1. chigau (違う) says

    I cannot do youtube for another 5 days.
    What is so awful about sugar?

  2. jaybee says

    chigau — the link is to a talk by Dr Robert Lustig of UCSF. He has talked widely and written a book which takes a pretty hardline stance against fructose, literally calling it poisonous, and is to blame for a wide variety of health problems.

    Here is his wikipedia link:

  3. jetboy says

    I have one of those! It is a lovely sweetener. As far as what is wrong with sugar…well not much, really, in scant moderation, unless you happen to be, like me, one of the growing number of people who shouldn’t have it, well, ever, in any quantity. Since I do not wish to lose my kidneys or my appendages, and am quite interested in repairing the damage done by being un-diagnosed for many years, I have a deep and abiding interest in avoiding sugar and other simple and refined carbohydrates. It’s nothing personal, it means there’s more for everyone else, and I don’t really miss it. At this point, things that have been sweetened with sugars or artificial sweeteners all taste like gasoline to me. I have no interest in judging others or forcing replacement sweeteners on an unsuspecting populace – but a leaf of stevia goes very well with peppermint tea.

  4. mildlymagnificent says

    The plant itself is OK I understand (I’ve never tried it). But some of the powders and other products using it are unimpressive – very nasty aftertaste in one I tried.

  5. otranreg says

    But do these sweeteners bake up well? To test their performance, I made simple yellow cakes from a standard 1-2-3-4 cake formula (1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups self-rising flour, 4 eggs).

    It’s not a particularly honest test, is it. Sugar has properties that go beyond just sweetness, and which a ‘sweetener’ (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) isn’t supposed to reproduce. It doesn’t mean that artificial sweeteners are useless for anything other than drinks. I’ve been continually excluding sugar from my kitchen for the last couple of years, and the liquid sweetener that I use ends up in salads, creams and sauces, and I’m yet to hear any complaints. I do keep sugar — exactly for purposes other than making food sweet.

    Sweeteners are cheap (about 2-2.5 times cheaper than sugar where I live), easier to manipulate, they don’t leave a nasty sticky aftertaste in your mouth and throat and don’t leave sticky stains of your furniture. Oh, and the low energy content is a neat bonus too.

  6. David Marjanović says

    In the EU, at least some artificial sweeteners are approved for use in pig fattening. They trick mammals (not bees, though; bees can taste the difference) into expecting sugar, meaning, calories, which doesn’t arrive, and that leads to a hunger attack.

    …Yes, read that, and don’t stop reading when you reach the controversy section!

    and other simple and refined carbohydrates

    “Refining” sugar just means cleaning it, washing the brown molasses out.

  7. methuseus says

    I can’t stand any artificial sweetener that I’ve tried, including stevia-based crystals and the like. All have a horrible aftertaste to me. I do enjoy cane sugar, honey, agave nectar, and other natural sweeteners, but have yet to try the actual stevia plant’s leaves.

    @ otranreg:
    I’m very curious which sweeteners you are talking about. If I could find an alternative to sugar, I would be happy, especially if it’s cheaper.

    About Dr. Lustig, there have been no actual studies. It’s just a hypothesis since he hasn’t gotten any real studies. He also specifically calls out fructose, which I thought most of the sugars in foods today are sucrose, so I’m not sure how much I believe him. Also, isn’t fructose what we eat in fruits? Or do I have my biology and chemistry wrong? High school was so long ago.

  8. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    He also specifically calls out fructose, which I thought most of the sugars in foods today are sucrose, so I’m not sure how much I believe him. Also, isn’t fructose what we eat in fruits? Or do I have my biology and chemistry wrong? High school was so long ago.

    A lot of fruits have fructose as the main sweetener. So does honey.

  9. citizenjoe says

    We grow Stevia, several cultivars, in fact. They are hard to start from seed, but easy to propagate from cuttings. They winter over inside the house and thrive outside in summer (USDA zone 8a).
    We dry the leaves and mix with lots of other plant materials to make tea (madrone bark, nettles, raspberry tips, lemongrass, clover flowers etc). The sweetness from the Stevia melds nicely. I don’t much care for the sweetness imparted from tinctures of Stevia.

  10. David Marjanović says

    He also specifically calls out fructose, which I thought most of the sugars in foods today are sucrose, so I’m not sure how much I believe him.

    Sucrose, which the rest of the world calls saccharose BTW, is a compound of glucose and fructose, and is hydrolyzed into these by an enzyme in our guts.

    Also, isn’t fructose what we eat in fruits?

