No Artificial Sweeteners or Flavorings
NONE. ZERO. ZIP. ZILCH. NADA.
That means no sucralose, no acesulfame-potassium (aka ace-K) or aspartame. No sugar alcohols (e.g. xylitol, isomalt, erythitol, maltitol, sorbitol) and no commonly ‘faux natural’ sweeteners like stevia and monk fruit extract (aka lo han guo) either.
I want to explain to you why we chose to go in this direction so that you can understand:
1. Why, after years and years of use and research, I think that opting for sweetener-free powders, drinks, and foods is a good idea.
2. My reasoning behind formulating products devoid of sweeteners.
First though, let me go a bit into fear-mongering:
Fear-mongering is rife in the world of sugar and sweeteners. You’ll find countless articles claiming that both sugar AND artificial sweeteners are toxic, secretly make you fat, tax your digestive system and adrenals, lead to allergies, are cancerous, and will ultimately kill you.
I’m not going to sit here and echo any of these extreme arguments because, truth is, most of them are based on badly conducted studies and are purposely misleading. Or they draw from no studies at all. Many of them, in fact, are rooted in the appeal to fear – a common tactic used by marketers to push their products through by scaring you to the point that you don’t even consider looking elsewhere.
So I’m not going to argue that you must avoid any and all artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes because you have to or else you might as well start editing your will (I’ll leave this kind of sensationalist and fear-mongering line of argumentation to the thousands of outlets out there suffused with scientifically unsubstantiated nonsense).
What I AM going to argue is that you should consider decreasing your consumption of artificial sweeteners and, if possible, eliminating them from your diet. Not because you should be scared about them leading to your early death but because there are far better options out there. And because your purchasing decisions should not be driven by fear, by deceptive marketing, or by a simple lack information. Your purchasing decisions should be driven by a clear understanding of what it is that you’re buying and ultimately choosing to ingest.
FEAR OF THE TOOTH
If you ask people why they choose to buy products containing artificial sweeteners, many will tell you that they have a FIERCE sweet tooth. They’ll tell you that, without sweeteners, they’d succumb to sugar: the ultimate bad guy in the world of healthy eating. To them, sweeteners are something that they NEED in order to ‘appease’ their menacing sweet tooth and keep their cravings – and the pounds – at bay.
You know what though? This fear is largely unsubstantiated. Once you cut back on sweeteners and focus on nutritionally-optimising your diet, you don’t end up gorging on sugar. Quite the contrary, your tastebuds become better tuned in to sweetness so that with less, you find out you’re able to appreciate much more. Of course, I’m not saying that the answer is simple or refined sugars. There is, after all, unequivocal evidence pointing towards table sugars’ ill effect on our health (and our bodies), particularly when consumed excessively. Saying otherwise would be ridiculous.
What I AM arguing though is that, before indiscriminately saying YES to any and all artificial sweeteners, we do away with our ‘fear’ of life without them and see sweeteners for what they are – instead of a what they’re sold as.
DOSIS SOLA FACIT VENENUM
Let me repeat one thing before I go into a discussion of the artificial sweeteners most commonly added to our healthy protein ‘enhanced’ powders, foods, and drinks:
There is no concrete scientific data pointing towards the artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes commonly added to our foods as unequivocally harmful to our health. There’s no evidence that INCONTROVERTIBLY shows that sugar substitutes like sucralose (e.g. Splenda), xylitol, sugar alcohols and processed stevia are harmful when taken in small quantities. As Paracelsus wrote more than 500 years ago, ‘dosis sola facit venenum’ – i.e. the poison is in the dose! And moderation, with everything, is key.
That being said:
Without a doubt, some sweeteners are more ‘natural’ than others. Aspartame and ace-K are completely synthetic, meaning they were conceived in a lab by manipulating chemical peptides. Others, like sucralose and sugar alcohols (e.g. xylitol, maltitol, isomalt, and sorbitol) are created by modifying the structure of the sugar molecule. Stevia and lo han guo, on the other hand, are industrially extracted from plants (from the Asian Siraitia Grosvenorii and the South America Stevia Rebaudiana, respectively). All sweeteners differ too in terms of the body of scientific evidence that has been stacked up against them, with aspartame and ace-K being are the most controversial sweeteners in the market. I’ve written a short summary of the each type of sweetener discussed above here. Please read that!
