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    Archive for the ‘sugar alcohols’ Category

    You Ask, I Answer: Sugar Alcohols

    41wLDBs6BUL._SL500_AA280_If a food product is sugar free but lists 8-15 grams of sugar alcohols, should I just avoid it?

    What is a sugar alcohol, anyway?

    — Jessica Rothschild
    Queens, NY

    Sugar alcohols are naturally-occurring substances (carbohydrates, actually) in fruits and vegetables.

    Their name already tells you something — from a molecular standpoint, they have some things in common with sugar (sucrose) and other things reminiscent of alcohol.  They are, however, alcohol-free.

    You will see sugar alcohols in processed foods — and chewing gum — marketed as “no sugar added”, “sugar-free”, or “diabetic friendly”.  The most popularly used ones include maltitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and hydrogenated starch.

    They are, essentially, an alternative sweetener.  They are particularly useful to people living with diabetes because they demand significantly less insulin then sugar, and do not raise blood glucose levels as much.

    Unlike artificial sweeteners like aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and saccharine, sugar alcohols do contain calories.  Whereas sugar provide four calories per gram, sugar alcohols offer anywhere from 0.6 to 2.7 calories per gram, depending on the specific type.

    Sugar alcohols do have one thing in common with artificial sweeteners — they do not promote tooth decay.

    While I think sugar alcohols are less worrisome than artificial sweeteners, I have a few issues with them:

    1. When consumed in large quantities, they can present very uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms
    2. Since they still add a lot of sweetness to foods, they do absolutely nothing in terms of helping our palates get used to lower amounts of sugar in our diets
    3. Any food product that contains sugar alcohols is highly processed

    You Ask, I Answer: “Other Carbohydrate” on Food Label

    FiberAfter reading your post on Fiber One cereal, I noticed the food label lists “other carbohydrate”.

    What does that mean?

    — Dustin Apasda
    St. Petersburg, FL

    According to regulations set by the Food & Drug Administration, all food labels must disclose the amount of total carbohydrates in a food or beverage product (except bottled water), and specify amounts of fiber and sugar (naturally-occurring and added).

    Consider the values on the Fiber One Honey Clusters cereal food label:

    • Carbohydrates: 42 grams
    • Dietary fiber: 13 grams
    • Sugar: 6 grams

    In this case, you are looking at a product that contains 23 grams of starch (42 grams of total carbohydrates minus 13 grams of fiber and 6 grams of sugar).

    And, ta-da, 23 grams happens to be the value for “other carbohydrate”!  Mystery solved.

    Back in the low-carb craze of 2003, many food companies advertised “net carbs”, a value obtained by subtracting fiber grams from total carbohydrates to determine the amonut of carbohydrate would have an effect on blood sugar levels.

    What most people don’t know is that the Food & Drug Administration never approved that terminology, nor considered it a nutritionally-relevant concept.  Not surprisingly, once the low-carb 2.0 craze went bust, the “net carbs” stickers soon disappeared off supermarket shelves.

    In any case, “other carbohydrates” is nothing more than food companies doing some basic math for you and letting you know how much of their product is starch.

    In a few cases, too, “other carbohydrates” factors in sugar alcohols like xylitol and maltitol.

    For consumers, “other carbohydrates” doesn’t have much meaning.  It’s certainly not worth fretting about.  The most important carbohydrate-related values you should be looking at are fiber and sugar.


    You Ask, I Answer: Aspartame/Chewing Gum

    How much aspartame is in chewing gum, specifically Eclipse gum?

    Should one stick to a limited number per day or can we chew to our heart’s content?

    — “MC”
    Via the blog

    The average stick of gum contains 6 to 8 milligrams of aspartame (a 12 ounce can of Diet Coke, meanwhile, provides 180 milligrams.)

    According to current guidelines, humans can safely consume 50 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight per day.

    Based on recent studies, however, a growing body of scientists are calling for this number to be lowered to as little as 10 milligrams of aspartame per kilogram of body weight per day.

    Even with the more conservative 10 milligram guidelines, though, a 130 pound individual (59 kilograms) can still safely consume 590 milligrams of aspartame per day (the equivalent of three 12-ounce cans of Diet Coke.)

    That said, I don’t like the notion of “chewing to your heart’s content.”

    Sugarless gums — including Eclipse — contain other sweeteners beside aspartame.

    One of these — which appears well before aspartame on the ingredient list, meaning it is included in higher quantities — is sorbitol.

    Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that, when consumed in large amounts, results in undesirable gastrointestinal effects, including diarrhea, acute intestinal cramps, and even unintended weight loss.

    To play it safe, I suggest capping your gum intake at 1 or 2 sticks/pieces a day.


    You Ask, I Answer: Hydrogenated Starch

    I recently saw an ingredient called “hydrogenated starch.”

    What is it?

    Is avoidance prudent?

    — Corey Clark
    (Location withheld)

    Let me guess — you saw hydrogenated starch as an ingredient in a sugar-free product?

    Althrough hydrogenation always conjures up thoughts of unhealthy fats, that same process is rather harmless when applied to starch.

    Hydrogenating starch is one way of producing a calorically low sweetener (approximately two to three calories per gram, compared to sugar’s four.)

    It’s technically a type of sugar alcohol (just like sorbitol, maltitol, and other ingredients ending in ‘ol’ that you can spot on most low-carb candy bars.)