    Oh yes.

    So does honey.

    Honey is a 50 : 50 mixture of glucose and fructose (it’s hydrolyzed sucrose), but fructose is sweeter than glucose, so you’re about 60 to 70 % right. :-)

  11. badgersdaughter says

    Nobody in my family can stand Stevia regardless of concentration or formulation. There is a genetic reason for this and it is not uncommon, which is the reason some extol it and love it, and others gag from the intense bittersweetness (for us, more bitter than sweet).

    I’m someone who controls blood sugar through diet. I’ve found that sucralose gives me anxiety attacks, saccharin and acesulfame-K taste like crap, and cyclamates aren’t available. Aspartame seems OK but is totally unsuitable for cooking.

    I’ve been forced to rely on sugar alcohols, but they have served me well. Erythritol, which is naturally occurring and contains the fewest calories, is the best tolerated digestively, but as soon as you put anything sweetened with it in the refrigerator, the sweetener crystallizes out of solution–a disaster for my lemon curd pie, which wasn’t supposed to be crunchy. Xylitol has been my mainstay for months, at least until a greedy dinner guest spiked her coffee with five heaping teaspoons of it and went home thinking she was giving birth to a movie alien. Recently I discovered a source for cost-effective tagatose, which measures, cooks, bakes, dissolves, and (most importantly) tastes like sugar to both me and my picky husband, but which has been shown to help regulate blood sugar. I made his birthday cake with it a couple weeks ago, both cake and whipped cream cheese frosting, and we could not have been more pleased.

  12. Epinephrine says

    Stevia is currently not legal for use in foods in Canada, though you can buy the plant itself and use it, and you can use extracts of it in manufacturing. I’m not exactly sure why… if it’s a danger, you would want to control use of it, if it isn’t, why the difference between including it in products as an extract (presumably to precisely control amounts of steviol glycosides?) and using the plant in a product (where the quantities would be less obvious/controllable).

    Still, I managed to get some moroccan green tea with stevia in it, and it’s got a nice taste; a hint of sweetness without needing to add any sugar.

    One thing I’d really like to try some time is miracle fruit ( Not as a regular additive/sugar substitute, since I don’t like the idea of eating things routinely that bend my tastes, but just to experience it.

  13. stevem says

    re FRUCTOSE:

    I’m sure he calls out fructose as evil {I haven’t seen the video yet} because of the HUGE role it plays in today’s American food products. “High fructose corn syrup” (HFCS) seems to be the ‘go to’ sweetener, supplanting cane sugar everywhere. Coca-cola® is the most visible (but all sodas are guilty). Used to be just “sugar”, now only HFCS; and is blamed for obesity everywhere. {But of course, HFCS; because corn is much easier to grow in the States and has huge farm subsidies to support it. So it MUST be Evil}

    I once read that fructose will “spike” one’s ‘glycemic index’ whereas sucrose will not (or much less so). Not being an MD or biologist, I cannot judge. Not even sure I remember the claim itself correctly. Any comments on the ‘glycemic index’ affected by different isomers of “sugar”?

  14. says

    Two comments about what is overall a good article-

    1. I would’ve liked to have seen a cake baked with sugar as a comparison.

    2. As someone who has experienced the unpleasant gastrointestinal side effects of alcohol sugars, the author should’ve mentioned that a certain percentage of the population cannot tolerate any these substitutes. I’ve never tried them in baked form, but with my other past experiences, I’m not interested in trying.

    As someone with several friends who need these alternatives, I appreciate someone doing actual baking to show the various substitutes and their effects in the recipe.

  15. methuseus says

    Ok when wondering about his calling out of fructose, I forgot about HFCS. I think I can probably agree on that point, that HFCS is causing issues in our country. Though, of course, I have only anecdotal evidence for it, so, you know, YMMV.

  16. Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls says

    I once read that fructose will “spike” one’s ‘glycemic index’ whereas sucrose will not (or much less so).

    According to the Wiki article, fructose has a low glycemic index. Which makes sense, as the glycemic index measures blood glucose levels, and fructose is simply converted to energy, being the first step in the metabolism of glucose. The materials high in glycemic index tend to be starchy amylose containing foods that are digested to glucose over time.

    I believe a lot of beverage manufacturers have converted back to sucrose due to costs, as corn starch is used to make higher value products like ethanol and lactic acid, raising the price of HFCS.

  17. stevem says

    re Nerd @29

    According to the Wiki article, fructose has a low glycemic index.

