Healthy in the kitchen, alternatives to white sugar Part 2, honey, xylitol, aspartame and corn syrup
Honey, xylitol, corn syrup, aspartame and whole sugar, are just some alternatives to white sugar, let's try to understand if they are safe for health.
A coffee at the bar, a frozen pack of pizza or a snack, foods that are so different but that have in common an inevitable ingredient, white sugar. Continued sugar intake is linked, however, to an increased risk of tumors, an alteration of insulin sensitivity and inflammations (Wang et al, Scand J Gastroenterol., 2014 - Park et al, Metabolism, 2007). That's why alternatives to white sugar are sought. But these alternatives are not always valid. In general, it is good to limit the addition of sweeteners, for example by replacing them with fruit or juice, such as apple juice. But let's understand better.
Honey is one of the most appreciated and known natural products by humans. Honey is a food and a remedy, it contains vitamins, such as C and group B, mineral salts such as potassium, selenium, magnesium, calcium and antioxidants. Honey has an antibacterial, healing and anti-inflammatory action (Samarghandian et al, Pharmacognosy Res., 2017). However, it should be used in moderation as it contains fructose. In the long run, fructose can cause body problems such as fatty liver, inflammation and insulin resistance (Bidwell, Nutrients, 2017).
Whole cane sugar
Compared to white sugar, whole cane sugar contains antioxidant substances (Singh et al, Pharmacogn Rev., 2015) as well as mineral salts such as iron, zinc, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, copper and selenium, although in very limited quantities (USDA Database). However, even if it is an unrefined variant, this type of sugar has the same chemical composition as white sugar and therefore the impact on blood sugar is almost identical, only slightly lower for whole cane sugar. Therefore, even in this case, brown sugar should be used with moderation.
Corn syrup is an ingredient that appears in several ready-made foods, snacks and drinks. This sweetener is very rich in fructose and is commonly used in drinks and snacks. However, as shown by scientific studies, corn syrup in the long run can reduce dopamine, a condition that can cause nervous hunger, but also it may unbalance blood sugar levels by opening the way to an increased risk of obesity (Meyers et al, PLOS One, 2017).
Xylitol has a sweetening power similar to that of sugar and brings a feeling of freshness in the mouth. For this reason, it is often used as an ingredient in chewing gum. Not only that, xylitol helps to reduce the plaque of the teeth and caries, in fact it inhibits the bacterium Streptococcus mutans, one of the main causes of caries, and increases the secretion of saliva, does not alter blood glucose values and can improve the absorption of calcium (Janakiram et al, Journal of Natural Science, Biology and Medicine, 2017). If taken in excessive quantities it can cause stomach pain and flatulence (Gupta et al, Journal of Medical Sciences, 2018).
Aspartame is a synthetic sweetener with a sweetening power 180 times higher than white sugar, it does not cause tooth decay and this is why it is used to sweeten candies, yogurt, desserts and drinks. However, there is a suspicion that aspartame is not a safe ingredient, even if there is still no agreement between scientists. According to research, in fact, amounts of aspartame both above the indicated limits and within these limits can cause oxidative stress and inflammation (Choudhary et al, Nutr Rev, 2017). Moreover, there is also the suspicion that aspartame may be linked to neurophysiological problems such as headache, depression, anxiety and irritability due to its effect of raising cortisol and free radical levels (Choudhary et al, Nutr Neurosci., 2018). Finally, there is also the possibility that aspartame may be carcinogenic, although further studies should be performed to shed light on this effect. It is therefore good to limit the consumption of drinks and foods that contain aspartame.