Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Emotional Eating and the Modern Diet - Which Caused Which?

There is a growing belief that the composition of the western diet, not greed or laziness is the chief driver of obesity, a view for which Gary Taubes has become well known. An excess of refined carbohydrates, it is said, is driving the accumulation of excess fat and it's the resulting obesity that causes lack of activity as opposed to the lack of activity causing the obesity; since carbohydrates also apparently disrupt our appetite regulation mechanisms, blaming people for their obesity may be unfair and merely pandering to our finger-pointing instincts. Yet there is more at work here than biochemistry.
The Allure of Carbohydrates
Sure, carbohydrates are more-ish to say the least - in the past I have been known to nail a packet of biscuits in a single sitting, slotting them in one-by-one with machine-like determination. And we can certainly lay blame for some of this squarely at the door of those responsible for the current composition of the western diet - the organisations who peddled the low fat myth and the food companies who cynically exploit it to sell junk masquerading as health food. However, society must shoulder some collective blame for another factor, not as often discussed: our emotional eating.
Learning and Association
Food associations can be powerful - our negative experiences as children can lead to lifetime likes or dislikes - even phobias - of food. Often these are minor and we grow out of them - most of us disliked at least one vegetable as a child but later came to tolerate it. But sometimes they stick - I have a colleague at work who cannot even look at cooked fish, let alone eat it. I have not pried as to the possible causes, but given that the issue extends beyond taste, it's reasonable to assume that there is more to it.

Likewise, we form associations with positive experiences and develop learned emotional responses to foods. When I was young, my grandmother used to bring me sugary, milky tea and excessively buttered white, crust-less toast in the morning. I sometimes crave these foods even now, but sense it is as much the experience of staying at my grandparents I am hankering for and if I went to the trouble of recreating that breakfast I would probably be disappointed by the reality.

These examples are inevitable consequences of our associative learning mechanisms, about which there's little we can do. However, there are also more ingrained social factors at play which have become part of the grammar of parenthood. As a society we have built an emotional framework around food, teaching our children from an early age to associate it with positive behaviour, using it as a bargaining chip, reward and even punishment.

By her own admission, Mrs M has an emotional relationship with food that adds an extra dimension to her efforts to eat a healthy diet. Those of you who followed The Great Cake Porn Tour will recall how she made heroic efforts to indulge her every sugary whim on our recent trip to the US, taking a break from her usually sugar-free diet. For Mrs M, there are a few buttons which, when pushed, created a powerful urge to eat sugary food. These are stress and the excitement of holidays. We think the latter is a result of childhood associations.
Reward and Punishment
I was recently shopping in a supermarket when I noticed a screaming child, aged around two, whose mother was browsing nearby. The child was clearly not happy about being confined to the shopping trolley. The mother, almost without averting her gaze from the shelf, reached into her handbag, rummaged for a moment, then leaned back to provide the child with a chocolate bar. Immediately, the child was silenced.

In my childhood family, like many others, the mantra 'If you don't eat your meal, you can't have any pudding' could sometimes be heard. Similarly, the notion of sugary food as a treat or a reward for good behaviour was not unheard of. To be fair to my folks, the reward and punishment systems they used were far more varied than this, as a result of which (I speculate) my brother and I do not have particularly strong emotional associations with food. This may also be because we are male, because we are genetically predisposed to functional as opposed to emotional eating, neither or both.
The Media
For years the media and advertisers have been reinforcing our emotional responses to food. Consider the dumped girlfriend with a tub of ice cream watching Friends re-runs. The industry thrives on stereotypes and caricatures and we often take them as a cue for our own behaviour, leading to a positive feedback loop - life imitates art then art imitates life's imitation. At moments of great stress, it sometimes fleetingly occurs to me to find a bar and ask the barman to line up the whiskies. Why? Because that's what they do on TV.

When I Googled "comfort food" for images, I found over 200,000 - and that's just images. It gives you an idea of how the link between food and emotion has become part of our culture.
Which Came First?
Yet this is surely a modern phenomenon. Would stone age woman, upon discovering that her cave-partner had clubbed a neighbouring female over the head and dragged her into the cave while she was out foraging, have sought solace with a handful of nuts and berries whilst asking some friends to re-enact The One Where Ug Kisses Og?

The food industry and society have semi-consciously conspired to create a situation in which not only do our foods make it hard to eat according to our appetite, but our socialisation has created appetite triggers that have nothing to do with hunger.

The question is, which came first? If we had never manufactured these foods in the first place, would the available natural foods have been considered emotional currency? Or was it our innate desire to comfort ourselves in an increasingly stressful world that drove the demand for crappy food and encouraged the food industry charlatans to swap their overalls for lab coats? I am not sure that knowing the answer will help us much.