    Thanks, Nerd. I said I wasn’t sure if I even remembered the “citation” correctly. Thanks for the correction. That’s what I like about this site; education.

  18. kemist, Dark Lord of the Sith says

    In the EU, at least some artificial sweeteners are approved for use in pig fattening.They trick mammals (not bees, though; bees can taste the difference) into expecting sugar, meaning, calories, which doesn’t arrive, and that leads to a hunger attack.

    This mammal can and, bleeeargh. Those things all taste terrible each in their own special way.

    Also, their use as fattening agents sorts of make sense to me. I’m prone to post-prandial hypoglycemia and I have noticed that having a diet soda outside of meals is an almost sure way to get an hypoglycemia attack (so very pleasant, those are). In a “normal” person, that would probably translate to a hunger attack.

    I once read that fructose will “spike” one’s ‘glycemic index’ whereas sucrose will not (or much less so).

    Not quite. Fructose has a low glycemic index and was for a time considered healthy and even highly recommended for people with diabetes, both type I and II. Until some people realized that the way it is metabolized has the annoying side-effect of decreasing glucose tolerance through a decrease in insulin receptors.

  19. says

    It’s not the fact that HFCS is a widely used sweetener that makes people fat, it’s that they don’t know when the fuck to stop eating and drinking the foods that use it. If you drink 64-ounce Big Gulps one after the other, it doesn’t matter whether the soda is sweetened with sugar (cane or beet) or HFCS, you’re still going to weigh 300 fucking pounds in no time flat.

  20. otranreg says

    20 methuseus

    I can’t say anything relevant about the brands I use (I know none of the ones mentioned in the article, and I use German- and Polish-produced ones), but they all are pretty much cyclamate/saccharine based.

    Regarding the aftertaste, in (hot) drinks it stopped being noticeable after a week or two of consistent use for me (and ironically, currently, I can’t stand tea with sugar: it tastes awful and sticky, I prefer tea unsweetened if there’s no alternative). In cooked food it is usually not that noticeable.

  21. Azuma Hazuki says

    I use stevia all the time, and am another one who’s more or less eliminated sugar from the diet. The main problem with it is that its “onset” is slower; it doesn’t immediately taste like anything, and then has a lingering sweet aftertaste. It’s also just a little woody (as opposed to artificial sweeteners which are frankly metallic–ick!).

    Mostly it gets used in drinks: 1/2 gallon bottle + water + 2 tea bags + 2T stevia + 3 hours in fridge makes a very passable and calorie-free iced tea :) Yeast don’t like it, though, so I keep molasses or maple syrup around for baking bread.

  22. Sili says

    I’m sure he calls out fructose as evil {I haven’t seen the video yet} because of the HUGE role it plays in today’s American food products. “High fructose corn syrup” (HFCS) seems to be the ‘go to’ sweetener, supplanting cane sugar everywhere.

    Trouble is that Europe is getting fat too, and we subsidise saccharose made from beets. (Because why would we try to help third world countries by letting compete on a level playing field with their dirty, dirty cane sugar?)

  23. Furr-a-Bruin says

    As a diabetic, non-sugar sweeteners are a key part of my life. I do find people who claim to find all substitutes bad-tasting interesting – in general, the ones I’ve asked have never done a blind tasting and thus I have to wonder if they can actually taste a difference or if it’s entirely in their head. One person I know who swears up and down to have bad reactions to sucralose uses as an example a product that is not and never has been sweetened with sucralose… but even pointing out the ingredient list won’t convince him he’s mistaken.
    I have done a blind tasting after finding stevia products universally disgusting – and indeed, I appear to be one of those people who simply can’t stand the stuff. I find the push toward it by some to be quite distressing, given the sizeable fraction of the population who find the stuff repulsive. If someone insists on a “natural” substitute, I’ve found Nectresse (based on luo han guo extract) to be quite nice – the touch of molasses used to combat the extract’s off tastes make it taste rather like “raw” sugar. Frankly, I don’t understand the obsession with “natural” – there’s no proof or guarantee rebianosides (or mogrosides from luo han guo) are any healthier for you than sucralose.
    I adore erythritol; it’s the sugar alcohol least likely to cause digestive distress because it’s actually absorbed in the gut and excreted through the kidneys rather than causing osmotic problems in the large bowel and/or being used as food by bacteria, the reasons other sugar alcohols can be trouble. (I find xylitol much more tolerable than sorbitol, etc. – but I suspect this is a strongly individual thing.) It’s sad that erythritol isn’t a better “match” for sugar in other ways – less soluble, less sweet, and that heat of solution thing which means it’s rather strongly cooling as it dissolves. Fortunately, that’s not an issue if it’s been (and stays) dissolved; it’s what I use in my homemade ice cream as “anti-freeze.” (The rest of the sweetening comes from sucralose.)
    Sucralose is the one I use most, though; EZ-Sweetz is a brand of high-concentration liquid sucralose. Wonderful for cold drinks, and no carb-laden fillers.

