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Functional Medicine

Healthy Low-Carb Sweeteners!

By July 27, 2021August 10th, 2021No Comments

It’s no secret we are BIG advocates of healthy low-carb living around here. No matter how you slice it, excessive consumption of carbohydrates, especially refined sugars, is a serious contributor to countless acute and chronic diseases ranging from skin issues, to obesity, and even cancer.

However, for most of us giving up all sweets is a daunting task for a few very good reasons…

  • #1: Studies, like this one, tell us sugar is more addictive than drugs.
  • #2: Paleolithic man was hard-wired to seek sweets and starchy foods for survival.
  • #3: Processed foods (even “healthy” ones) are engineered with just the right amount of sugar, fructose, and other unsavory ingredients to get us hooked.

The good news is you need not give up ALL sweets in the name of good health. The key is knowing exactly which natural low-carb sweeteners will satisfy your sweet tooth without sacrificing your health.Read on to learn our top two favorite sweeteners and the research and health benefits behind them.

#1: Xylitol/Erythritol

What are these? Often mistaken for an artificial sweetener because of its technical sounding name, xylitol and erythritol are sugar alcohols, but not in the way that we think of “sugar” or “alcohol” but by the more technical biochemical way.  Xylitol is derived from “xylan”, a plant fiber found in foods such as berries, beets, birch, corn, and oats, and erythritol comes from fermented corn. You can buy both in health food stores, and Swerve sweetener is erythritol as well, and is sold in regular grocery stores.  Neither of these are artificial and are not chemically-derived. They has GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status with the FDA, and has a pleasing, neutral flavor. Here are some of its other positive attributes.

Benefits of Xylitol/Erythritol:

  • They has some calories and carbohydrates so it doesn’t produce a hunger response like artificial sweeteners.
  • They won’t trigger an insulin response.
  • According to studies like this, xylitol acts as a prebiotic and helps feed friendly gut bacteria.
  • They are easy to bake with and are typically a 1:1 ratio to sugar.
  • Many natural toothpastes contain xylitol as it has been proven to prevent cavities and promote oral health.
  • This interesting study proved Xylitol prevents acute ear infections by inhibiting specific bacteria in the mouth that causes them.

Drawbacks of Xylitol/Erythritol

  • Since both of these came come from corn, we recommend you look for non-GMO sources which are easy to find.
  • Xylitol is toxic to dogs (just like chocolate) and other pets, so be sure to keep out of reach.
  • Because its properties as a sugar alcohol, some people experience gas or bloating when consuming xylitol or erythritol — we recommend starting with a small amount. However, most adapt to its effects within a few weeks (just like you would from eating beans or cruciferous vegetables).
  • You can always reduce the amount you’re using, and/or combine with stevia as your body adjusts.

Bottom Line on Xylitol and Erythritol:
Xylitol and Erythritol are proven safe, delicious, and affordable sugar substitute we use ourselves and recommend to our patients—young and old.

#2: Stevia

What is it? Stevia is a 100% natural sweetener derived from the South American Stevia plant. Stevia leaf has been used by indigenous people for thousands of years to help regulate blood sugar, has been available as a dietary supplement for decades, and has recently been marketed and produced as a safe and natural sweetener.

Pure stevia and stevia blends are now available in liquid, powder, and extract forms offering a versatile and truly natural sugar alternative. Here’s what else we love about stevia.

Benefits of Stevia:

Drawbacks of Stevia:

Stevia does have a distinct “aftertaste” of flavor not everyone will like, although we notice that the liquid Stevias are much better and don’t have that. Many stevia products, such as Truvia®, are cut with sugar alcohols like erythritol that may cause digestive issues, so read the labels. We really like pure stevia brands like SweetLeaf™ and their liquids come in flavors like Vanilla Creme, Caramel, Hazelnut, Chocolate, Orange, Lemon, etc which makes them great to put in coffee or sparkling water. For baking, we find that using a mix of xylitol and a couple of droppers of Vanilla Creme Stevia works just as well and no one suspects a thing!

Bottom Line on Stevia:
Stevia has proven itself safe for centuries, a little goes a long way, it’s 100% natural, it is beneficial for blood sugar, and pure stevia has no undesirable side effects.

Other natural sweeteners are now on the market, like monk fruit and lohan, and these are also great to use without the artificiality. Available in regular grocery stores, you can try them in your coffee and see which one works best for you!

Author Dr. Marlene Merritt, DOM, MS, CNS

• Doctor of Oriental Medicine • Certified Nutrition Specialist • Institute for Functional Medicine Certified Practitioner • Bredesen Certified in Cognitive Decline • Shoemaker Proficient in Treating Mold Illness

More posts by Dr. Marlene Merritt, DOM, MS, CNS