For my own part, my kids won't be getting nasty foods as a treat or reward. I know parenthood is tough and don't for one minute underestimate the scale of the challenge - but I will certainly do my best to keep unhealthy food out of the bargaining process.
... Read more

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Sugar, Sugars and Sweeteners - Spotlight on Aspartame

Alternative Names
Chemistry and Origins
Where it can be Found
Taste, Calories and Digestion
Health Implications and Safety
My Opinion

How could you resist putting something this cool on your food?
As part of the Definitive Guide to Sugar, Sugars and Sweeteners, each month I will try to cover one in detail so that eventually the guide becomes a one-stop shop for all you ever wanted to know...
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener with negligible calories used widely to sweeten food or drink marketed as low calorie or sugar free. Studies have linked aspartame to a number of health problems, but none have been compelling enough persuade regulators to restrict its use and it remains a legal additive in the US, Europe and probably worldwide.
Alternative Names
Tropicana Slim, Equal, NutraSweet, Canderel, E951
Chemistry and Origins
It was stumbled upon in 1965 by James Schlatter, a chemist working for a pharmaceutical company, who created it while researching drugs to treat ulcers. When he licked his finger, which had accidentally come into contact with aspartame, he noticed the sweet taste.

Aspartame is a dipeptide, which means it is a molecule made up of two amino acids joined by a single peptide bond. The two amino acids are aspartic acid and phenylalanine. In fact strictly speaking, it is a methyl ester of the dipepetide of these two amino acids and as such has the full name aspartyl-phenylalanine-1-methyl ester. Still awake?
Aspartame is a non-saccharide sweetener - this means non-carbohydrate and differentiates it from other sweeteners like sucrose and glucose. It is also classified as artificial and non-nutritive.

A question for the chemists amongst you: are sugar alcohols disaccharides, strictly speaking? I know they are hydrogenated disccharides, but does that still qualify them as a disaccharides? I am looking for a simple term that differentiates nutritive sweeteners like glucose and sorbitol from others. Answers in the comments please!
Between 1980 and 1996 applications to the FDA for aspartame's use in food and drink in the US were variously turned down, re-stated and eventually granted for all food and drink amid questions about the validity of study data and its availability to a board of enquiry set up to consider its safety. Interestingly, Donald Rumsfeld was involved at one point in the 80s. It is not clear whether at the time he regarded the eventual approval of aspartame's use as a known unknown, unknown unknown, or a dead cert because he'd backhanded the Reagan-appointed FDA commissioner. Just kidding Don, please don't sue me ;-)

Meanwhile, a number of European countries approved it in the 1980s, and in 1994 it was granted EU-wide approval.
Where it Can be Found
Aspartame is not found naturally, but is added as an ingredient to thousands of foods and drinks, as well as being marketed as a sweetener under a number of trade names. It is also used to sweeten chewing gum and pharmaceutical products like cough syrup. It is apparently also used like sugar as a condiment in some countries. Typically it used as a way to sweeten foods that are marketed as being sugar free, low calorie or good for people who need to watch their blood sugar levels.
Taste, Calories and Digestion
Aspartame is roughly 200 times sweeter than sucrose and is fully digested by the body. It has roughly 4 calories per gram but because so little of it is needed to create a sweet taste it can be regarded as having negligible calories.

Although it has a sweet taste, Aspartame is often blended with other sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium since these combinations are seen as creating a more authentic sugar substitute.
Health Implications and Safety
Few food ingredients have undergone the scrutiny aspartame has been subjected to. It has been studied for decades and controversy continues to rage over its safety.

Theories about the Effects of its By-Products
Aspartame is broken down into a number of substances when digested - these are methanol, formaldehyde, formic acid, phenylalanine and aspartic acid. In addition, a substance called aspartylphenylalanine diketopiperazine is created when aspartame breaks over time in carbonated drinks, so this joins the list of substances to consider.

There is some concern around all these chemicals. For example - methanol from aspartame digestion is believed by some scientists to be safe because it is not harmful in small amounts and is in any case already part of the human metabolism process and can be found naturally in fruit juices. On the other hand, other scientists believe we are protected from the naturally occurring methanol by other substances in fruit juice not found in aspartame and that chronic poisoning from aspartame is possible.

However, this and theories around the dangers of the other substances listed are largely theoretical and although there is research to support some of them, nothing concrete has emerged.

The single issue about which there appears to be universal agreement is the dangers of phenylalanine to a small number of people. It is considered unsafe for those born with phenylketonuria, a rare genetic condition. Sufferers are not able to metabolise phenylalanine and its accumulation can lead to problems with brain development. Phenylketonuria affects only one out of several thousand people, but this number which varies significantly between countries - Finland, for example, appears to have a very low incidence of around 1 in 100,000.

Reported Symptoms
In 1995 this US Department of Health and Human Services document was submitted to the FDA listing 92 symptoms it had received reports about from consumers. Whilst this anecdotal evidence will be regarded largely meaningless from a scientific perspective, it nevertheless gives an idea of the range of problems aspartame consumption may cause.

Evidence of Harm
Scientific studies have tended to focus on the long term effects of consumption, in particular looking at the possibility of an increased risk of cancer. These have been both epidemiological studies of humans and controlled studies with rats.

Some of the studies have been claimed to prove a link, others have been claimed to show no link. In most cases, there have been methodological concerns or suggestions of potential conflicts of interest that have made impossible any definitive conclusion about the safety or otherwise of aspartame.

For example, a 2005 study that fed aspartame to rats for seven years (conducted by the European Ramazzini Foundation for cancer research in Italy) found a statistically significant increase of malignant tumors of peripheral nerves in male rats and of lymphomas-leukemias and malignant tumors of the kidneys in female rats. There were 1800 rats involved in the study. The European Food Safety Authority questioned the validity of the results, as did the American Food & Drug Administration. The Foundation issued a rebuttal. Later, questions about conflicts of interest for the EFSA Executive Director were raised. The ERF did another study in 2007 which they said confirmed their original results. So far, a New Zealand health authority cast doubt on the results.

