A lot of us on LC will explore the constrictions we place upon ourselves, and that often means we will jump for joy when we discover something that has ‘sugar-free’ or ‘low carb’ written on it in big fancy letters. Let’s face it, we’re putting ourselves through a series of serious changes by cutting out things we like; we’re going to be looking for alternatives for the things we can’t have. That means trying to substitute flour things with cauliflower crusts, or almond meal, or something; we’re only human, we’re going to want to duplicate our favourite carb foods. Imagination is the only limitation here!
But what about sugar? I used to like sugar in my tea, I certainly miss my ability to eat muffins and cakes. Well, there’s a whole host of artificial or alternative sweeteners that we can turn to, but this is where the waters get a little muddied. We don’t want to ingest anything that’ll mess up our good record so far; so nothing that affects our insulin levels, and you probably want to avoid anything with a high kilojoule count. So where does that leave us?
Well, we’ve got a few choices: artificial sweeteners, stevia, or sugar alcohols. There’s a lot of drama revolving around artificial sweeteners, a lot of arguments saying that they’re carcinogenic and have other detrimental health affects. In all honesty, I don’t know. The research is still inconclusive and wherever you look there’s conflicting data. I’ll try to explore a little further and get back to you in a later post. I’ll do the same with stevia, the natural alternative to sugar – I really want to focus on sugar alcohols in this post.
Sugar alcohols derive their name from their molecular structure: kind of halfway between an alcohol molecule and a sugar one. They’re not either of those things: they’re not sugar, and they’re not alcohol. What they are is a type of carbohydrate also called ‘polyols’. They occur naturally in plants and are extracted from plants as syrups or powder. There’s several different types of sugar alcohols, but if you’ve been browsing labels and ingredients lists you’ll most likely have come across these three: xylitol, malitol, and sorbitol. Good on you for taking notice and doing the research!
Alrighty, down to the nitty-gritty we go.
Sugar alcohols taste sweet – though maybe not as sweet as actual sugar – and are often used in products promoting themselves as sugar-free. Unlike sugar they don’t mess around with your teeth and so people use them in sugar-free chewing gum – go ahead, check the side of that packet, is one of the three in there? I’ll bet it is! These substitutes, however, also come with a bit of a warning: they’re not always completely digested or absorbed by our bodies and that can lead to some serious gas, bloating and stomach aches, not to mention diarrhoea and burping! These affects vary from person to person and depend on which sugar alcohol is ingested. For example, remember those sugar-free liquorices I was talking about when I was sick? Yeah, those had malitol in them. I thought nothing of it because I have little to no reaction to sorbitol or xylitol – and I do love my sugar-free gum. Apparently, however, malitol is my worst enemy. I had an immediate reaction: bloating, gas, and a stomach ache. I was blocked up for days! I’ll not be doing that again, let me tell you; no more malitol for me, ever. Apart from the occasional stick of gum to help with nausea, I’ve managed to avoid sorbitol and xylitol, but I’m glad that I can have something if malitol is definitely off the menu.
Which brings me to erythritol. Unlike the other three, a large amount erythritol does manage to get digested and absorbed so there’s less left in the intestines to fester and cause any ill side effects. In addition, it’s meant to have less of an impact on your blood sugar levels. I have yet to experiment with this, so I can’t really give you an real world experience, but if you have used it – had it in candy, baked with it, etc., I’d love to hear about it.
Remember: whatever you’re replacing anything with go with moderation, start slow and build up, don’t go crazy all at once because you’ve done the research and it says you can definitely eat this! The theories are there, but your body might react differently to things! No one is the same, we’re all special and unique snowflakes (etc.,etc.,etc.) so just keep that in mind: you might have a different reaction to something than the next person. So go carefully!