New Study Offers A Zero-Glycemic Index Value Alternative to Table Sugar and Sugar Substitute
Do you often find yourself craving something sweet after every meal or at the same time every day? You are not alone – 97 percent of women and almost 70 percent of men report experiencing sugar cravings frequently. These cravings respond to psychological and physiological triggers like lack of sleep, stress, and even certain nutritional deficiencies. Most of us know that when a sugar craving hits, resisting the urge to reach for the nearest cookie or soft drink seems close to impossible. However, the adverse health effects of a high-sugar diet have been well documented.
In a recent study published by the European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism (ESPEN), researchers analyzed the effects of a new sweetener containing erythritol, stevia, and xylitol. Erythritol, xylitol, and stevia are naturally-occurring chemical compounds that have become popular sugar alternatives because of their sweet taste and low glycemic index. Other artificial sweeteners like aspartame and dextrose are also widely used in commercial foods and beverages to make them sweet without the added glycemic load.
For the past four decades, sugar substitutes have been a topic of heated debate. Critics of artificial sweeteners claim that there are a number of health problems – including cancer – associated with these chemical compounds. On the other hand, several health agencies, including the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association, have said that there is not enough evidence to dismiss sugar alternatives conditions as ineffective or dangerous.
In their study, Ng and colleagues took several blood samples of six healthy volunteers over the course of a month. Participants were asked to fast for 10 hours prior to the measurements and to drink either a dextrose monohydrate solution or an erythritol, stevia, and xylitol mixture. Their results showed a statistically significant difference between blood sugar levels 15 to 45 minutes after drinking the erythritol, stevia, and xylitol blood sugar beverage and the dextrose solution. In their analysis, the researchers found a blood sugar spike 15 to 45 minutes after drinking dextrose but no changes in glucose levels after ingesting the erythritol, stevia, and xylitol combination.
What Do These Results Mean?
Most people share a common love for sugar and sweets. When we eat sugar, the brain releases dopamine – a key player in the brain’s reward circuit. When dopamine is released, the body feels a pleasurable sensation similar to being “high.” As with other rewarding experiences, our brain is wired to want to relive it over and over again, creating a potentially addictive relationship between sugar and the brain.
The more often we eat sugar, the stronger the pathways that reinforce its relationship with the brain get. In fact, researchers have found that sugar activates even more neurons in the brain’s reward circuit than cocaine does, pointing out that “high-fat/high-sugar foods stimulate the brain in the same way drugs do.” So, the reason why we keep reaching for that leftover cake or that tub of Oreos is not just because it tastes good, it’s also because it makes us feel good.
Sugar accounts for 10 to 25 percent of the calories that the average American eats every day. However, cookies, cakes, and candy bars are not the only foods loaded with sugar. Some brands of plain, low-fat yogurt can have a whopping 20 grams of sugar per serving, 80 percent of the daily recommended amount for women. Though it may seem hard to believe, sugar has actually made its way into 80 percent of packaged foods available at most grocery stores.
A high-sugar diet has been linked to several adverse health effects. A 2014 study of more than 30,000 participants showed that people with a high sugar intake also had a 38 percent greater risk of dying of a heart attack. Additionally, high glycemic foods cause a sudden rise in blood glucose and insulin levels, increasing the risk of diabetes, obesity, and some types of cancer.
Artificial sweeteners provide a sound alternative to added sugars because they produce the same comforting taste without the high glycemic load. In their 2019 study, Ng and colleagues found that the erythritol, stevia and xylitol combination didn’t raise blood sugar levels at all, making it an appropriate sugar substitute for diabetic and insulin-resistant individuals. Additionally, the authors suggested that an added benefit to their novel formula is the absence of a bitter aftertaste, which is an unappealing characteristic of several artificial sweeteners available today.
Please note; In my experience, combining the stevia and erythritol without the xylitol gives you the same benefits without the potential side effects of bloating and diarrhea that many people experience with xylitol.
To the Best of Health,
Curt Hendrix, M.S., C.C.N., C.N.S.