For whatever reason, the research to date has not convinced regulatory bodies anywhere in the world to restrict the use of aspartame beyond recommendations about daily intake.

ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake)
America's FDA has set the ADI for aspartame at 50 mg/kg of body weight/day. In contrast, the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food (SCF) has set it at 40. It is not clear how this is calculated, but it is described as a conservative estimate, based on the idea that this amount can be consumed daily over a person's lifetime. As a guide, an adult would need to consume 20 aspartame-sweetened 12oz carbonated soft drinks to reach their ADI.

Other Information
Aspartame does not promote tooth decay and its digestion does not significantly affect blood sugar levels.
My Opinion
There may be insufficient evidence to get aspartame banned, but it's hard to feel good about consuming it with this much controversy about its potential effects. Just reading how it breaks down in the body is enough to raise alarm bells. Sure, you could describe the digestion of any food in chemical-sounding terms - but the difference here is that aspartame does not occur in nature so it feels like the chances are low that our bodies are totally happy with the types and proportions of the chemicals aspartame introduces.

As for the ADI, it seems paradoxical that regulators can, amid a deluge of reported symptoms and disputed evidence, describe aspartame as safe, yet so precisely prescribe limits for its consumption.

If I had to consume food that had been sweetened and if I had to avoid higher-calorie sweeteners, I would be inclined to seek substances that are less removed from nature and not associated with so many health issues.

That said, I believe we should exercise caution about all sweeteners, particularly those recently introduced or discovered. Aspartame is in some ways the grandfather of sweeteners and we should not rule out the possibility that many of the newer sweeteners we are hearing about will in decades to come attract as much controversy once there has been enough time for them to be fully studied.

Alternative Names
Chemistry and Origins
Where it can be Found
Taste, Calories and Digestion
Health Implications and Safety
My Opinion

See Also:
Sugar, Sugars and Sweeteners: The Definitive Guide
... Read more

Friday, 24 October 2008

Five Great Quotes about Doctors and Medicine

Health and Nutrition
Doctors and Medicine

"The doctor of the future will give no medication, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, diet and in the cause and prevention of disease"
~Thomas Edison

"The longer I live the less confidence I have in drugs and the greater is my confidence in the regulation and administration of diet and regimen."
~John Redman Coxe, 1800

"It's bizarre that the produce manager is more important to my children's health than the pediatrician. "
~Meryl Streep

"Sometimes I get the feeling the aspirin companies are sponsoring my headaches. "
~V.L. Allineare

"Half the modern drugs could well be thrown out the window, except that the birds might eat them."
~Martin H. Fischer

Health and Nutrition
Doctors and Medicine
... Read more

Friday, 17 October 2008

Eat Natural? Not According to the Food Standards Agency

The term 'Natural' is now used so loosely by the food industry that it can barely be taken to mean anything, except perhaps to differentiate food from, say, stationery or garden furniture. I contacted the FSA recently (an independent UK Government department set up to protect the public's health and consumer interests in relation to food) to ask whether there were any laws governing the use of the term when used to describe food. They told me:

There is no legal definition of the word "natural" in food product labelling, however consumers are protected by the legal provisions outlawing false or misleading labelling in the Food Safety Act 1990 (as amended), the Trade Descriptions Act 1968 and The General Food Regulations 2004. The Food Standards Agency has also published the guidance 'Criteria for the use of the terms fresh, pure, natural etc in food labelling', to indicate using terms such as “natural” are likely to be misleading.

[The emphasis and hyperlink are my additions.]

Curious about these 'Criteria', I read the document and was pleased to discover that ingredients like sugar are, by any reasonable interpretation of the guidelines, not natural. This put a few manufacturers that I know of in breach of these guidelines.

Here is my open letter to the first of these, the Eat Natural company. Over the next few days I will be contacting them to invite comment.

Dear Sirs,

Your Eat Natural bars contain ingredients which are not natural according to the recommendations of the FSA.

In paragraph 51 of their document Criteria for the use of the Terms Fresh, Pure, Natural Etc in Food Labelling (Revised July 2008), they state:

“Natural” means essentially that the product is comprised of natural ingredients, e.g. ingredients produced by nature, not the work of man or interfered with by man. It is misleading to use the term to describe foods or ingredients that employ chemicals to change their composition or comprise the products of new technologies, including additives and flavourings that are the product of the chemical industry or extracted by chemical processes.

The full document can be found here:

Your 'With Blueberries, Pistachios and a Yogurt Coating' product contains both glucose syrup and sugar:

The processes by which sugar and glucose syrup are created means they do not qualify as 'natural' under the FSA's definition:

In the case of glucose syrup, this starts out life as a starchy food like corn - the process by which various forms of glucose are created from starch are described in the Production - Commercial section of the Wikipedia entry for glucose:

"Glucose is produced commercially via the enzymatic hydrolysis of starch.... This enzymatic process has several stages. In the gelatinization stage, a slurry of starch is heated to 105 °C, and the enzyme, α-amylase, is added. In the liquefaction stage, the mixture is held at 95 °C for 2 hours. In the last stage, known as "saccharification", the partially hydrolyzed starch is completely hydrolyzed to glucose using the glucoamylase enzyme from the fungus Aspergillus niger. Typical reaction conditions are pH 4.0–4.5, 60 °C, and a carbohydrate concentration of 30–35% by weight. Under these conditions, starch can be converted to glucose at 96–97% glucose, "glucose syrup" over 1–4 days."

