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About Natural Sweeteners

Updated: Nov 28, 2018

Since 1970 there’s been a 14% increase in total energy consumption from all sweeteners. Now added sweeteners comprise nearly 20% of our diet. Yup, this means almost 1/5th of the food and drink we ingest is added sweeteners.  Of all the carbohydrate foods we consume, 32% are actually ADDED sweeteners.  Eek!

But, we get asked a lot about "natural" sweeteners like honey, agave, maple syrup, or even fruit juices as sweeteners, with people asking "aren't they okay?" or "aren't they healthier than processed sugars?"  Here's some insight and answers as to why it's not great to add these sweeteners to your food either, and why you may be feeling and performing better without them. 

“Natural” = “healthy”? Many sugars are technically “natural” in the sense that they originate in a plant (or in animals, in the case of sugars such as lactose). However, the refining process can result in a chemical composition that is “unnatural” (as far as our bodies are concerned). And, just because sugars come from plants, doesn’t mean that they are good for you — especially in large amounts.  

For example: eating 5 bananas will give you 85 g of sugar. That’s 3/4 of a cup of sugar! 

In fact, eating TOO MANY high-fructose "natural" foods, like sweet fruits, isn't the best choice, either. Eating these foods can immediately tax the liver overflowing your glycogen stores, causing excessive fat storage, and even can create some intestinal discomfort. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean that you should fear SMALL amounts of naturally occurring sugars in their native forms — for example, an apple or a carrot.

"But," you ask, "Agave and honey are health foods, right?“ Nope!

What we know is that, while natural, foods with high amounts of fructose (like agave, and honey) will flood the liver and will favor the production of fat. This is likely why diets with a lot of fructose (more than 50 grams per day) are associated with high blood triglycerides, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  These and other related metabolic chronic diseases are responsible for 70% of deaths worldwide (World Health Organization).

Based on this theory that “excessive fructose can kill us," agave and honey would be worse than processed high fructose corn syrups, even (see chart below). Many people won’t come within 10 feet of HFCS but will add 3 servings of honey or agave or maple syrup to their oatmeal, their tea or coffee, or even seemingly "healthier" desserts.  

Is this better for the health of their body? Doubtful.  But wait, isn't agave is loaded with antioxidants? Ummm, not really. The antioxidant content is actually quite minimal, and similar to corn syrup and refined sugar.  Keep ditching it!

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