Choosing the Best Sugar Substitute

(Note: This is a very long post but a very important topic. Originally an excerpt from A Place to Start Without Sugar or Starch, I’ve modified it and will be including it in the 2nd Edition: Essential Carbohydrate Living)

In my many conversations with other CSID parents, I have found that we take a different approach regarding sugar or sugar substitutes in food. No wonder with all the choices we have! Even with the best of intentions, we can make a wrong choice based on what we have heard or the trust that tends to occur from seeing a particular brand over and over again.

From the start, I was dead set against giving Parker any artificial sweeteners, since I knew the long term consequences would never outweigh the benefit of giving him a sweet treat. Though many people view this topic as controversial, my opinion is that my son has already suffered enough. Why would I give him a food that could bring him more harm?

The other side of this argument could be that come CSID children can only have artificial sweeteners such as aspartame. Although I can sympathize with this perspective, I also feel that this is used to justify serving diet cola, candy or gum containing aspartame or other artificial sweeteners. The bottom line is any of these foods in excess are not GOOD for ANYBODY, especially a child who is already facing lifelong challenges with making healthy food choices.

Yet, I am a firm believer that with knowledge comes power. If I don’t take a small risk in sharing what I do know about all our options regarding the use of sugar or sugar substitutes in food, I risk not getting that information to the parent willing to make changes who is just lacking an action plan to do so.

With that, consider the following questions and then consider the following information summarizing the possible disadvantages and benefits to choosing the right sweetener for your child. My hope is that when you have the choice, you will then know the best choice to make and in turn be teaching your child how to make those choices one day in the near future when you will not be by their side to assist them.

Knowing that your child lacks the enzymes to digest sucrose, you would not knowingly feed your child a food containing sucrose, right?

Additionally, knowing that your child’s digestive system and other major systems in his or her body experienced a certain level of stress and trauma prior to a confirmed CSID diagnosis, would you feed your child a food containing ingredients that could potentially add stress to his or her body?

Again, I come to my premise for everything I post here and plan to publish in my upcoming recipe and resource guide. With the ultimate goal of teaching parents so that they can then teach their children a LIFESTYLE of eating well for total wellness…

Whenever possible~

Avoid What Harms & Add What Helps!

I say all this as a parent who has to make daily choices regarding what is BEST for myself, my family and my children given my current time, money, energy and other resources.

Do I find it easy to follow the “ideal” recipes and other information I post here?

Never!

Do I feel that without at least knowing what the best option is, I have more control over our long-term health and wellness?

Always!

And I expect nothing more or less from anyone who comes across this blog or one of my books.

TABLE SUGAR, CANE SUGAR, CANE JUICE, ORGANIC SUGAR CANE, PALM (coconut) SUGAR, PALM CANE JUICE AND other forms of sucrose

Name them whatever you want, the CSID body recognizes them as SUCROSE (TABLE SUGAR).

Even with Sucraid in hand, choosing foods containing minimally processed versions of sugar also contain less chemicals, and less potential to harm. At the time I revised this post (2016), it is my understanding that non-gmo cane juice or organic coconut sugar are the least processed forms of sucrose.

Check out this video on sugar and perhaps you’ll see how CSID may be a blessing in disguise as it forces us and our children to reduce overall sugar intake and possible help avoid a gamut of health issues facing the current generation.

Countdown from Worst to Best in Sugar-Substitutes…(In my OPINION)

7. SPLENDA (SUCRALOSE), NUTRASWEET (ASPARTAME), EQUAL (SACCHARINE)

I avoid using these artificial sweeteners at all costs. The bottom line is they are created for and manufactured for people desiring to continue bad eating habits despite being overweight, having diabetes or worse. Splenda gets my worst of the worst review for their highly deceptive marketing campaign. Essentially Splenda (or sucralose) is a non-corn syrup, sugar based sweetener which is coated in MALTODEXTRIN (starch!) to prohibit absorption into the bloodstream.