    First, starch — usually corn or wheat — is partially hydrolyzed (meaning molecular bonds are broken by reacting them with water.)

    The resulting molecules are then hydrogenated (saturated with hydrogen).

    End result? Sweetness, bulk, long shelf life, and the ability to develop products labeled “diabetic friendly” or “low carb.”

    Hydrogenated starch in and of itself does not pose any health risks.


    In The News: Just How Splendid Is Splenda?

    Not very, according to some Duke University researchers who point the finger at the artificial sweetener, accusing it of “contribut[ing] to obesity, destroy[ing] “good” intestinal bacteria and prevent[ing] prescription drugs from being absorbed.”

    Interestingly, the study is financed by the Sugar Association.  I point that out no to discredit the study or the very real possibility that sucralose (the scientific term for Splenda) can wreck with our bodies, but rather because those first two conclusions could also apply to sugar.

    In fact, many foods and ingredients can feasibly be labeled as “obesity contributors” depending on consumed quantities.

    After all, obesity rates were much lower 400 years ago (when sugar was consumed), and it’s not as if a surge in obesity occurred when Splenda was unleashed to the public.  Then again, there is no doubt artificial sweeteners are by no means a holy grail.  Despite their ubiquity, obesity rates worldwide continue to soar.

    Here are my thoughts on the real issues at stake here:

    1) Is Splenda safe?

    We don’t really know.  Sure, we know you won’t drop dead after consuming an Atkins bar, but there are no long-term human studies on Splenda — after all, is less than ten years old.

    There is no research showing what 40 or 50 years of consuming Splenda on a daily basis does to the human body. A little tidbit to keep in your back pocket, particularly when these sorts of studies emerge.

    2) Does Splenda contribute to obesity? What about sugar?

    Well, sugar is the epitome of empty calories (you can down 500 calories of sugar water and not feel the least bit full.)

    And, since most sugary treats are also high in fat and overall calories, I suppose there is a “two degrees of separation” concept going on here. However, sugar was consumed long before obesity rates skyrocketed, so branding it a culprit seems wrong to me.

    As far as Splenda “contributing to obesity,” there are theories that it plays with our sense of fullness and appetite, thereby making its lack of calories a moot point.

    What I will say is that it can certainly provide a false sense of security.

    A slice of sugar-free cake (made with Splenda) is NOT calorie-free, although many people may inaccurately think so.

    The fact remains that sweetener consumption in the United States has grown exponentially over the past 20 years.

    Consequently, additional calories are being consumed from sucrose (table sugar) and high fructose corn syrup.

    Sugar as a sole ingredient does not make anyone fat. Having endless grams (and calories) of sugar on cereals, cookies, frozen desserts, yogurts, and salad dressings, however, gets very problematic very quickly.

    Artificial sweeteners, meanwhile, continue to become more available in a wide variety of calorie-free foods.

    Completely absent from everyone’s diet fifty years ago, they are a relatively new piece to the public health nutrition puzzle.

    My suggestion? Scale back on both. You can’t go wrong reducing your intake of empty calories and artificial chemicals.  I personally condone the complete removal of artificial sweeteners from people’s diets.


    Say What?: You Say "Wholesome," I Say "Really?"

    The Slim-Fast Foods Company describes itself as being “committed to the development of wholesome and balanced nutritional products to aid in weight management and improved health.”

    An interesting description, to say the least, given the ingredient list for their 120-calorie chocolate peanut nougat snack bar:

    Maltitol Syrup, Milk Chocolate Flavored Coating (Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Palm Kernel And Palm Oil, Cocoa (Processed With Alkali), Sugar, Roasted Peanuts (Peanuts, Peanut Oil), Sweetened Condensed Skim Milk (Skim Milk, Sugar), Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil (Palm Kernel And Soybean), Whey Protein Isolate, Gum Arabic, Malted Milk (Extracts Of Wheat Flour And Malt Barley, Milk, Salt, Sodium Bicarbonate), Nonfat Milk, Salt, Egg Whites, Artificial Flavor, Caramel Color, Soy Lecithin, Maltodextrin, Tbhq And Citric Acid, Vitamins And Minerals (Calcium Phosphate, Calcium Carbonate, Ferric Orthophosphate, Vitamin E Acetate, Ascorbic Acid, Vitamin E Acetate, Niacinamide, Calcium Pantothenate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Pyridoxine Hydrocholoride, Riboflavin, Thiamin Mononitrate, Folic Acid, Biotin, Cholecalciferol (Vitamin D3), Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12).

    How a product with partially hydrogenated oils and maltitol syrup (the syrup of a sugar alcohol!) as its first ingredient can be described as ‘wholesome’ beats me.

    You might as well eat a small chocolate bar and pop a multivitamin.

    Why not have a handful (160 calories’ worth) of peanuts instead?

    It’s just as convenient and portable a snack as one of these bars, and doesn’t contribute added sugars or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) to your day.

    Added bonus if you choose peanuts? Heart-healthy monounsaturated fats!

    By the way, the “40% less sugar” banner on the box of these bars is the result of replacing half the sugar with maltitol (the sugar alcohol most likely to cause bloating, gas, and diarrhea. Yum!)

    Craving chocolate but looking to control calories? Have a 100-calorie chocolate bar, sans sugar alcohols. Savor it, enjoy it, and go about your day.


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