The Noakes Foundation’s Position on Natural Sugar Substitutes
Obesity and diabetes have risen dramatically over the past few decades and have now reached epidemic proportions. The consumption of sugar has been one of the biggest contributors to the development of these diseases. At the same time, consumption of added sugars has risen dramatically over the past few decades and this has had a devastating impact on human health. It is therefore imperative that consumers are educated about making reasonable and healthy food choices.
Foods high in sugars and refined carbohydrates are calorie-dense and have almost no nutritional value. Unfortunately, people have acquired a taste and addictive craving for sweetness, thus, sugar substitutes have grabbed the attention of consumers as well as producers and dieticians around the world.
The Noakes Foundation has taken a strong stance against the inclusion of sugar in the daily diet and has also warned about the dangers of artificial sweeteners, but we have not yet made a clear statement on the use of sugar alcohols such as isomalt, xylitol and erythritol.
Sugar alcohols are a type of sugar replacement and are considered to be a healthy category of sweetener because they are naturally found in plants so they appear to be less processed and more natural. The category of sugar-substitutes is growing rapidly and we are seeing these products being increasingly used as a way to satisfy the craving for sweet tasting foods and treats.
Sugar alcohols aren’t zero calorie sweeteners like their artificial counterparts, but they are lower in calories than table sugar and have gained popularity recently in various weight-loss and health programs.
At the Foundation we advocate eating real foods, as close to their natural source as possible, however, we do recognise that completely eliminating the sweet taste from the diet can be difficult for some – therefore we believe that individuals need to listen to their own bodies and judge for themselves whether to include sweeteners or not. For example, in the case of a diabetic whose body cannot effectively metabolize sugar, substitutes are undeniably better, but there are a number of other metabolic factors and variables that are affected by ingesting sweeteners and these need to be considered.
The goal is to eventually eliminate sweet foods from the diet and to no longer have a taste for sweetness. We recommend treating the occasional fruit or sugar-free sweet treat as just that; an occasional treat rather than a part of the daily diet.
Through Eat Better South Africa we aim to create awareness about the negatives effects of sugar on human health – our focus is therefore to eat better in a capacity available to the individual. Our aim is to make the LCHF accessible to all, we therefore prefer to steer away from promoting a purist agenda as we know that different people have different ways of maintaining their diet in a sustainable way.
All of the Eat Better affiliate products which contain naturally-found sugar alternatives incorporate the ingredients in a responsible and restrained manner and this is closely monitored by the program.
Ultimately the science behind the metabolic and physiological effects of sugar alcohol on human health is relatively new and requires further investigation. We encourage consumers to educate themselves about the topic and decide for themselves whether to include them in their diet or not. We recommend working towards a state where the body no longer craves sweetness. The Foundation looks forward to more science being done on the topic.
We asked Rita Venter, owner of the wildly popular Facebook group Banting 7 Day Meal Plans, her thoughts on sugar alcohols:
“This has been a tricky subject for as long as I’ve been Banting. The reality is that people are so addicted to sugar that they cannot even think of living without something sweet. That’s why we see beginners post tons and tons of recipes for Banting cakes, biscuits etc etc. To break the sugar addiction, they will replace previous foods with Banting friendly versions. Not ideal, but as they continue with their journey, their palate changes and within a few months they are eating real food and less sweetened foods.
I am not opposed to sugar alcohols because they are great to transition from sugar to real food. I personally don’t use any form of sweetener, but I’d rather our members use sugar alcohols than sugar or aspartame.
We certainly only encourage eating real food and we are finding that more and more people are moving away from anything sweet. This is in part because the sugar alcohols are really expensive and most people simply cannot afford them.
I did a poll on the group and most people have cut out all forms of sweetener. Many people use 500g or less per month and only 4 use 1kg or more. This coming from people who used to buy 5kg of sugar per month or more.
Although I never have and never will advocate for sugar alcohols, they are better than sugar. One lady said, “It is very hard to go cold turkey with sweet stuff and the subs really help”.
As long as we can keep people on low carbs, we’re winning the battle. It’s a daily struggle to get people to give up junk and sugar. If xylitol is going to help us win this battle then I say, “let them eat Banting cake”.