Sugar & Sweeteners: Artificial, Natural & Individualized

Is sugar the new fat of the 80s? Run, avoid, hide! You may be thinking -- how can sugar be bad when honey, cane sugar, date sugar and maple syrup are all derived from nature?

And what about artificial sweeteners? There are no calories – so, they really ARE like a free lunch!


Simple Sugars

Let’s dive into molecular carbohydrate 101.

Wait, hold on, I need my chemistry googles.


All carbohydrates break down to a single sugar molecule.

Yes, fruits, vegetables, milk – anything with carbohydrate will eventually break down to into a single sugar molecule.

This single sugar molecule is called a monosaccharide (yep, mono – Latin for single).

There are 3 types of monosaccharides:

  • Glucose: Generally found in vegetables, HFCS, fruits, honey, root vegetables
  • Fructose: Fruits, honey, agave
  • Galactose: Milk, cheese, dairy


Let’s take a step back.

These monosaccharides (remember, a single sugar molecule) were once bound together and formed a disaccharide (yep, di – Latin for two).

Digestive enzymes called disaccharidases are located in the small intestine. These enzymes located along the brush border of the small intestine split the disaccharides into monosaccharides.

There are three types of disaccharides:

  • Maltose = Glucose + Glucose: from starch
  • Sucrose = Glucose + Fructose: from table sugar
  • Lactose = Glucose + Galactose: from milk sugar

All disaccharides break down into a single sugar molecule, AKA sugar.

So, you may be thinking – if it all turns to sugar, why should I eat a carrot in lieu of a carrot cake?

Carrots and other fruits and vegetables have fiber, a higher water content, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients.

The absorption of these complex carbohydrates is slower, so our blood sugar stays relatively steady in comparison.


3 reasons to ditch artificial sweeteners

No calories. Sweeter than sugar. Talk about the deal of the century!

I’ve given up on trying to remember or name all the different types of artificial sweeteners on the market. Here are a few: Acesulfame-K, Aspartame, Saccharin, Bleached Stevia, Sucralose


1) Artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than table sugar

Artificial sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar found in nature (e.g. fruits, honey, starchy vegetables).

These artificial sweeteners can recalibrate our taste buds.

  • Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low) is 200-700 times sweeter than sucrose.
  • Sucralose (Splenda) is 600 times sweetener than sucrose.

Sugar ain’t so sweet anymore!


2) Messes with our gut microbiome

A recent study showed artificial sweeteners increased blood sugar to levels associated with prediabetes, decreased tolerance to glucose (associated with Type 2 diabetes) and altered gut microbiome.

Artificial sweeteners are attempting to trick our body into thinking we’re receiving a dose of sugar, when we’re actually not.

Those artificial sweeteners are not doing a great job of outsmarting our body.

Our body tastes sugar. It expects to receive energy from this sugar. The pancreas secretes insulin to respond to the forthcoming dose of sugar. But then what? Nothing. No sugar, no energy. And now our body is on the prowl.

What happened to that sugar you promised? Where is this promised energy? Set in: cravings.


3) It just ain’t natural

Now, not everything in life needs to be void of man-made things. I like indoor plumbing and dishwashers, too.

What’s the benefit of artificial sweeteners? It gives us that sweet taste without the calories.

We just showed how these manmade molecules are not tricking our body, and are instead making us crave sugar later.



Natural and naturally derived sweeteners

What about natural sweeteners -- cane sugar, coconut nectar, coconut sugar, date sugar, dates, fruit juice concentrate, honey, maple syrup, molasses, raw sugar, stevia?

They’re from nature! Let’s dip ourselves in honey!

If someone is looking to lose weight, has blood sugar regulation issues, is insulin resistant, or has metabolic syndrome (increased blood pressure, a high blood sugar level, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol levels), they may want to lay off natural sugars for a while.

Too much sugar can promote a difficult-to-break physiological relationship with all things sweet.



You're A Unique Butterfly

Determining the amount and sources of sugar that work for you is a highly individualized endeavor.

Are you very active and exercise regularly? Do you metabolize carbohydrates well? Do you have good body composition? Is your mood and energy level steady throughout the day? Can you go 4-5 hours before having to eat again? Are you active, lead a busy life, raising kids, pregnant, breastfeeding?

You might feel great with 3 pieces of fruit, a healthy dose of starchy carbohydrate (even white rice) at each meal, and natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup added to a snack or dessert.


Do you have a history of blood sugar dysregulation or metabolic damage? Do you crave sugar all the time? Are you not active? Do your moods and energy levels peak and valley throughout the day?

You might feel great with just 1-2 pieces of fruit per day, limiting starchy carbohydrates to only vegetables sources and easing back on natural sweeteners.


Ask yourself about your relationship with sugar. Is it healthy? Just make sure it’s not artificial.