As for sugar, the processes required to produce this from beet or cane contain a number of steps which are described on the Food Info web site. These include steps like:

"Carbonatation is achieved by adding milk of lime [calcium hydroxide, Ca(OH)2] to the liquor and bubbling carbon dioxide through the mixture. The gas reacts with the lime to form fine crystalline particles of calcium carbonate which occlude the solids"

"Phosphatation is a slightly more complex process that is achieved by adding phosphoric acid to the liquor after it has been limed..."

These descriptions clearly indicate that sugar and glucose do not fall under the FSA's definition of natural. Here is their description again with the key parts highlighted:

“Natural” means essentially that the product is comprised of natural ingredients, e.g. ingredients produced by nature, not the work of man or interfered with by man. It is misleading to use the term to describe foods or ingredients that employ chemicals to change their composition or comprise the products of new technologies, including additives and flavourings that are the product of the chemical industry or extracted by chemical processes.

Please explain how you can justify implying this product is natural when clearly according the FSA's guidelines not all the ingredients are natural.

Yours sincerely,

P.s. in case you were planning to point out that it is your company, not the product itself that is described using the term 'natural' (and that the guidelines therefore do not apply), I should warn you that readers of this blog tend not to have the wool pulled over their eyes quite that easily. Clearly you seek to imply that your products have natural ingredients by the way you market them and to suggest otherwise would not look good.

See Also:
The Worst Sugar Pushers of all: Health Food Stores
Why is there Sugar in my Chicken?
... Read more

Monday, 13 October 2008

The Hair Colour Diet

Guest Post by A. Hack

Gillian Anderson: carrots
There has been a multitude of diets touted in the press in recent months, adding to the growing list of ways in which we are told we can lose weight, become healthier and achieve the perfect physique; but a new diet being recommended by nutritionist Professor Klondike Von Shaffenburg looks set to re-write the rules. In The Hair Colour Diet: How being in Tune with your Pigmentation can Change your Life, Professor Shaffenburg sets out his diet, which centres around eating only foods that match the color of your hair.

Pamela Anderson: bananas
Redheads like Gillian Anderson, he explains, should stick to foods like carrots, tomatoes, red peppers, red meat (eaten raw) and fruits like strawberries and rasberries. Pamela Anderson, on the other hand, should stick to foods like bananas, lemons, yellow peppers and egg yolks.

In an interview with Nutrition Insanity magazine this month, Professor Shaffenburg says that people who dismiss his work as 'Utter drivel' have obviously not read his book.

"People in mainstream nutrition are terrified of new ideas," he suggests. "If everyone realised that the conventional thinking on nutrition is wrong it would turn the food industry and the medical establishment on their heads."

"The science is complicated," he goes on to say. "We all have differing levels of colour molecules in our hair, and this is reflected in the levels circulating in our blood too. Molecules of a similar colour reflect light of a similar wavelength, due to the pattern of electrons in their atoms. This means that when the red chemicals in our blood from food - such as the lycpene that is responsible for tomatoes being red - meets the hair colour molecules, we maximise the metabolic synergies and promote optimum health."

Professor Shaffenburg is no stranger to controversy. In 1992 the Swedish government shut down his Swedish Optimum Nutrition University - from which he received his professorship - amid a flood of allegations. A number of participants taking part in a clinical trial at the university alleged they were being asked to take part in unreasonable activities about which they had not been told beforehand. The trials for Professor Shaffenburg's 'Colonic Cockroach Therapy' were halted immediately.

Only time will tell whether this new diet will prove to be the holy grail of human nutrition. In the meantime, it is the unfortunate consumer who is left to try to navigate the maze of options now on offer.

Professor Shaffenburg, who is 40 years old and an albino, has been living on milk, egg whites, coconut and refined sugar since inventing his diet in 1998. He can be contacted at Ward 16 of The London Clinic for the Terminally Ill via his care nurse, Gladice.
... Read more

Ray Mears Goes Paleo

For those not in the UK, or those in the UK who do not watch TV, Ray Mears is our home grown survivalist and all-round expert on living in the wild.

In an interview with the Sunday Times, published yesterday, Ray recommends the Palaeolithic diet, explaining the reasons behind it with which many of us are already familiar.

Ray's teddy-bear physique is not one you would normally associate with followers of the Paleo lifestyle, but by his own admission he finds it difficult to resist the allure of modern junk. It's better to know what you should do, but fail to do it, than not to know in the first place. At least then there is the potential to do it later on...... Read more

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Sugar, Sugars and Sweeteners - The Definitive Guide

Sugar the Nickname vs. Sugar the General Term
Artificial vs. Natural
Nutritive vs. Non-nutritive Sweeteners
The Definitive List
Notes on the How the List was Compiled
With so many different types of sweetener being added to our food and drink these days and with so many different names being used for each, it can be a minefield to unravel the definitions and understand the implications for our health. I have spent the last week creating a structured, definitive list and some clear definitions. The aim is to evolve this page into a one-stop shop for understanding sweeteners and their effects.

