Thursday, 01 September 2011 10:03

Sweet Options for a Diabetic: Alternatives to Artificial Sweeteners

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Question: Being diabetic, I need to avoid sugar, but artificial sweeteners are, well, too artificial. Which would you suggest as the lesser of the two evils?

I would stay away from artificial sweeteners, as tempting and convenient as they may be. They are made in labs with who-knows-what chemicals and many are linked to cancer - not worth the risk in my opinion.

I'm a big fan of stevia, a natural sweetener that tastes similar to artificial sweeteners. It comes from a leaf and is ground into a powder - it is widely available in markets. Though it's been used in Asian cultures for decades, Americans are skeptical of it (perhaps because it competes with sugar). However, my research hasn't led me to believe that it's dangerous, which I summarized in this article. It is free of calories and low in carbohydrates, does not have an effect on insulin, and some believe that it can help obesity, hypertension, and may even enhance glucose tolerance. If you're going to use it, be sure to buy an organic brand (there are several to choose from) and it never hurts to check with your physician before trying something new.

Xylitol, a natural sugar alcohol with a very low glycemic index, is similar to stevia in some ways and is also easy to find in stores. Other natural sweeteners that have a minimal effect on blood glucose when had in moderation include agave nectar,  brown rice syrup, and yacón syrup.

Other facts on diabetes and diet:
Refined carbs like white sugar and flour stimulate insuline production and cause the body to store fat. A high fat diet (especially one with a lot of animal fat) can worsen insulin resistance, while losing weight can lessen it. Eating less processed, starchy foods can also make a big difference. Even reducing the amount of natural sweets like fruits can help.

It is estimated that 98% of adult-onset diabetes is caused by diet. Many doctors and nutritionists recommend the vegan diet to type 2 diabetics because vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes and nuts can improve blood sugar control and insulin response, which could result in needing less medication. Studies have found correlations between dairy consumption and diabetes - babies that start off life drinking dairy are up to 10 times more likely to develop type 1 diabetes than those that drink breast milk.

I highly recommend Dr. Neal Barnard are a professional resource on this topic. If you want to see an in depth study on the effect of the vegan diet on type 2 diabetes, check out this one by PCRM. The Perfect Formula Diet is a fantastic book loaded with facts from studies. If you'd like to learn more about sugar, Sugar Blues by William Dufty is a phenomenal, fascinating read.

Ultimately, it's best to limit sweet foods, no matter how natural they are. I've done this myself (no sweets except for stevia for 2 months!) and it resulted in more energy, better skin, easier digestion and weight loss. I have a growing collection of sugar-free and refined sugar-free recipes on Eco-Vegan Food.
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