This is no better or healthier than Aspartame… a drug (oops…) I mean “sugar substitute” which should be considered a POISON! If you feel you must choose a food containing any of the above ingredients, I beg you to consider how necessary the given food is at all? I provide more than enough recipe and food alternatives on this website.

Please choose those and do not risk harming your child’s delicate system. As you will see, there are so many BETTER options if you just look for them.

6. CORN SYRUP OR HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP (HFCS)

As shown in the above video, fructose (especially high fructose corn syrup) is not a great sugar alternative. You would have to be living in a cave to be unaware of all the controversy surrounding corn syrup and high fructose corn syrup, and the research is getting so strong, food companies are now adding the phrase “no high fructose corn syrup” to packaging.

There was a time when I let my guard down and allowed corn syrup and HFCS into Parker’s diet. This came in handy when eating out or at social functions when the only beverage available was the lemon-lime soda brand which used corn syrup and no sucrose as a sweetener.

However, I quickly regretted making this compromise as it gave Parker a “taste” for artificial and processed foods. Aside from this, what is the harm? Beyond potentially harming the liver and leading to other health problems such as diabetes and obesity, most foods containing corn syrup or HFCS are void of any significant nutritional value.

Also read this article for a more detailed explanation of the differences between corn syrup, HFCS and sugar:“The Facts About Corn Syrup” (SFChronicle, Sept. 24, 2008). I was also shocked to learn that some forms of HFCS also contain sucrose!

5. crystalline FRUCTOSE

Fructose is a single molecule (monosaccharide) sweeter derived from corn. Though fructose occurs naturally in most fruits, it is my experience that any dried fructose you find in the store comes from gmo-corn unless otherwise labeled. Fructose is often one of the first options to use as a sweetener for those with CSID, due to its similar taste and consistency to sugar.

However, recent reports from Harvard Medical School indicate that high levels of fructose in the diet can contribute to liver problems.

My impression of this article tends to lean toward the high consumption of high fructose corn syrup in processed foods and how the levels of consumption have increased dramatically since the day when our main source of fructose came from the fruits we ate. However, please read the article by clicking on the underlined portion above to come to your own conclusion regarding total fructose intake for you or your child.

Over the past several years I’ve transitioned from using fructose to sweeten my coffee, tried agave syrup for a time, and after learning of the possible harm of excess fructose, began using Coconut Sugar (see below). I generally only use fructose for baking or cooking if my sweetener of choice (honey) does not compliment to overall flavor or consistency of the recipe or meal.

Please Note: Some people with CSID also lack the enzymes to break down fructose. Consult your dietitian to determine if fructose is the best sugar-substitute for your individual case.

4. STEVIA OR TRUVIA

I’ve been asked a lot about using Stevia instead of sugar. Honestly, the main thing I don’t like about Stevia is that it tastes strange.  It’s also very expensive to use for baking if used in the quantities needed for the recipes on this blog. However, on occasion and in small quantities (such as to sweeten coffee or tea), I personally use it over artificial sweetener or a sucrose.

Since Stevia is an herb and I have heard from various sources that children should not take in large amounts of herbs (specifically medicinal) I have avoid using it for my children. There just isn’t enough long-term use to convince me it is safe. Stevia does not contain sugars of any form. In addition, the ingredients in Truvia are questionable, especially since one is “natural flavors”.

One final note to consider if choosing Stevia or Truvia is that this is marketed as a no-calorie sweetener. Since our children require a daily minimum of calories from carbohydrates (a sugar alternative being one of them), this sweetener of choice doesn’t add to their caloric needs.

3. AGAVE NECTAR

To the best of my knowledge, agave nectar contains only fructose (up to 90%) and glucose. I have personally used agave nectar to sweeten my coffee and as a last resort to sweeten Parker’s chlorophyll or lemon slushy. This is one of those products that has recently become a popular sugar substitute, and thus earns a red-flag in my book. I have also heard rumors through helpful clerks at local health-food markets that some agave manufacturers may add corn syrup to help stretch product.

