Natural sugar alcohols like erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, and maltitol are often used in foods to provide sweetness without adding calories. Here’s a closer look:
Erythritol: Almost non-caloric, erythritol is naturally found in small amounts in fruits and fermented foods. It doesn’t spike blood sugar or insulin levels, making it popular among diabetics and low-carb dieters. However, in large amounts, it can cause digestive issues in some people.
Xylitol: Sourced from hardwood trees or corn, xylitol is as sweet as sugar with about 40% fewer calories. It’s beneficial for dental health but can cause digestive distress if consumed in large quantities. Moreover, it’s extremely toxic to dogs.
Sorbitol: Found naturally in fruits, it’s less sweet than sugar and often used in sugar-free candies and gum. It can cause digestive problems when consumed in excess.
Maltitol: Common in sugar-free products, maltitol has 75-90% of the sweetness of sugar with nearly half the calories. It has a higher glycemic index than other sugar alcohols, meaning it might raise blood sugar levels more than others. Overconsumption can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort.
Healthier Sweetener Alternatives
Organic Brown Rice Syrup: A sweetener derived from brown rice. It’s less refined than many other sugars, but it’s primarily composed of glucose which can spike blood sugar levels.
Honey: A natural sweetener produced by bees. It has antioxidants and can have antibacterial properties. Raw, unprocessed honey retains the most benefits. However, like all sweeteners, it should be consumed in moderation.
Agave nectar (or agave syrup) became popular as a natural sweetener due to its low glycemic index. However, its low GI is primarily because it’s high in fructose, which doesn’t immediately raise blood sugar. But excessive fructose intake, especially from concentrated sources like agave, can lead to various health issues including liver problems and increased risk of obesity, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
HFCS is a liquid sweetener similar to sucrose (table sugar). Its health concerns arise from the high levels of fructose, which, when consumed in large amounts, has been linked to obesity, insulin resistance, and other health problems.
Selecting Natural Bars
When choosing a natural or organic bar:
Check the Ingredient List: Opt for bars with recognizable ingredients like whole fruits, nuts, and seeds.
Limit Added Sugars: Even natural sweeteners can add unnecessary calories and sugar.
Watch Out for Allergens: If you’re allergic or sensitive to certain ingredients, ensure the bar doesn’t contain them and wasn’t produced in a facility that might have cross-contamination.
Consider Fiber and Protein: Bars that are high in fiber and protein will keep you satiated for longer.
Avoid Artificial Ingredients: Even if a bar is labeled “natural” or “organic,” always check the ingredient list for artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors.
In conclusion, while natural bars can be a convenient and healthier snack option, it’s essential to scrutinize ingredient lists and be aware of potential health implications of certain ingredients. Always aim for a balanced diet and consider natural bars as an occasional supplement rather than a regular meal replacement.