This is work-in-progress document. I will regularly improve and refine the notes on each sweetener and record the changes as they happen in the comments. If you see something you believe to be incorrect or have additional information that would improve the page, add a comment yourself, including (if possible) a reference to support the change. I will review any comments and make changes as appropriate.
Sugars vs. Sweeteners
Sugars are carbohydrates that have particular molecular characteristics – there are many varieties and they have widely differing properties. Sweetener is a more general term, referring to any substance that can be used to make something taste sweeter. This includes some sugars - for example, glucose. Other sweeteners, such as Aspartame, are not sugars.

N.B. Strictly speaking all carbohydrates are sugars, but we do not need to worry about that here.
Sugar the Nickname vs. Sugar the General Term
This can be confusing for newcomers to the topic and is the most important to get straight from the start. As mentioned above, there are many kinds of sugar. However, when people talk about ‘Sugar’, especially in the context of food, they are often referring to Sucrose, one particular sugar. Certainly when you see the word in the list of ingredients for a product, this is what it means. Sucrose has acquired the nickname ‘Sugar’ over the years because it is the most commonly used sugar. It has acquired many other names too, as you will see in the definitive list.

A good illustration of this is a dried fruit like figs. You will not see the word ‘Sugar’ in the ingredients list of a packet of dried figs - yet in the nutritional breakdown it might say Carbohydrate, of which sugars – 65g. This is because whilst there is no sucrose in the figs, there is naturally occurring fructose and glucose – which are themselves sugars.
Artificial vs. Natural
The term natural sweeteners is typically understood to mean substances that can already be found in plants or animals, unlike artificial sweeteners, which cannot. Often, natural sweeteners only occur in very small amounts in nature and undergo much processing before they find their way into our foods.

For example, fructose is a natural sweetener – it is responsible for some or all of the sweetness in most fruits. However, it is also found in high fructose corn syrup, a highly processed sweetener derived from corn. Likewise, Tagatose is found in small amounts in dairy products, but used as a sweetener in concentrated form.

Acesulfame potassium (also known as Acesulfame K, Sunett, Sweet One or E950) is an artificial sweetener, often found in canned drinks marketed as being sugar free. It was formulated by a German chemical company and is not found in plants or animals.
Nutritive vs. Non-nutritive Sweeteners
The definition of nutritive sweeteners is that they have calories, whereas non-nutritive sweeteners do not. However, this is broad distinction and not always clear; it should not be taken as a guide to whether a sweetener is the right choice, because within these categories there are wide variations.
Nutritive Sweeteners
There are two ‘families’ of nutritive sweeteners - sugars and sugar alcohols.

Sugars – this family of sweeteners is commonly found in (and extracted from) naturally sweet foods; as such they are also classed as natural sugars. Their names usually end with –ose; for example, Sucrose, Glucose and Fructose. Glucose is found in many fruits and along with fructose is responsible for their sweet taste. Sugars tend to be the highest calorie sweeteners and some of them have been implicated in causing or exacerbating health problems such as tooth decay, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Sugar Alcohols – this family of sweeteners have names that end in -ol; for example, Sorbitol and Xylitol. Sugar alcohols are classed as natural sugars - Xylitol, for example, is found in some fruits and vegetables as well as in the bark of the Birch tree. Most sugar alcohols have fewer calories than sugars because they only partially digest. This can have intestinal implications and common side-effects of over consumption include diarrhoea and flatulence. However, their low impact on blood sugar, reduced calories and the fact they do not cause tooth decay makes them a widely-used substitute for sugars.

Sugar alcohols are hydrogenated disccharides. I am not sure whether this classifies them as a carbohydrate or not. If you know, please comment!

An example of how these categories can blur is the sugar alcohol Erythritol. It does not get absorbed by the gut at all and therefore has no calories - yet as a sugar alcohol it is classed as a nutritive sweetener.
Non-Nutritive Sweeteners
For the most part, non-nutritive sweeteners are artificial sweeteners. Examples are Aspartame (Phenylalinine), Saccharin and Sucralose. The reasons why a non-nutritive sweetener might not provide calories include:
  1. It does not digest, but passes through unchanged – for example Saccharin
  2. It digests, but has no calorific value – for example sucralose
  3. It does digest and does have calories, but is so sweet that the amounts required to sweeten a product are tiny – for example Neotmame, which is 10,000 times sweeter than sucrose.
Non-nutritive sweeteners are typically found in products marketed as sugar-free. In some cases (for example, Aspartame) there have been studies that suggest large quantities can be harmful when fed to rats.

One non-nutritive sweetener that is not artificial is Stevia. It's a non-nutritive sweetener because it is not metabolised by the body, but it is also a natural sweetener, since it can be found in the South American stevia plant.
The Definitive List
Bear in mind that the word you are searching for could occur in more than one place – for example, Honey contains fructose and glucose, so it is listed under ‘Also found in…’ for both Glucose and Fructose.

Sweeteners in bold have separate posts written about them which can be reached by expanding the row then clicking on the link inside.