  24. spamamander, internet amphibian says

    I’m one of those people who can’t tolerate stevia, it has this horrid bitter taste. But for the people who do taste it as sweet, it seems to be a great alternative. I have tried sorbitol and xylitol and, erm,, yes lovely TMI GI effects. Leaves me kind of limited, since type 2 diabetes runs in my family and I’ve hit the age where it tends to make itself known. Most aspartame products I seem to do ok with, but for coffee it HAS to be saccharine. My mom used “sweet and low” in her coffee (and still does) and that’s how I got used to coffee tasting- anything else is just wrong, especially “real” cane or beet sugar.

  25. Jerry says

    badger’s daughter # 24: Do you mind sharing where you get your tagatose?

    Regarding the several comments about fructose being natural vs. poison… Calling it “poison”, especially by an MD, is stupid. It’s a too-commonly used sweetener, and the calories cause weight gain. Some studies have shown a higher weight gain than with sucrose, which is a problem, but I agree with drksky in comment # 32. People usually have a glass of juice, but a freaking liter of sugary soda.

    Furr-a-bruin # 36: Don’t rule out your friends having real reactions to artificial sweeteners. Many people have idiosyncratic reactions, but bad effects (esp. headaches) from aspartame are not at all rare. I have a friend who gets migraines, and seems to be set off by aspartame.
    I get bad headaches from Splenda (sucralose). I used to be able to drink it and enjoyed it. I liked the flavor better than aspartame. Then I started getting fairly frequent bad headaches, to the point I was wondering about having migraines but I didn’t have the classic visual symptoms. I felt like someone had hit me right between the eyes with a big hammer. I’m a scientist, so I did an experiment. I stopped consuming anything with one type of artificial sweetener for a week at a time, starting with sucralose. My headaches stopped. Then at lunch one day, I ordered iced tea and added two packets of sucralose. I got a bad headache four hours later. I stopped using it again and those headaches stopped, except for the worst peaks of a certain pollen season. My guess is that I have developed some kind of reaction to sucralose. When I called the FDA to report it, the person who answered the telephone was (a) very surprised that a non-MD was calling, and (b) said I was the first person to call about sucralose. Maybe I am alone or in a very small set of people, or maybe nobody else made the connection, or maybe I’m wrong. I don’t want to have those headaches again, however, so I’m not willing to endure that pain short of a double-blind clinical trial (a paid one, so I can sleep it off during the day without risking getting fired). I’m reasonably convinced, though, that reactions to various artificial sweeteners are probably real.

  26. says

    The plant itself is OK I understand (I’ve never tried it). But some of the powders and other products using it are unimpressive – very nasty aftertaste in one I tried.

    The only thing I have tried with it was some horrid diet sodas.. They had a kind of peppery after taste to me, and the flavor, in general, was a bit like someone went, “Ok. we need a diet Cola. Go out and buy the shittiest diet soda you can find, then.. make it taste more diet like that it already is, and use Stevia for the sweetener in it.”

  27. Furr-a-Bruin says

    Jerry @38: I’m not saying people don’t have reactions; I’m saying that many of the people I’ve run into who claim to have such reactions don’t seem to have ever done what you DID do to at least narrow it down (and possibly discover the problem is something else) – they just start ranting about the “evils” of artificial sweeteners, a topic that I have an exceedingly low tolerance for as a diabetic. [I once had someone tell me I should just “get used to” the horrid-to-me taste of stevia, because it was the only thing I “should” use. At that point, I abandoned politeness.] As I said, I know one person who’s utterly irrational on the subject, insisting that he has bad reactions to sucralose because of a product that contains no sucralose! (Now, maybe he’s confusing aspartame and sucralose and doesn’t want to admit to that – but still.)
    As for tagatose – be aware that it can produce the same sort of unpleasant GI disturbances as most of the sugar alcohols – by osmotic effect, even if you don’t happen to have gut symbionts that can metabolize it. I have no idea if there would be “cross sensitivity” in this area – i.e., if someone who can tolerate sorbitol (for instance) is more likely to tolerate tagatose, or conversely if someone who can’t handle sorbitol is more likely to have trouble with tagatose.

