Happy Culture

THE GOOD AND BAD OF SUGAR SUBSTITUTES

The rising awareness around the risks of excess sugar consumption has lead to a growing interest towards alternative options, known as ‘sugar substitutes’.

Sugar substitutes offer the benefits of sweetness with none, or a portion of, the calories and sugar spike effect. They are commonly used in diet and sugar-free products to help reduce the amount of sugar and calories consumed.

Sugar substitutes are often preferred by people with diabetes, and those wanting to avoid the harmful effects of sugar, including inflammation of the gut.  

Along with their growing popularity, sugar substitutes have become a hot topic, with many people questioning their safety and effectiveness.

It is important to note that there exists a wide range of different sugar substitutes. While some have been linked to have potential negative health effects, not all sugar substitutes are bad. In fact, some sugar substitutes have been found to have potential health benefits.  

In this blog, we aim to empower you on some key basics, as well as share why we chose Sorbitol and Xylitol as our preferred sweetener allies when we evolved our kombucha and water kefir to be sugar free. 

 

THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF SUBSTITUTES

 

1. Artificial aka ‘Intense’ sweeteners 

The larger category comprises of chemicals commonly referred to as ‘artificial sweeteners’ or ‘Intense Sweeteners’. These are significantly sweeter than sugar, some up to several thousand times sweeter, and so only a minuscule amount is needed to provide the desired sweetness. Although some sweeteners contain calories, the amount needed to sweeten products is so small that you end up consuming almost no calories. Examples of this kind of sweetener includes Aspartame, Sucralose and Acesulfame. 

A number of studies have been carried out to confirm the safety of artificial sweeteners. However some studies indicate there could be some risks associated with the regular consumption of artificial sweeteners in this category, including cardiovascular, neurological issues as well as possibly harm on the gut microbiota.

2. Sugar alcohols aka Polyols 

The other category is known as ‘sugar alcohols’ or polyols. Sugar alcohols are organic compounds, that occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables. They can also be produced industrially by hydrogenating sugars. Examples of sugar alcohols include Erythritol, Sorbitol and Xylitol. 

Sugar alcohols are about 25–100% as sweet as sugar, are much lower in calories and don’t carry the same negative effects as regular sugar, such as promoting tooth decay and significantly raising blood sugar levels.

They’re considered low digestible carb, meaning  your small intestine doesn’t completely absorb them. Instead, they travel to your large intestine, where bacteria ferment them, and thus can be considered to act as a prebiotic to your gut microbiome. This means that, interestingly, similarly to fiber, certain sugar alcohols may contribute to a healthy digestive system  by promoting the growth of beneficial bacteria and can also assist people who suffer from constipation. It also means that the majority of the calories present in the sugar alcohols are not actually absorbed by the body.

The downside of sugar alcohols lies around the potential for excess consumption causing discomfort in the digestive tract, especially when consumed in excess, and for people with existing gut conditions. Symptoms can include bloating and diarrhoea. 

Besides this, sugar alcohols are considered fully safe to human health when consumed within recommended daily amounts (10-20g/day).

 

HAPPY CULTURE WATER KEFIR AND KOMBUCHA SUGAR FREE MADE SAFE AND TASTY  WITH SORBITOL AND XYLITOL

Moving our full range to sugar free was a big decision. Sugar brings a lots of enjoyment to a drink, and we were worried its absence would compromise the experience of our bubbly brews.

However, we also knew that sugar is not an ally to gut health and general wellbeing, and therefore did not align with intention and mission for which our products are created.

We thus had to make the call to go sugar free, and simultaneously, seek a solution to minimise any compromise on the enjoyment of our brews. 

After through research and consideration, we decided to opt for sorbitol and xylitol as our sweet allies. 

Here below is a little more info on the pros and cons, and  considerations for each. 

 

SORBITOL

Sorbitol is found naturally in many fruits, including apples and pears, as well as in some vegetables. It has very little effect on your blood sugar (with a GI of 4 only), and causes minimal digestive symptoms when you consumed in moderation.  Sorbitol can be taken as a laxative to help prevent constipation has been found to have potential health benefits, such as promoting oral health and reducing the risk of tooth decay.

 

XYLITOL

Xylitol is found in small amounts in many fruits and vegetables and is therefore considered natural. Humans even produce small quantities of it via normal metabolism. Xylitol is one of the most commonly used sugar alcohols because its taste closely mimics that of sugar. It’s a common ingredient in sugar-free chewing gums, mints, and oral care products like toothpaste. Xylitol has a low GI index (12) and does not cause blood sugar spikes. It also promotes oral health by reducing the risk of tooth decay and has been found to have a positive effect on the health of the gut microbiome. People tend to tolerate xylitol well, but may experience some digestive symptoms if consumed in large amounts. 

In conclusion, not all sugar alternatives are equal.  Though artificial sweeteners have some considerable concerns, sugar alcohols are safe, and even beneficial when consumed in moderation. 

Sugar alcohols are great alternative to sugar for people with diabetes, those trying to avoid empty calories, and those wanting to avoid the general inflammation and sugar spike effects of sugar. However, when consumed and excess and for those with existing conditions, sugar alcohols could have undesirable effects such as bloating and digestive unease. When introducing them to your diet, be conscious of your consumption and its impact on you, so you can establish where your boundaries lie. 


For context on what can be considerate a moderate amount, here below is a benchmark of how much Sorbitol and Xylitol is used in our kombucha and water kefir vs recommended dose 

Kombucha Xylitol – 0,7g / 100mL; Sorbitol – 1,5g / 100mL. Water Kefir  Xylitol – 1,83g / 100mL.

Recommended max daily dose is around 10-20g / day for a person without existing conditions. This means you* safely enjoy a daily serving, or two (250mL – 500mL), of your favourite bubbly brews without the risk of adverse effects.


*Of course, everybody is different and sensitivities with largely depend from one person to the next. Some will be able to consume several servings per day with no side effects, while others will have to be more moderate. The best you can do is to start with smaller amounts and observe your body’s response, and build a conscious relationship with your consumption from there. 

For all those who are looking for a sugar free alternative to sugary soda drinks or cocktail mixers, Happy Culture kombucha and water kefir are here for you! Perhaps it will take a few sips to get used to the sugar-free change, but once you fall in love with the taste, and improved quality of life, there will be no looking back. 

Sending waves of good gut vibrations your way 🫶🏼✨

With ♥

The Happy Culture team

References 

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3198517/

https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/11/8/1813

https://www.webmd.com/diet/what-are-sugar-alcohols

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/sugar-alcohols-good-or-bad#glycemic-index-blood-sugar

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/artificial-sweeteners/art-20046936

https://www.sweetlife.com.au/n/xylitol-and-gut-health/335;;

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/what-is-sorbitol#benefits-uses ; 

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