This is my personal blog, on which I talk about a variety of topics purely as they catch my fancy. Some topics are serious, others whimsical. I love comments and questions so don't be shy, just courteous, even if you don't agree with me. I have another blog, The Story Template, on which I post writing-related topics on Tuesdays and Fridays.

Let's see, a bit about me... I'm married with two children, and spend much time taking care of our family. In my life BC (before children) I was a scientist who did bench research. I am a Christian who came to faith under protest through studying the historic circumstances surrounding the death of Jesus. I've written one novel, A Lever Long Enough, that I'm honored to say has won two awards. I also have written a nonfiction book, The Story Template: Conquer Writer's Block Using the Universal Structure of Story. This book is a programmed learner-type book that helps you, the writer, develop a complete compelling story (novel or screenplay) from a vague idea.

YOU CAN CONTACT ME at amydeardon at yahoo dot com.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Non-Sugar Sweeteners

Since I've started eating lower-carb I've been on a search for edible substitutes for carb-based foods. For example, I've found that flax flour, and especially almond flour, with some recipe modification do an adequate job for baking jobs such as muffins. (These flours tend to be heavy, so I need to lighten the batter with whipped egg white, cottage cheese, or similar ingredients). My family is OK if not thrilled with these, which means I don't have to make two batches of things.

Sweeteners are another story. I do not subject my family to artificial sweeteners, by the way; I tend to remain skeptical and a bit wary, especially for growing kids (although small doses are probably OK). Also, these sweeteners generally have a bitter aftertaste; another reason not to inflict them on the kiddos. However I have found one that is amazing that I discuss at the bottom of this blog.

There are a few non-sugar sweeteners that are commonly used in our society. While this list isn't necessarily exhaustive (since I'm not an expert), here is an overview of the most common FDA-approved GRAS (generally recognized as safe) sugar substitutes:


Sucrose is regular table sugar, disaccharide (fructose and glucose) with a glycemic index of about 64 (roughly the same as honey). This is the regular granulated table sugar that can be replaced with the non-sugar sweeteners.


Aspartame (trademark name Nutrasweet, and others): discovered in 1965, it is derived from two amino acids: phenylalanine and aspartic acid. It is intensely sweet so only smaller amounts are needed to sweeten the substance. Aspartame is commonly used in diet sodas.


Saccharine (trademark name Sweet-and-Low, and others): this was the first discovered artificial sweetener, in 1879. In 1977 the FDA slapped a warning label on this substance because it had been shown to cause bladder cancer in rats. Further studies discovered that the mechanism of bladder cancer in rats is not relevant to humans. The FDA subsequently removed the warning.


Stevia (trademark name Truvia, and others): this is an herbal extract from a naturally-occurring plant, and is widely used in Japan and South America. Its glycemic index is zero, which is impressive. In 2008 FDA gave the GRAS label to Truvia, a stevia-based sweetener.


Sucralose (trademark name Splenda, and others): sucralose replaces three of the hydroxyl (OH) groups from sucrose with chlorine atoms. Although sucralose is extremely insoluble (doesn't dissolve) in fat and therefore doesn't accumulate in the body, it can be classified as an organochloride, some of which chemicals in this class are toxic or carcinogenic. Again, though, sucralose is on the FDA GRAS list, so don't worry if you consume this. The organochloride classification is only an interesting factoid.


OK, and here is the amazing sweetener. Drumroll, please...


Xylitol (trademark name Xyla, and others): this is a sugar alcohol and a natural sugar that tastes GREAT! No aftertaste, and honestly it looks, measures, tastes, and acts very similarly to regular granulated sugar. A friend of mine, Kathy, on hearing about my low-carb foray (see some of my previous blog entries) brought my attention to xylitol. It is derived from birch and/or corn and/or other plants, and has a glycemic index of about 15. It is a natural substance that has been used widely in Europe and without known long-term toxic effects. It has also been shown to decrease caries (dental cavities) when used in chewing gum.

Xylitol has been shown to be dangerous and possibly fatal to dogs who eat this: they become hypoglycemic, and exhibit changes in liver enzymes that suggest that there may be some damage going on. These effects don't occur in humans. However, please don't feed any xylitol to Fido. (Chocolate is another dangerous substance to feed to canines).

The downside to xylitol ... AND PLEASE TAKE THIS WARNING SERIOUSLY! Kathy spent a very bad 12 hours in the bathroom because she didn't heed the warnings.

Xylitol is not broken down completely in the GI system; hence the low glycemic index and the generally beneficial properties for calorie reduction. Until you are adapted to ingesting and handling this, though, it will act as an osmotic and also as a substrate for those happy GI bacteria to produce gas and so forth. This translates into GI discomfort, flatulence, gas, and bad diarrhea.

To adjust to xylitol, you need to regularly eat small quantities -- starting with maybe half a teaspoon -- and gradually work your way up. Until you're adapted to this, don't bake with it or use it for anything more than sweetening your coffee. Kathy gave me her bag of it because she was so sick she didn't want to use it again. I've started taking a little at a time, so far with no bad effects, but then again I'm being cautious. We'll see.

You can buy the xylitol at a health food store or on amazon or other online sellers.

To summarize, I'm optimistic that xylitol may solve my sweet tooth problem. I don't eat a lot of sweets, but every now and then just have to have a cookie or a piece of chocolate. With xylitol I may be able to perpetually continue with a lower-carb food profile from now on, even if I eat something sweet. Hallelujah.


  1. Aspartame frightens me. If I have it, I get a racing heartbeat and my lips go numb.

    I've seen xylitol in some diabetic hard candies, but something about the taste was "off" to me. Good to know it can make you sick. :-( Not exactly something they're going to want to put in diet soda, where the goal is to make you drink as much of it as you possibly can. ;-)

  2. Jane, I've read many anecdotal reports of physical problems with aspartame. Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid, which means the body cannot synthesize. It is an aromatic and a precursor for different things including catecholamine production (neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine, and epinephrine). Amino acids (there are 20 used for protein synthesis for humans) normally are metabolized in more-or-less balanced ratios; when the ratios are skewed, say by ingesting huge doses of one or a few amino acids, effects are unclear.

    For what it's worth, I don't touch the stuff myself and don't give it to the kids. It is on the GRAS list.

    I've only recently tried artificial sweeteners and have decided I don't like how they taste. The xylitol is the closest to being like sugar, but as mentioned, one has to move ahead cautiously with this one. The reason it makes you sick isn't because of toxicity -- basically it passes through the gut undigested and can cause temporary GI symptoms. It's used in many products such as mouthwash, toothpaste, and gum. Tolerance can be built. It's just that, starting out, don't take too much. Kathy will tell you this. I DO think that this is the best-tasting of the artificial sweeteners.