It's officially the start of sugar season...
Today, many Americans will eat thousands of calories' worth of candy. And while one day of indulgence probably won't do too much harm, the next couple of months are often filled with eating too much sugar.
Folks know that eating lots of added sugar is bad for your health. But for decades, popular sugar substitutes were successfully marketed as a healthier, calorie-free way to satisfy a sweet tooth. Because these sweeteners lack carbohydrates, the belief was that they wouldn't trigger the same insulin response as sugar. So you could use these sweeteners without worrying about inflammation or illnesses, like diabetes.
This is a dangerous myth that too many people believe.
According to a 2023 survey from the International Food Information Council, nearly 75% of Americans are trying to limit or avoid sugar... And only about a third of those who prefer sugar over its substitutes do so because they believe these artificial sweeteners are harmful.
I've been pounding the table on this issue for years. And it's never a popular topic because people want to believe they can enjoy sweet foods without any risks.
The winter holidays are fast approaching. As you're gearing up for the celebrations – which often come with trays of cookies and slices of pie – you might be trying to cut down on the amount of sugar in your sweets.
Don't do it with artificial sweeteners...
A new study published in Nature Medicine earlier this year helps shed light on some of the serious long-term consequences associated with eating a common sugar substitute called erythritol.
Erythritol is a four-carbon sugar alcohol. Four carbon refers to its molecular weight. There are other, heavier sugar alcohols like xylitol (five carbon) and sorbitol (six carbon). Because erythritol is smaller, it gets absorbed into the blood at a higher and faster rate than other sugar alcohols.
Small amounts of erythritol are found in fruits and vegetables. So it's marketed as a "natural" sugar substitute, which adds to its appeal. People assume natural things are healthy...
According to one source, erythritol is used in nearly 180 different sweeteners, including Splenda Naturals, Stevia, Truvia, monk-fruit blends, and Swerve.
However, when used in processed foods, the amount of erythritol is typically 1,000 times higher than what is found naturally in fruits and vegetables.
We've long known that eating erythritol causes some folks digestive issues, like bloating, gas, and diarrhea... but that's not all.
In this new study, a team of researchers from the U.S. and Germany wanted to see if eating erythritol had any long-term effects on the cardiovascular system. They looked at the circulating levels of erythritol in the blood samples of 2,149 people from the U.S. and 833 people from Europe, whose ages ranged from 55 to 81.
All of the participant data was collected from folks with cardiovascular disease or risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease, like Type 2 diabetes and obesity. The researchers pointed out that these are folks who are typically told to avoid sweets and actively try to lose weight.
The researchers found that there were higher levels of erythritol in the blood of people with chronic cardiovascular disease, as well as folks who experienced a heart attack, stroke, or who had died during a three-year follow-up period.
They also found a correlation between the amount of erythritol and cardiovascular incident risk... Of all the U.S. participants, those who had the most erythritol in their blood (top 25% of the group) were, on average, 2.5 times more likely to experience a heart attack, stroke, or death compared with the folks who had the least amount of erythritol in their blood (bottom 25% of the group).
As for the European folks, their associated risk was greater. Those in the top 25% were 4.5 times more likely to experience a heart attack, stroke, or death compared with those in the bottom 25%.
That's a massive risk increase.
What's more, in a different phase of the study, the researchers gave a group of eight healthy volunteers a drink containing 30 grams of erythritol and looked at how the erythritol impacted the clotting factors in their blood.
Here's what the study's lead author, Dr. Stanley Hazen, told CNN about these findings:
Thirty grams was enough to make blood levels of erythritol go up a thousandfold. It remained elevated above the threshold necessary to trigger and heighten clotting risk for the following two to three days.
Get away as far as you can from this dangerous stuff.
If you're planning to indulge this holiday season, do so with moderation. Don't spend the next few weeks sneaking bites of your kid's Halloween candy. And don't let clever marketing fool you into thinking that just because something is "sugar free" that it's a healthier option.
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Here's to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,
Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
October 31, 2023