Sweeteners – A bittersweet love affair! Part 1

sugar cane in its purest form

Can there really be too much of a good thing?  When it comes to added sweeteners in our food, ABSOLUTELY!  

As Americans we LOVE our sugar!  In fact, Americans consume, on average, 135 pounds of sugar each year!  And most of that is hidden sugars that are added to the foods we buy, not sprinkled on top by us.  Sweetened beverages like energy drinks, flavored iced teas and sodas are the largest culprits, not to mention seemingly benign sources like “healthy” cold cereals, salad dressings, breads, coffee-house beverages and flavored creamers.   Many cereals have 10-15 grams of sugar per serving.  That’s about 3 teaspoons (or 1 Tablespoon) of sugar per bowl.  Now would you add that much sugar to your bowl of cereal, on your own?  I think most of us probably would not.  

Think about this for a moment, 4 grams of sugar = 1 teaspoon, and there are approximately 10 teaspoons of sugar in a regular can of  soda.  Many Americans drink 3-5 sodas per day, which adds up to 500-800 additional calories consumed each day!  Switch to water and you could save yourself 3500-5600 Calories per week!  That’s over a pound of body fat (Calorically speaking) in one week!!   

Have I gotten your attention?!  

The point is to help illustrate how sugar adds unnecessary Calories to our diets without any added nutrients or fiber to make you feel more full.  You drink a soda and it leaves you no more full than a glass of water.  A high fiber, no sugar added cereal, with a handful of fresh fruit will leave you MUCH more full and satisfied without the added calories, plenty of fiber, micronutrients and phytochemicals that our bodies need to function properly.   Eat a bowl of low fiber, high sugar cereal and you’ll be ready to refill your bowl (thus doubling the Caloric intake) as soon as you’re done! 

Okay, so sugar adds calories that our bodies don’t really take into account when determining when to tell us that we’ve had enough (since they don’t fill us up).  This leads to increased calorie consumption, which then leads to weight gain, and in many cases, obesity.   Increased consumption of refined and sweetened foods also end up replacing the low-calorie, nutrient dense foods that our bodies need to work well.  So welcome to the current American epidemic of high caloric intake and obesity and nutrient deficiencies.  Never until the last 50 years or so was that EVER an issue.  Before, if people didn’t get enough to eat then that could lead to nutrient deficiencies, but now in the U.S. and other western countries, we have an abundance of food available, but we aren’t getting the nutrients our bodies need.   Most of the calories we eat in this country are refined, highly processed,  high in fat, cholesterol, and protein, and low in fiber, micronutrients and phytochemicals.  We eat too much, get too fat, and then that sets us up for a whole slew of diseases like Diabetes, high cholesterol, Cardiovascular disease and even some cancers.  

Now some may say, “Well, fruit has sugar, so it must not be good for you.”  The sugar in fruit is much different from the sweeteners that are added to the food products that we eat.  Not only does fruit contain sugar, but it also contains amino acids, phytonutrients, fiber and water that our bodies need for optimal health.  The fiber and water help slow the breakdown of fruits and make us feel more full. Think about what would be easier to consume, one glass of orange juice or four whole oranges?  

Now there are MANY types of sweeteners out there and they are NOT all created equal.  The closer a sweetener is to its natural, unprocessed state, the better it is going to be for you.  Here is a general breakdown.  It is by no means a comprehensive list of ALL sweeteners, but you get the idea. 

BEST CHOICES – Unprocessed, whole food sources, or very minimally processed 

  • mashed bananas
  • applesauce
  • date paste (just puree dates with a little water)
  • dried fruit
  • black strap molasses
  • RAW agave syrup
  • Pure, organic maple syrup

OKAY CHOICES – Somewhat processed 

  • Sucanat (least processed form of cane sugar, aside from the cane itself)
  • Evaporated Cane Juice or Raw Sugar
  • Light agave (a little controversial as of late)
  • Honey
  • Brown Rice Syrup
  • Date sugar
  • Coconut sugar


  • White, table, or granulated sugar
  • powdered sugar
  • brown sugar
  • corn syrup
  • High Fructose Corn Syrup
  • Simple Syrup (sugar syrup)
  • Stevia (the jury is out on this one, but until there is further data, and it is FDA approved, I’d avoid it for now)

RUN AWAY!!! – Artificial Sweeteners 

  • Aspartame
  • Splenda
  • Nutrasweet
  • Equal

The next 1 or 2 posts will go into more detail about specific sweeteners including (but not limited to) Splenda, Sucanat, Stevia and High Fructose Corn Syrup.  We’ll also get a little more into how artificial sweeteners and refined foods (among other things) affect your body’s pH and can potentially increase our risk of a wide variety of health problems.    Lots of exciting stuff up ahead! 

I’m also heading to an incredible 3 day conference the weekend of Oct. 15-17 and encourage you to come if you can.  If you’d like to find out more info, visit www.healthylifestyleexpo.com.  They’re almost sold out so don’t wait too long!  I can’t wait to learn about the latest research and theories, and share what I have gleaned with you! 🙂 

Stay on the lookout for Part 2 of our sweetener series!

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Long time health coach, health educator, and exercise physiologist and holistic nutritionist, with special interests in helping others improve their busy lives with self care and more authenticity

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