Use your browser’s ‘Find’ function to locate the sweetener you are looking for. CTRL + F is the shortcut for this – alternatively, it can be found under Edit in the menu.

Chemical NameAlternative NamesAlso found in...
Acesulfame KAcesulfame Potassium, Sunett, Ace K, E950
TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener; also used in oral hygiene products
NotesIt is 200 times sweeter than sucrose and is not metabolised so no effect on blood sugar. Does not cause damage to the teeth
TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIt has negligible calories because it's 2000 times sweeter than sucrose so hardly any is required to sweeten products.As a result, there is no real effect on blood sugar. Although from the same chemical family as Aspartame, it does not cause Phenylketonuria.
AspartameTropicana Slim, Equal, NutraSweet, Canderel, E951
TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIn a small number of people it causes Phenylketonuria, a condition that affects the brain. It has the same calories by weight as sucrose but in reality the calories it adds to foods are negligible because it's 180 times sweeter so hardly any is needed to sweeten a product. It does not damage teeth or significantly affect blood sugar.
MoreSpotlight on Aspartame
Cyclamate Assugrin, Sucaryl, Sugar Twin
TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIt has no calories (and therefore no effect on blood sugar) because it is not metabolised. It is 30 times sweeter, by weight, than sucrose.
TypeNatural, Sugar Alcohol, Nutritive
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIt is three quarters as sweet as sucrose by weight but has almost no calories in spite of the fact that it does get absorbed. However, the absorption is mostly by the large intestine so unlike with some other sugar alcohols, there is not a laxative except in large doses. Does not affect the teeth. No significant effect on blood sugar
FructoseFruit Sugar, Levulose, LaevuloseFruit, High Fructose Corn, Syrup (Isoglucose), High Fructose Glucose, Any Concentrated Fruit Juice, Any Fruit Syrup, Inverted Sugar (Reducing Sugar), Inverted Sugar Syrup / Trimoline, Sucrose Syrup, Golden Syrup, Honey, Agave Syrup, Carob Powder, Gur, Jaggery, Panella, Rapadura
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesConsuming fructose in the form of moderate amounts of fruit is considered safe. In more concentrated forms such as syrups, excessive consumption can cause health problems. Fructose does not raise blood sugar as much as other sugars like glucose and is therefore often recommended for people who need to control blood sugar. However, ironically there is evidence that regular consumption of large amounts of fructose can lead to insulin resistance, which is often the problem already faced by people who need to control blood sugar. It can only be metabolised by the liver, which develops fatty deposits when consumption is excessive. It has also been linked to heart disease and obesity by a number of studies. Like sucrose, fructose causes tooth decay.
GalactoseBrain Sugar, GalactanDairy Products, Sugar Beets
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
GlucoseDextrose, Dextrin, Maltodextrin, Dextroglucose, Dextrose Monohdrate, Corn Syrup, Corn Syrup Solids, Corn Starch, Glucose Syrup, Isomaltose, PolycoseFruit, Agave Syrup, Inverted Sugar (Reducing Sugar), Inverted Sugar Syrup / Trimoline, Sucrose Syrup, Corn Sugar, Golden Syrup, Honey, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Carob Powder, Gur, High Fructose Glucose, Jaggery, Litesse, Panella, Rapadura
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener and also used in oral hygiene products
NotesConsuming glucose in the form of moderate amounts of fruit is considered safe. Glucose causes sharp increases in blood sugar and is the benchmark for the glycemic index which measures the effect a food or drink has on blood sugar. In concentrated forms such as syrups, excessive consumption is likely to cause health issues and has been linked to heart disease and obesity as well as a number of other conditions. Like sucrose, glucose causes tooth decay.

TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener; also used in pharmaceutical products
NotesIt has the same calories as sugar but is not as sweet and has no effect on blood sugar. It also does not promote tooth decay
Chicory, Chicory Root, Fruits/vegetables/Grains (in varying amounts)
TypeNutritive, Natural
UsesThis is a family of substances, some of which are used as a sweetener - they are also used to replace fat or flour in some foods
NotesThey are believed to have probiotic qualities and have little effect on blood sugar. Inulin is effectively a fiber, not a carbohydrate and has around a quarter of the calories of sucrose. It supposedly increases the absorbtion of calcium from other foods.
IsomaltPalatinose, IsomaltuloseDiabetiSweet
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIt has half the calories of sucrose by weight, does not promote tooth decay and does not raise blood sugar significantly. As with most alcohol sugars, it can have a laxative effect in large doses

TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesMainly for sweetening food - often found in 'sugar-free' candies, cookies (biscuits), chocolate, and ice cream
NotesIt has just over half the calories of sucrose by weight but is less than half as sweet. It supposedly has probiotic qualities and oes not cause tooth decay. It has a low effect on blood sugar but reportedly causes problems for lactose-intolerant people.
LactoseMilk SugarMilk
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesNot a commonly used sweetener, although it is sometimes combined with other sweeteners or used in homeopathic remedies
NotesLactose intolerance can affect some people, which leads to digetive and other problems when dairy foods are consumed
MaltitolMaltisorb, Maltisweet
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesUsed in 'sugar-free' hard candies/sweets, chewing gum, chocolates, baked goods and ice cream
NotesIt is about three quarters as sweet as sucrose by weight and has half to three quarters the calories by weight. It has a reduced effect on blood sugar and does not damage teeth.
Barley Malt Syrup, Brown Rice Syrup, High Maltose Corn Syrup, Corn sugar
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
MannitolMannite, Manna SugarHydrogenated Glucose Syrup,
Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener, especially minty products
NotesLike most sugar alcohols, it can have a laxative effect and does not raise blood sugar.

TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIt has negligible calories because it's 10,000 times sweeter than sucrose by weight so hardly any is required to sweeten products. Thus, there is no real effect on blood sugar. Although from the same chemical family as Aspartame, it does not cause Phenylketonuria.
Sweet'n' Low
TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesUsed to sweeten drinks, candies, medicines and toothpaste
NotesIt as no calories because it's not metabolised and so has no effect on blood sugar. It is 300 times sweeter than sucrose by weight.
SorbitolArlexVarious Fruits and Berries, Hydrogenated Glucose Syrup, Hydrogenated Starch, Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysate, Litesse
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener, particularly diet foods. Also used in minty/ dental products and medicines
NotesIt has about three quarters the calories of sucrose. Like most sugar alcohols, it can cause a laxative effect. It has a reduced action on blood sugar but there have been some concerns about excessive consumption by diabetics causing other health problems.
SteviaStevia rebaudiana, Stevioside, Rebiana, sweetleaf, sweet leaf, sugarleaf, TruviaThe leaft of the stevia rebaudiana plant.
TypeNon-nutritive, Natural
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener, particularly diet foods.
NotesStevia is typically up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar but is regarded as being effectively zero calorie.
MoreArticle on Stevia at Felix's Kitchen
SucraloseSplenda, SucraPlus, E955
TypeNon-nutritive, Artificial
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesIt has zero calories, although some of the products that use it, such as Splenda, apparently contain some calories because the use bulking agents. It is 600 times sweeter than sucrose by weight and does not cause tooth decay
SucroseSaccharose, Sucanat, Sugar, Granulated Sugar, Refined Sugar, Brown Sugar, Cane Juice, Evaporated Cane Juice, Evaporated Cane Sugar, Cane Sugar, Raw Cane Sugar, Demerera, Muscovado, Turbinado, Cane syrup, Beet syrup, Baker's Sugar, Bar Sugar, Barbados Sugar, Berry Sugar, Chinese Rock Sugar , Confectioners Sugar, Gemsugar, Polincillo, Rock sugar, WasanbonMolasses, Maple syrup, Maple Sugar, Carob Powder, Date Sugar, Gur, Jaggery, Palm Sugar, Panella, Rapadura, Sucrose Syrup
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener
NotesAlthough probably still the most commonly used food and drink sweetener, it is increasingly being replaced by other alternatives. It raises blood sugar rapidly and causes tooth decay. It has been implicated in a number of health issues. For example, there is evidence to suggest it has addictive qualities and that it may cause vitamin B defficiency. Excessive, long term consumption has been linked to heart disease and obesity
TagatoseNutrilatose, TagatesseDairy Products (in small amounts)
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesGeneral food and drink sweetener and also used to add creaminess to foods
NotesIt has less than half the calories of sucrose (due to partial absorbstion in the gut) but is almost as sweet by weight. It does not have a significant effect on blood sugar and is not damaging to teeth. It apparently has probiotic effects.
TrehaloseMycoseVarious Plants and Animals (in small amounts)
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar
UsesUsed in food and cosmetics
NotesIt is half as sweet as sucrose by weight, but contains the same number of calories by weight. It is also an antioxidant and has only a small effect on blood sugar.
XylitolBirch Sugar
TypeNutritive, Natural, Sugar Alcohol
UsesSweetening minty products and dental products
NotesIt has less than half the calories of sucrose and has no effect on blood sugar
MoreSpotlight on Xylitol
Notes on the How the List was Compiled
  1. The first column contains the chemical names for sweeteners.
  2. The Alternative Names column contains either nicknames for that sweetener or substances that are mostly made up of that sweetener and therefore amount to the same thing.
  3. The Also Found in column includes foods, drinks, plants or animals where there are significant amounts of the sweetener to be found – except in some cases, where the amounts are small this is indicated in brackets.
  4. If there is missing information this is because I could not find it - for example, the effects on teeth is mentioned for some sweeteners but not others.
Sugar the Nickname vs. Sugar the General Term
Artificial vs. Natural
Nutritive vs. Non-nutritive Sweeteners
The Definitive List
Notes on the How the List was Compiled
... Read more

Saturday, 4 October 2008



Books on the Paleo / Primal / Hunter Gatherer lifestyle
The Primal Blueprint: A Review

Video / Film

PayNow Live Later on YouTube
Paleo/Primal in a Nutshell Videos
Tom Naughton's Fat Head and my review of it
Tom Naughton's original short video


The Definitive Guide to Sweeteners
My Mum's and my apple crumble
Paleo Chocolate Mousse - The Recipe Challenge
Our Paleo/Primal Curry - More of a Guide Than a Recipe
Paleo/Primal Chocolates
Primal/Paleo Breakfast of Champions
Primal Vegetable Fritters
Butternut Squash Chips/Fries
Making the Most of Animals: Part 1 - Wonderful Offal
Making the Most of Animals: Part 2 - Glorious Fat
Making the Most of Animals: Part 3 - Beautiful Bones
Coconut and Nut Energy Bar
Coconut and Chocolate Cake Recipe Video (...or How not to Bake a Cake)

Interesting/Useful Links

I have moved these links to my Delicious account where I now record all interesting & useful links. There is also a widget on the right hand side of the blog where you can see the most recent 5 links I have posted...... Read more

Friday, 3 October 2008

The Palaeolithic Lifestyle, Diet and Fitness - My Guest Post on Fitness Spotlight

As you may have gathered if you have seen my About Me page, I follow the Palaeolithic lifestyle from a fitness and nutrition perspective.