This may turn out to be a great sweetener of choice for those with CSID, but without more research or confirmed reports of successful use, I will leave it up to you to decide. In addition, since it is a form of fructose, we should consider overuse in conjunction with the research about high-fructose corn syrup.

One final note — I used a bulk-variety blue agave I purchased from Costco for several weeks about a year ago. I used it mostly in my coffee and in some baking and cooking and cannot recall any problems. I have used it for traveling when fructose is not available since many health food stores carry Agave and do not carry fructose.

I prefer agave nectar over crystallized fructose because it’s organic, not derived from gmo corn and it’s more readily available at grocery stores. However, processing techniques are questionable so I don’t consider it as natural an alternative as I once believed.

2. COCONUT SUGAR

I wish I could explain why this form of sucrose doesn’t appear to bother those in my family, but I can’t. Perhaps it is like certain forms of starch, and simply easier to break down. I’ve been using it fairly consistently in my coffee for a little over a year now and haven’t experienced any issues that I’m aware of. My kids also prefer the taste over honey in baked treats. Daily intake is very minimal — less than 15 grams and if Parker eats anything containing it, he takes his digestive enzymes just in case.

1. HONEY (My #1 Choice!)

Perhaps I am a little partial to honey since it was the only sweetener I ever knew as a child. I kid you not…my mother made us honey sweetened carob cake with whole-wheat flour (which also probably included eggs from our own hens and raw, whole cows milk) for our birthdays!

Honey is the least processed of all sweeteners and has been used for many thousands of years longer than any of the other sweeteners listed here. Depending on the source, honey contains a very small percentage of sucrose and maltose and is mostly made up of glucose and fructose.

Read this article on How to Identify Fake Honey for some interesting facts and information on finding good-quality honey. The obvious choice is locally grown, unpasteurized honey as it has the most benefits overall.

Out of all the healthy foods I grew up with, honey remains one of the only foods our CSID children and myself can have without the need for digestive enzyme support. According to CSID Info, they have reports of some CSID families needing to use Sucraid with honey. They state that some do not use honey at all, but do not state why.

They also provide a detailed list of sweeteners, chemical breakdowns, and recommendations based on various CSID mutations (which are ever-changing and growing).

Please note: Children under the age of 1 year should not eat honey. Please consult your pediatrician regarding the safety of using of honey in baked goods for children under one year.

I hope you find this information helpful when determining which sweeter to choose for your child. Now you know why my recipes use either honey or fructose. I will continue to experiment with Agave in a few of my recipes to see how Parker likes it for both taste and tummy ease.

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6 thoughts on “Choosing the Best Sugar Substitute

  1. Virgile Lafreniere says:

    we are using dextrose (anhydrous). Works very well. It's biggest advantage is that you can use it just like sugar (same taste, same way to cook..etc.) I can't image making crème brulé with a liquid sugar. there's is some stuff that we need to know before cooking with (it's become hard candy when you mix it with any liquid so you have to mix it well when you make batter and other recipes) and when you make a caramel you must pay attention to the temperature because unlike the sugar, when it's become golden brown, it's taste burn and have amerturme. the only bad thing about it, it's very expensive (80$ cad for 5 kg bucket here in Québec). We buy it from medical research lab. Our litlle boy have a enzyme level of 0 sucrase and 0 maltase and the dextrose work fine with no limitation….sorry for my english, I'm french canadian

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  2. Roanne King says:

    @SteviaFirst… since the CSID diet is very limited in carbohydrates, it is important the sugar substitute includes calories when possible. Stevie is fine for occasional use as long as other carbs are included in the diet.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    I can't help but notice that you left dextrose out of this discussion. Do you have any experience with using this as it should be, in theory, 100% glucose?

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  4. Stevia First says:

    With many options for natural sweeteners available in the market it is really difficult to choose the right one, especially when a health condition is a considered. I have been using Stevia which is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar and has zero calorie. It has been a good and healthy option for me.

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