It’s too good to be true.
Last fall, we told you about the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)ordering new food labels to appear on pre-packaged foods. The big deal about that is manufacturers must now include “added sugars” to the labels so folks can see exactly how much of the sweet stuff is naturally occurring and how much is added.
For the most part, we were happy to hear it. More transparency means you’re better able to know exactly what you’re eating and how much of that “white killer” (white sugar) you’re consuming.
Here’s the thing though… Manufacturers don’t have to list all added sugars.
That’s right. The FDA doesn’t require manufacturers to list things like sugar alcohols, artificial sugars, and plant-based sugar substitutes. The FDA considers these “safe” alternatives to sugar. Since they contain so few calories, they don’t factor into the added-sugar calculation.
The problem is that there just isn’t enough solid evidence that these chemical replacements are safe. Studies tend to run small or only on non-human subjects. And rarely do they last for long periods of time.
With that in mind, here are the three sweetener groups not included in the nutrition label and why you still need to check for them in the ingredients list…
1. Sugar alcohols are partially broken-down carbohydrates. They taste sweet, but our small intestine can’t absorb them well. That means they generally pass through our bodies without disturbing much. No studies point to increased blood sugar or higher insulin levels, for instance.
However, some folks report diarrhea, nausea, and similar bowel issues when eating large amounts of sugar alcohols. Researchers believe the inability of our intestines to absorb the sugar substitute means it passes through too quickly. That leads to loose stools. And symptoms also depend on each person’s tolerance.
2. Plant-based sugar substitutes include monk fruit extract and stevia. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, stevia is an extract from the stevia plant… So it’s a more natural form of sweetener.
As we wrote before, our colons effectively break down stevia. What’s more, stevia seems to reduce blood-sugar spikes after meals and improves overall blood-sugar breakdown.
The problem with stevia, however, is blood pressure. Some research suggests that stevia lowers your blood pressure. This leads to dangerous levels if you’re already on blood-pressure-lowering medication. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough studies yet for us to know just how dangerous this is.
3. Artificial sweeteners are the worst offenders. They include acesulfame potassium, aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, neotame, and advantame.
Artificial sweeteners trick your body. They provide a taste of sweetness, but don’t deliver the calories expected. Now, that sounds great for satisfying your sweet tooth without all the extra calories and potential problems with weight gain… But it’s not that simple.
In fact, we know the human body reacts to fake sugars as if they were real sugars. Research from the journal Diabetes Care demonstrated that artificial sugar can in fact raise insulin levels as well.
The participants drank a pre-drink, either water or sucralose (Splenda). Then they drank a glucose mixture used specifically to monitor increases in blood sugar and insulin. Those who drank the sucralose mix first had 20% higher insulin levels than those who drank water.
Researchers even re-ran the experiment and switched the participants to the opposite group. They wanted to see if it was a genetic predisposition. It wasn’t… They saw the same 20% increase.
There’s also some evidence that artificial sweeteners alter the bacteria that live in the gut. Our gut bacteria (called our microbiome) are responsible for a number of things, from breaking down certain foods to regulating our moods and immune system. A paper from the University of Calgary showed that even low doses of aspartame changed the gut microbes in rats. And the gut changes led to higher levels of blood sugar.
Finally, the most contentious of all the research is this: artificial sweeteners cause metabolic disease. There’s growing evidence that the more we consume these chemical sweets, the more we develop conditions like type 2 diabetes and obesity.
But the question still to be answered… do the chemicals cause the disease or are folks who consume fake sugars the ones already most at risk anyway?
Although we’re happy to see new labels detailing how many added sugars are in our food or drink, we’re wary of what the labels don’t include.
Remember, here at Retirement Millionaire Daily, we encourage you not to trust the Nanny Police. Here’s just another great example where the FDA isn’t able to “take care of you.” An agency that’s meant to keep our food safe isn’t really telling us what’s in our food. So do your due diligence and keep reading labels critically.
In future issues, we’ll explore why humans crave sweets, how our bodies use artificial sweeteners, and more.
- Don’t forget, the artificial sweetener aspartame also kills your libido.
- More on the connection between obesity and artificial sugar.
- Consumer Reports takes down diet soda.
- Something different: Is lying part of what makes us human?
Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Retirement Millionaire Daily Research Team
Buffalo, New York
June 1, 2017