‘Healthy Alternatives’ Or Are They…?

When out and about I have noticed more and more ‘healthy’ food and drink alternatives being handed out by companies with ‘no artificial sweeteners or ‘high protein low sugar’ as the selling point.  These words might make you think this is a better option. But is it?  Once again, a caveat.  I am not saying that you must never eat anything that is processed or quick and easy to grab and eat on the go.  I eat biscuits and cake and drink ginger beer!  When I do, I do it fully understanding what I am eating and what’s in the food.  What upsets me is when people eat things that they think are a better option, but the ingredients have been so processed, only components of the original ingredient are used.  Regularly eating highly processed food no matter what it is, is not good for you.

As mentioned in my last blog about sugar, sweeteners are not good and ‘sugar alternatives’ are still sugar; just not cane sugar, beet sugar or corn syrup.

Sucrose, Glucose, and Fructose

When most think of sugar they think of granulated sugar – sucrose – which is a molecule made up of glucose and fructose which gets broken down in the body into the two separate components.  Glucose is the molecule that we get a most of our energy from and it’s in most of the foods we eat naturally.  Most cells in the body can utilise the energy from it.  But, as we all know, glucose is detrimental to our health when we have too much as it can have a negative impact on blood sugar levels, insulin production, weight gain etc. Fructose is in fruit, honey, and root vegetables, and it’s this molecule that high fructose corn syrup is made from. Unlike glucose which many cells in the body can use, only the liver can really metabolise and use up fructose.  Not having an overload of it is really important as it can impact on having a fatty liver, type 2 diabetes and high HDL the ‘bad’ cholesterol levels. Research is also beginning to show that too much fructose could be responsible for heart disease and other ill health.  This is more relevant when you are eating/drinking extracted fructose rather than the fruit/vegetable/honey as an entirety.  However, you should still be mindful of how much fruit and honey you have.

Xylitol and Stevia

I was talking to someone recently about sugar vs the alternatives and they thought the sugar alternatives are better as they aren’t refined. Xylitol, when it isn’t made from organic, non-genetically modified trees or corn, is made from genetically modified corn plants, and to extract the sugar, the process often contains nickel which is a heavy metal and not great for your health.  It can also cause problems with those who have IBS and IBD as the sugar in the Xylitol isn’t digested until it gets into the small intestine. For some, it can have a positive impact on gut flora, but if you have digestive issues, Xylitol can exacerbate it.  And stevia, often listed as steviol glycosides is an extracted sugar from the stevia plant. So whilst the sugar might not cause a blood sugar spike, it’s another refined component of the plant that’s being eaten, rather than the compound as an entirety.

High protein low sugar

I have been offered a bar this week that’s marketed as a high protein, low sugar and boosted with vitamins implying that it’s a better option.  I initially thought it sounded good, but then looked at the ingredients.  The protein is all from soy, which unless is organic, really isn’t good for you as it’s so genetically modified.  Having too much of it can cause problems with hormone levels in women and men.  It’s also not great for the planet and the bees. The bar also had high levels of sweeteners – erythritol, steviol glycosides, oligofructose, xylitol, sucralose alongside reduced fat cocoa powder and skimmed milk powder and milk protein. This list doesn’t include all the bulking agents and stabilisers that are also in the bar.  Does it still sound good to you?

Naturally flavoured water

The other thing I have been handed this week is a water that’s flavoured with fruit with no artificial sweeteners.  This sounds good! Water to hydrate you but with some fruit in it to make it a bit more interesting.  And yes, you’ve guessed it, I looked at the ingredients.  The fruit is from concentrate, so it’s basically just the fructose.  No fibre, none of the nutrients that you get in the fruit as the process to turn the fruit into concentrate involves high heat to extract the different components from the fruit, and to pasteurise it to make it ‘safe’.  What this heat does it not only kill of any potential bacteria on the fruit (that’s probably good for your immune system and keeps it working) and also most of the vitamin c and other anti-oxidants as they are heat sensitive. This water, alongside the fruit concentrate, also had sugar in it and steviol glycosides. So to me, this isn’t quite the drink it seems to be.  The final thing about this one is the ‘other natural flavourings’ that aren’t listed and I wonder what they are! 

So to sum up this potentially not very happy post, once again, I’m not saying you can’t have these things, just if and when you do, eat/drink them with the knowledge of what you are putting into your body.  And on the water front, we all need to use less plastic, so why not buy a reusable bottle, fill it up before you leave home and put some lemon and mint in it?  Or some berries or cucumber.  Tastes good AND you get the added nutrients from the fruit and herbs.

If you have any questions or want to book in for a nutrition consultation in person or on the phone, get in touch.  katie@harleystreetnaturopath.co.uk

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