Sweeteners Part 2 – High Fructose Corn Syrup and other Sweeteners: Sorting out what is what

Sucanat, Stevia, High Fructose Corn syrup…What the heck is this stuff and should you be using it?  Welcome to part 2 of our sweeteners series!  In this post I’ll attempt to bring a little more clarity to what is really in some of the more talked about sweeteners and provide info on some of the many theories that are out there about sugar and other sweeteners.  Please remember that I am not a physician or registered dietitian, so please use this blog as a tool to get some direction on where to go with your own search, and not as a prescription for better health.  The information provided on how sweeteners affect health is also based on the healthy individual.  Diabetics and others need to be careful about what they consume and should work together with their doctors and nutrition advisors on what is best for them.  But remember it’s okay to ASK QUESTIONS!

My intention with this post is not to scare anyone, but try to provide the information that I have learned; the good, the bad and the ugly.  There are many theories that some believe, many of which need further study.  Hopefully you will be able to use this information to dig a little further on your own and make the decision that is best for you and your family.   The very last part on pH is REALLY important so PLEASE read it.  I know it’s easy to just skim over stuff, or not finish the article, but if you get anything from this, please read it.  I learned a lot about pH researching this part.  I hope you do too.


High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been a topic of much debate for many years.  Recently, there have even been commercials on TV assuring consumers that HFCS is safe and no more dangerous than regular white table sugar.   After looking up a wide variety of published research studies, reviews and meta-analysis, it was pretty clear to me that there isn’t a whole lot of information that could conclusively say that HFCS was any more fattening or dangerous than sugar.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that HFCS is out of the woods yet.  More impartial and complete research is needed at this point.   Many people say that HFCS makes people more fat and that the evidence supports the fact that those who drink more soft drinks have a higher risk of obesity.  Afterall, HFCS  is the sweetener most commonly used in soft drinks.  They don’t take into account that whether it’s sweetened with HFCS or sugar, it is still an alarming number of unnecessary, non-nutritive, calories that leave you no more full and satiated than water.  Another claim is that HFCS is more readily stored in the body as fat, than table sugar is, but again this is due to confusion.   There is some evidence that fructose MAY be more readily stored in the body as fat than sucrose or glucose (the other 2 forms of sugar), raise triglycerides (form of fat found in the blood) more than glucose, and may increase the risk of gout .  However, HFCS  is composed of approximately 50% fructose and 50% glucose.  That’s just about the same percentage of  fructose as is found in honey, molasses, and juice concentrates.  So, based on the fructose theory, this wouldn’t make HFCS any worse than the other sweeteners listed above.

The bottom line is sugar, HFCS, corn syrup, etc.  are all refined sweeteners filled with non-nutritive, non-filling calories that often trigger the desire to eat more sugar and thus many more unnecessary calories which sets us up for weight gain among other problems.  We need to limit our consumption of ALL added sugars. 


Sucanat is the least processed form of sugar, other than gnawing on the sugar cane itself.  Of all the major sweeteners derived from sugar cane, Sucanat retains the most nutrients.  Thus, it has the highest nutritional value of all forms of sugar cane.  Though that still isn’t saying much.  Since it does retain the molasses, B6 and trace minerals, it is a good substitute for brown sugar, which is refined white sugar with processed molasses added back in.


These are pretty much what you would expect.  Date sugar comes from date palm sap, and coconut sugar is evaporated and crystalized form of the sap of the coconut palm blossom.  Both are touted for having a higher nutrient content than white sugar (which isn’t hard to do AT ALL).  But it’s still sugar, and the amounts are minimal.  Let’s just say it isn’t going to make any Top 10 Superfoods lists in the near future.


Have you heard of Stevia?  Chances are you probably have and wondered ‘What’s so great about it?’.  Stevia is a no-calorie herbal sweetener that has been used Japan for 30 years without any evidence, so far, of any adverse reactions.  Stevia has zero calories, and no effect on blood sugar.  Some of the claims made about Stevia include antimicrobial properties, balances blood sugar levels, decreases blood pressure, decreases cravings for sweets and aids digestion.

So why won’t the FDA approve it?  Actually, the FDA has approved it, but only as a dietary supplement, not a food additive.  The official reason the FDA is dragging its feet is that there is data out there that shows Stevia to be potentially harmful.  In rodent studies, Stevia was found to cause reproductive difficulties.  It is thought that high amounts of Stevia may lead to difficulty (primarily in children) absorbing carbohydrates and converting them into energy in the cells.   There is also data to suggest that Stevia may mutate cell DNA and thus cause cancer, but further study and testing is needed before making any conclusions.   It is unclear how unbiased and well done these studies are, and again more study and testing is needed.  I wouldn’t be surprised if, unofficially, the FDA may be getting a little pressure sugar manufacturers to not approve Stevia, in order to protect their own interest.


Sweeteners may state that they are derived from a natural source, but what has been done to it from cane to packet?  For instance, Splenda is chlorinated sugar.  It is 98% pure, 2% heavy metals, methanol and arsenic.  Just giving you the facts.


Now for the really scary stuff.  If you still use those little pink or blue packets, please consider this.  Once ingested, the methyl alcohol in these sweeteners is converted into formaldehyde (Isn’t that what they use to preserve dead bodies?).  Formaldehyde, in large doses, can be a potent neurotoxin.  Equal also contains the amino acid, phenylalanine that is naturally occurring the brain.  However, high levels of phenylalanine could increase one’s risk of seizures, depression, and schizophrenia.  There has been no evidence to show that small or moderate levels of consumption lead to any of the above effects.


Not only is sugar bad for our teeth and waistline, but it can be harmful to other body systems as well.

pH Balance

The body’s pH balance is a very delicate one.  Everything we consume has its own pH level which can potentially affect the pH of our own bodies.  If the pH level decreases, the body becomes a more acidic environment, if it increases, the body becomes more alkaline.  The human body functions optimally in a slightly alkaline state.

When the body starts to become more acidic a variety of things can start to happen such as:

  • decreased immune  function
  • headaches
  • increased yeast production
  • dental cavities
  • colds
  • allergies
  • may contribute to cancer growth (cancer cells are said to thrive in an acidic environment)

Some of the more acid forming things people consume are:

  • artificial sweeteners
  • coffee
  • excessive protein
  • meat
  • pasteurized dairy
  • refined sugars
  • fatty foods

So HOW do our bodies neutralize these acidic influences to maintain a proper pH?  Well, our body takes alkalizing minerals from reserves in the body to buffer the low pH level.  One of the more common alkalizing minerals is calcium which is leached from the bones to buffer the effects of low pH foods, then excreted in the urine.

The good news!  Nearly all fruits and vegetables are alkalizing in the body, even if they seem acidic.  This is due to the alkalizing minerals contained in fruits and vegetables like potassium and calcium, and alkalizing salts.  Other alkalizing foods include miso, soybeans, tofu and sea vegetables.   Yes, you can get calcium from dairy, but the dairy itself is very acidic and causes the body to leach calcium from the bones, then out it goes in the urine.  This  is one of the reasons that the recommended intake of calcium is so high.  We need more calcioum to buffer all of the acid forming foods we take in.  Wouldn’t a better source of calcium be one that is not taking it away from your body at the same time?

So, if you are concerned about maintaining a strong immune system this cold and flu season, or strong bones for the rest of your life, you may want to consider cutting back on some of the more acid forming foods and EAT MORE FRUITS & VEGGIES!

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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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