  28. badgersdaughter says

    Tagatose is not a sugar alcohol; sugar alcohols are polyols and tagatose is a monosaccharide. It just seems to be classified with the sugar alcohols because it is similar in appearance, use, and cooking qualities. I got mine from (check the Web for a coupon code).

    I have no GI trouble whatsoever from tagatose, erythritol, or inositol, or from any reasonable quantity (the amount in a normal-sized slice of cake and frosting, for example) of isomalt or xylitol. I have a detectable-to-serious GI reaction to the amount of sorbitol, maltitol, or mannitol in a piece or two of “diabetic” candy that is not attributable to other ingredients.

    I also tested my reaction to sucralose by eliminating and re-introducing. Perhaps I’ll call the FDA today as well.

  29. badgersdaughter says

    NuNaturals seems to have raised their prices a bit on the 5-pound bag of tagatose. I was able to purchase a 44-pound bag with a coupon code, but that size is no longer listed on their site. They almost didn’t fill my order because they were worried either that I was a commercial user (um, no) or that I would dislike it and try to send it back (um, no). If you happen to want that quantity, call them directly; it’s a lot cheaper than buying it by the pound package.

    I’d literally been looking for a good source for years. If I could have bought the bulk 44-pound bag direct from the producer, I would have, but i was turned down flat with a “we are not selling retail at this time”. If anyone has any other ideas or would like to go in on a group purchase, feel free to let me know; my e-mail is my username at

  30. methuseus says

    I have done very amateur tests for my inability to stomach artificial sweeteners. I’ve been given diet soda on accident before, which I could tell immediately. Also, I’ve had ice cream with Splenda, that I knew because it had a bad aftertaste. I don’t know if they ever caused any headaches, as I couldn’t stomach them enough to bother trying. I also don’t like Truvia, though as I said before I haven’t tried the stevia leaves themselves, which may work better for me. I also don’t like the flavor of the sugar alcohols except in mints. I haven’t tried them baked, though, so that might be one thing to try.

  31. Furr-a-Bruin says

    badgersdaughter @41: True, tagatose is not a sugar alcohol – but any bulk sweetener – monosaccharide, polyol or whatever – that is not well absorbed in the small intestine has the potential for causing GI distress. (This is what makes erythritol an exception – it is well absorbed.) Lots of substances can produce the osmotic effect, and anything bacteria can metabolize that makes it through to the large intestine can produce the bacterial bloom effects. As I did say before – this response is highly variable between people. Like you, I have next to no tolerance for sorbitol, but I know people who have no trouble with it.
    I’m just saying there are people who will have trouble with tagatose, and so it should be tried carefully before they buy a 44lb. bag. ;)
    “Human gastrointestinal tolerance to D-tagatose”:

  32. badgersdaughter says

    @Furr-a-Bruin 44: Oh, sure, I didn’t mean to contradict you. :) I did try tagatose before I bought it, as it happened; I was able to score a sample from somewhere I can’t remember.

    I also had a sample of trehalose, which seemed to taste fine, but I know very little about it except that it is relatively high calorie and is broken down to glucose in the body, unsurprising since it is basically two glucose molecules stuck together. The only upside to the stuff (considering it’s at best half as sweet as sugar) is that it is broken down more slowly in the body and thus has less glycemic effect. I am not sure that makes it safer for diabetics on the whole. Maybe you know more about it.

  33. Furr-a-Bruin says

    badgersdaughter: If I seemed strident, I apologize for that; given how unpleasant that kind of GI reaction can be, I wanted to be sure people were aware of the possibility.

    I’m not familiar with trehalose beyond what a quick skim of the ‘net has told me. While preventing blood sugar spikes is important to diabetics, I’d be more interested in trehalose if it were a near-twin to sucrose in terms of sweetness and solubility; I’d be willing to deal with the caloric value for something that was functionally similar to sucrose but less likely to spike my blood sugar. As it is – the extremely low caloric nature of erythritol makes it preferable to me over trehalose. (The fact that trehalose seems to be a bit more expensive than erythritol doesn’t help any.)

    The ideal, of course, is something that tastes, measures and functions in recipes just like sucrose, has no untoward digestive consequences … and yet still has no calories and no effect on blood sugar. Several compounds are close – maybe we’ll see something like that eventually. (Maybe a modification of erythritol to make it sweeter, more soluble and a neutral heat of solution? :)