In the last natural sugar post, Regina shared with us about the various products in the sugar cane family. Today, she shares information on two other natural sweeteners.
Guest Post By Regina
Stevia is an herb that grows wild, as a small shrub, in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. The leaves of the stevia plant are very sweet and are used to make the stevia extracts which can be bought in a powder or liquid form. Since stevia is an herb, it will not affect your body's blood sugar and does not rate on the glycemic index. This is a great choice for a diabetic and also for dieters because it is calorie-free.
Because stevia is not a sugar, it can not be caramelized or used to ferment yeast and sourdough starters. This is good news for those who struggle with candida or are on a candida cleanse diet.
What about a sugar alcohol sweetener? Is this an okay, natural alternative?
Xylitol is considered a sugar alcohol sweetener; these types of sugar alchols are identifiable by the suffix "-itol". They are close to a sugar and resemble alcohol, but are neither. Xyltiol is derived from the fibers of vegetables and extracted from husks, berries, and mushrooms. It is as sweet as white sugar but has 40% fewer calories. Since it is slowly absorbed into your body, it will not affect your blood sugar as drastically as white sugar. Because of this, xylitol has been used in many countries for diabetic diets since the 1960's.
Xylitol has become popular with dentists in recent years. Experts believe xylitol can prevent bacteria from sticking to your teeth. Because it does not break down like sugar, researchers think it could keep a natural pH balance in your mouth, which means less decay and cavities.
It is sold as “natural” and spoken of highly by many health care professionals as a safe alternative to white sugar. It does not leave an aftertaste, has little calories per teaspoon, and does not affect blood sugar. Sounds like a great product, so why the question mark in my mind?
When I first researched and wrote this article, I was excited about this “natural product” and experimented with it in cooking and in cold drinks. I had known xyltiol could cause cramping, bloating, and many trips to the outhouse, but with my use of xylitol we had never faced any problem. But then came The Night.
I made homemade salad dressing for our salads and used xyltiol instead of the white sugar called for. An hour after eating the wonderful salad, our stomachs began to make many strange noises and we didn't “feel good”. Needless to say, the rest of the evening we experienced the known side effects of xylitol! For an experiment, I used the same dressing the next day for lunch. Again, the same results.
Now I wondered, how can something supposedly “natural” affect us in this way and be considered okay?
After more research, I found others have became sick, developed headaches, experienced extreme indigestion, and had other side effects after eating xylitol or using a product like toothpaste that had xylitol in it. In fact, it is recommended not to give this product to children for these reasons. (Note: xylitol is extremely toxic to dogs even in a small amount.) There are those who have used this product many times and experienced none of the above.
Xylitol and other sugar alcohols are created through a manufacturing process even though they are touted as natural. They begin with some form of sweetener that is extracted from a natural source. The sweetener is then taken through a chemical processes to make the xyltiol crystals that we use. Because of the steps in creating xyltiol, it can not be called a food. Sugar alcohols are found naturally in fruits. Our own bodies make a small amount of xylitol, but these forms are made in nature, not in a lab.
So with the known benefits and side effects of xylitol, and with it being sold by health experts, is it an okay sugar substitute? That decision is up to you. If in doubt, remember that honey, maple syrup, sucanat and stevia are so minimally processed they retain a lot of their vitamins, minerals, and enzymes. They are a food close to the natural state created by God.
Although I have question marks about xylitol, I will include my experience with using it for those who are still interested!
Next time, I'll share tips on baking with natural sweeteners.