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Let’s talk about sweeteners, we get asked a lot of questions about sweeteners so have tried to answer them as best we can here. Please remember we are not nutritionists or medically trained, we are simply on this journey with you and sharing what we learn along the way.
Should I go cold turkey?
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the best thing to get you started is cold turkey on the sugars. It will leave you pacing the kitchen, opening the fridge and just staring, you will cave a few times and have regrets, but if you can go a stretch of about 4 weeks it will change your life. Your taste buds will sense sweetness in things you never dreamt of, such as in a simple almond, cream, carrot! You will find strawberries almost too sweet to eat on their own! It’s awesome, but it’s hard. So we suggest in the beginning, go cold turkey, tell yourself it’s not forever, discover the joy of double cream with a few berries as a dessert, or a tiny piece of 85% chocolate if you’re really going to crack, just don’t eat the whole block.
What do we mean by compliant sweetener?
A compliant sweetener is a sweetener that causes little or no insulin response, but is derived from a natural source.
What are Thermo Foodie and the Chefs choice of sweeteners?
We advocate stevia, xylitol and erythritol as they have natural sources (however chemical processes to bring them to their finished products). Xylitol and erythritol have a taste that is as close to sugar as you’ll get, however please be aware xylitol is toxic to DOGS even in small amounts. Stevia has a bitter aftertaste so is often sold in a blend with erythritol to minimise this.
Xylitol is what’s known as a sugar alcohol, or polyol. It starts its life as xylose, a naturally occurring sugar (monosaccharide) in many fibrous vegetables and wood, most common sources being birch trees and corn husks. It is then taken through a chemical process of hydrogenation to change the molecules to the white crystalline as we know it. There is much research currently looking at a process of fermentation as an alternative option, as the hydrogenation process is costly.
Xylitol is consumed like sugar, although has no caramelisation properties. Humans even produce small amounts of xylitol via normal metabolism(1), up to 15g per day. Xylitol has no known toxic levels and produces a negligible insulin response (2). Long term consumption of xylitol appears to be safe. (3)
It is very important to note, xylitol is toxic to dogs. Dogs livers are different to humans, their body responds to xylitol like a poison and the damage cannot be undone so please keep xylitol away from your pets.(4)
Erythritol is another sugar alcohol similar to xylitol. It is 70% as sweet as sugar, with a slight cooling effect on the tongue. Fewer intestinal upsets are reported with erythritol as 90% of what is consumed is absorbed in the small intestine and passed unchanged via urine.(5)
Erythritol is not toxic to dogs (6)
Erythritol can be purchased here.
Stevia is likely the healthiest choice for compliant sweeteners. It does however have a bitter aftertaste. This taste can vary from brand to brand and we find the liquid drops or stevia/erythritol blends the most tolerable.
It is extracted from the leaves of a plant called Stevia rebaudiana, then refined in various ways to produce the liquid or crystalline forms. As stevia is around 100 times sweeter than sugar, check labels as the pure form is often mixed with other crystals to bulk it up to be used 1 for 1 like sugar. Avoid ones containing maltodextrin.
What’s the difference between birch and non-birch xylitol?
Birch xylitol is extracted from birch trees. The xylan in the wood fibres is converted to xylose, then through a chemical process into xylitol. The process for corn xylitol is the same, however the raw products are corn husks and other vegetable husks. Many believe birch xylitol is purer, and many believe corn is better as instead of tree fibres it’s using an industry bi-product. We are yet to see conclusive evidence proving either is better than its counterpart. If you find regular (corn) xylitol gives you an upset stomach, you can try switching to birch, however as your body takes time adjusting this sugar, it could simply be the improvement is a result of time. You will know if your xylitol is birch as they will tell you, if its origins are corn and other vegetable husks they simply wont make birch claims.
How can I change your recipes to stevia?
Here’s a little chart you can use as a guide, however we recommend always reducing your sweeteners as much as possible. Your taste buds will adjust and you will kick those sugar cravings to the curb!
I had xylitol and it made me run to the loo! Why?
Xylitol is generally well tolerated, however some people do get digestive upset if they consume too much. How much is too much will depend on your individual digestive system. In saying that, the body seems to adjust well to xylitol if you increase your quantities slowly. If you have IBS or FODMAP sensitivities, its best to avoid sugar alcohols. They can pull water into the intestine leading to gas, bloating and diarrhea.
Other options are?
If you are not LCHF, the next best option is honey. The thing about honey is, gram for gram it’s higher in sugar/carbs than table sugar! It’s liquid sugar and denser than water, so you really need to be careful. Only use minimally.
Maple syrup, honey, rice malt syrup and in general anything ending in ‘ose’ will cause an insulin rise, which is the hormone that signals your body to store fat. For this reason, we recommend avoiding these sweeteners.
The short and sweet version
We choose xylitol as our personal choice of sweetener, based on extensive reading we feel it is safe, and neither of us own pet dogs. We like the flavour and how easy it is to use. Other options are erythritol in same quantities, and stevia or stevia blends – refer to our conversion chart. Try avoiding sweet food except for special occasions so you encourage your sweet tooth to diminish, however if you are craving something sweet, then these are great options that wont cause an insulin spike.