In a guest post on Fitness Spotlight today, I outline the rationale for this and explore how we can relate what we do in the modern context to the environment our ancestors evolved in.... Read more

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

The Worst Sugar Pushers of All Part 3 - Holland and Barrett Takes Centre Stage

In The Worst Sugar Pushers of all: Health Food Stores, I condemned the way UK health food stores like Holland and Barrett and Julian Graves peddle confectionery masquerading as healthy food, such as sugar-laden yogurt-coated nuts. Later, when on holiday in the US, I established that companies like GNC are doing precisely the same over there – which I documented here and here.

I invited Holland and Barrett and Julian Graves to comment on the Sugar Pushers post, which Julian Graves duly did here, although their amateurish reasoning failed to hold up to scrutiny.

Since then, there has been big news in the UK health food sector – it seems that NBTY Europe Limited, the parent company of Holland and Barrett, has bought Julian Graves. I also learn from the Holland and Barrett web site that the Holland and Barrett Group owns 31 GNC stores in Europe. Confused? Me too – but the good news is this: from now I can channel my indignation in a single direction.
Holland and Barrett Respond
Although Holland and Barrett never did respond to my original request for comments, I have since written a separate email to their customer services department in which I outlined my concerns without referring to the Sugar Pushers post.

Here’s what I said:

I am interested to understand why Holland and Barrett sells products with significant amounts of sugar in (for example, yogurt coated nuts and raisins), when sugar is something that has been shown to be unhealthy. Since you describe yourself on your web site's About Us page as 'the UK's largest health food retailer' there appears to be an inconsistency.

Please explain - are the sugary products actually healthy, or are you in fact selling unhealthy products even though you claim to be a health food retailer?

Here is the response I received this week:

Thank you for your message

I am sorry to learn of your concerns regarding some of our snack products.

As you will appreciate a yoghurt covered product will have to have a certain amount of sugar added to form the coating and to aid in the overall taste of the product. However the total sugars declared include the natural sugar within the fruit and dried fruit have a high concentration of natural sugar per weight.

If eaten as part of a balanced diet there is no health issue eating these types of snacks. Sugar is required for energy so the product would be appropriate for people who wish to take them for a snack if they are walking or exercising or just as a boost when they feel the need in between meals.

We strive to cater for a wide range of customer needs and requirements and all ingredients are listed so customers can make an informed choice as to which product would be most appropriate for their needs. We also stock a range of dried fruit and nuts without coatings and added sugar.

Customer comments and opinions are welcome and we value feedback regarding our products.
Pulling the Threads Together
There follows an open letter to Barry Vickers, Holland and Barrett CEO, in which I pull together the threads from the Julian Graves correspondence, the Holland and Barrett customer services response above and the fact that they also own GNC. I will email Mr Vickers and my other correspondents, drawing their attention to the letter.

Dear Mr Vickers,

Having recently learned of Holland and Barrett’s acquisition of Julian Graves and that you already own a number of GNC stores in Europe, I would like to express my concern about the way you market certain foods in your stores. For background, as well as the correspondence with Holland and Barrett above you may wish to read my original post on the subject here, and the published correspondence with Julian Graves here.

To keep this simple, I will re-state my central concern here. It is that your stores position themselves as health food retailers, yet sell unhealthy foods alongside healthy foods. For example, yogurt coated nuts, the name of which fails to indicate the significant quantities of refined sugar in the coating. By doing this you are exploiting the desire of consumers to believe they are being healthy whilst preying on their weakness for food containing refined sugar.

I could deal with the response from your customer services representative point-by-point, but the points scarcely warrant attention, as I am sure you will appreciate when you read it.

Instead, I will deal with the one point that repeatedly comes back from your customer services people. To

If consumers exercise moderation and consume these foods as part of a balanced diet, there is no health issue.

My response is this: including unhealthy additives in your food, then expecting consumers to moderate their consumption and tailor their lifestyle to ensure they do not harm themselves is not the kind of approach you would expect from a company whose strap line is 'Health Foods and Natural Remedies.' Would it seem odd to you if a fitness instructor included in your exercise program the occasional and moderate use of recreational drugs, assuring you that provided you follow an otherwise healthy lifestyle there would be no impact on health?

Sugar is unhealthy – there is evidence for this. You are a health food retailer and you are selling unhealthy food. Please explain how you can justify this.

Yours sincerely,

See Also:
The Worst Sugar Pushers of all: Health Food Stores
Julian Graves Responds to 'Sugar Pushers' Post
New York - Limited Cake Porn but Plenty of Sugar Pushers
New York Part 2 – Another Sugar Pusher and Cake Security Threat
... Read more