk fruit.
Inulin is a storage form of starch for plants. Interestingly, humans lack the digestive apparatus to break it down to sugars, but bowel flora (such as Lactobacillus species) are able to metabolize inulin to fatty acids (a so-called “prebiotic” effect), such as butyrate, that has been associated with improved intestinal health, reduced potential for colon cancer, and improved blood sugar, lower blood pressure, and lower triglycerides. Inulin preparations vary in sweetness, but are less sweet than sucrose. It is therefore typically combined with other sweeteners such as erythritol.