WHY I THINK OPTING FOR SWEETENER-FREE POWDERS, DRINKS, AND FOODS IS A GOOD IDEA
Let me give you four good reasons to consider reducing your intake of artificially sweetened powders, foods, and drinks:
- You don’t need them. Seriously. You may think you do but you don’t. Actual natural sweeteners – like honey, agave, coconut sugar, maple syrup, date syrup, and fruit – are good alternatives and have other things going for them besides sweetness (e.g. fiber, protein, vitamins, minerals). Sure, they’re broken down into *shudder, shudder* sugar by our bodies but, at the end of the day, remember what Paracelsus said: dosis sola facit venenum.
- When they’re regarded as somehow innocuous to our health, a lot of people end up consuming a LOT of artificial sweeteners! Particularly if, in addition to pre-sweetened powders, foods (like protein bars!), and drinks, they use things like zero-calorie syrups and drinks. Think about all the stuff you’re putting in your body, much of that displacing actual nutrition-dense foods. Is it truly a healthy diet when it’s packed full of an excessive amount (of all kinds!) of sweeteners?
- The consumption of artificial sweeteners has been reported to, paradoxically, lead one to crave (and often consume) more calories! Check out this study.
- Doing away with pre-sweetened powders, drinks, and foods puts the power in YOUR hands – the power to choose which sweetener you want to use and which sweetener your body responds best to. You, like me, don’t like what studies have found against ace-K? Avoid products containing it. Your body doesn’t respond well to sugar alcohols? Choose products without them. You think stevia is too bitter? Avoid it. You get the idea. The point is to have the power to CHOSE instead being blindly provided with X sweetener because the company you bought from thought X would be the best (or in many cases, the cheapest!) sweetener for them to use.
OUR ROAD TO HERE
When I was finalizing the recipes for my Protein Pow mixes – and sourcing all the ingredients, I considered using sweeteners. I looked at over a dozen sweeteners labeled as ‘natural’ – as opposed to ‘artificial.’ I stood in our test kitchen tasting sample after sample of predominately stevia: the health food sector’s industry’s current ‘natural sweetener’ of choice. It’s in vogue, what can I say? I was tempted to formulate with it. I’ll share with you two things that surprised me though: 1. How far from nature these ‘natural’ sweeteners were; and 2. how open the industry is to manipulating product labelling to hide this very fact. Look. This is the stevia plant, from which steviol glycosides are extracted. This is Rebaudioside A – or Reb A, what most companies add to their stevia-containing powders, drinks, and foods. It’s a very very thin white powder and it looks like this. Taste 1/2 tsp of the stuff and your tastebuds recoil in horror for hours (I know from personal experience!) It’s just extremely strong – and miiiiiightily bitter.
While stevia has been used for centuries in South America, it’s only (very!) recently that stevia has entered our health foods and drinks. What’s interesting to note here is the difference between the two: historically, what has been used to sweeten things like tea, extracts, and tinctures has been the whole leaves of the stevia plant. What’s added to our foods, on the other hand, is a highly-processed derivate of those leaves that looks, feels, and tastes very different to the leaf itself. A lot of marketers choose hide this quite crucial distinction, opting to label their products as ‘sweetened by the stevia leaf’ or ‘all-natural’ when the stevia they use is a far cry from that created by mother nature. And that bugged me. In the end, I chose not to formulate our products with stevia, not because I consider stevia to be unsafe for human consumption (Steviol glucosides are classified as GRAS – generally recognized as safe – by the FDA in the US as well as by the EFSA in Europe) but because Reb A is really just as processed as other artificial sweeteners are and it’s extremely different to what you get from the leaf itself. You wouldn’t immediately know this by reading the label of a lot of products that claim to contain ‘zero artificial sweeteners’ or that are said to be ‘sweetened by the stevia leaf.’ What they contain is an extremely processed and far-removed version of what you naturally get from the stevia plant. And I find that to be misleading, the same way that I find products containing sugar alcohols that claim to be naturally-sweetened (or contain ‘zero sweeteners’) to be misleading.
KNOWLEDGE = POWER!
I hope that you’ve found this post useful. I hope that it has shed light on what is the very confusing (and frequently misleading) world of sweetness. I hope that it has helped you to be able to properly read and actually understand product labels (not just ours!) without resorting to fear-mongering to put our point across. Because, hey, at the end of the day and to go back to latin: scientia potential est! Stay tuned for more :-)