Okay, I know you never saw this one coming, particularly from me, originator of the phrase “Retreat from Sweet”, but this month’s topic involves two competing no-calorie sweeteners that both receive the coveted Gundry Seal of Approval when used in moderation. They are “Just Like Sugar” and SweetLeaf.” I have my favorite of the two, and my wife Penny’s favorite is the other one and we’ll see if you can guess who likes which one.
Both of these sweeteners use the same ingredient as their base, Inulin, while each add a second ingredient to achieve the “sugar” taste. So let’s look into Inulin first.
If you remember from Dr Gundry’s Diet Evolution, I am a huge fan of Inulin, which is a Fructooligosaccharide, better know as FOS. Those of you paying attention will remember that FOS’s are easily remembered as “Friends of Steve.” FOS’s are complex sugar molecules (fructans) that cannot be digested by human amylase, and hence act like resistant starches (remember FiberGourmet?). These guys are your gut bacteria’s favorite food and are hence named “Prebiotics”. Just for confusion, “probiotics” are the actual friendly gut bacteria themselves. “Antibiotics” are just that: they kill bacteria, including your friendly gut bacteria. To summarize: Prebiotics are complex sugars that you can’t digest that feed your gut bacteria (probiotics).
Like any other resistant starch that your bugs like to eat, a potential problem is that your gut bacteria will be so happy that they will produce gas! If this happens in the presence of others, please point out how happy your gut bacteria are and gauge your friend’s reactions!
Inulin is a storage form of starch for many plants, usually in the roots. Chicory is the most common source of Inulin, but Yacon is another great source. Agave (not to be confused with agave nectar) is yet another source. Those of you who like Jerusalem Artichokes (not an artichoke at all, but a root) should know that you are eating lots of Inulin while enjoying them! Most Inulin comes from South America.
Inulin (being a sugar) is sweet, but has only about ¼ the sweetness of table sugar per teaspoon, but being a sugar, it behaves in cooking exactly like sugar. In other words, it browns, it heats, and it does well in baking.
Just Like Sugar’s main ingredient is Inulin. The other ingredient is a tiny bit of orange peel. That’s basically it!
Now onto SweetLeaf. Its main ingredient is also Inulin, but its second ingredient is Stevia, or to be correct, the glycosides of Stevia leaves, rebaudioside A and stevioside. Unlike other no-calorie sweeteners, this product received the GRAS status from the FDA (generally recognized as safe).
Stevia products have been available for years, but have battled a bitter, almost licorice aftertaste that has made their acceptance poor. However, there is a lot to like about Stevia. It is anywhere from 40-400 times the sweetness of sugar! And, unlike other non-caloric sweeteners, there are two studies in humans that suggest that Stevia lowers blood sugars! An additional study showed that when Stevia was consumed 30 minutes before a meal, test subjects ate less food! All this happens because it appears that Stevia can actually raise insulin levels. Those of you who have listened to me enough realize that this may be a two edged sword. On the one hand, insulin clearly is one of the inhibitors of hunger and reduces blood sugar (a good thing), but insulin in itself is the fat storage hormone, and is a growth hormone to boot (bad things). Bottom line, I think the good and bad cancel and it becomes a moot point.
So what makes SweetLeaf different than other Stevia products? Inulin! So now we’ve got the benefits of Inulin combined with the potent sweetening attributes of Stevia, without any of the bitter, licorice taste. But warning this stuff is sweet! Start with a half a packet please! One the other hand you might need two packets of Just like Sugar to get the sweetness of the half packet of SweetLeaf. Ah Ha, I just gave away who likes which one.
So the bottom-line: Try them both. If you have Diabetes or Metabolic Syndrome, maybe the SweetLeaf is for you; if you are trying to Retreat from Sweet, go for the Just Like Sugar. I use Just Like Sugar in my smoothies; Penny puts SweetLeaf in her coffee. In fact, it is the only Stevia product she will actually use and enjoy, and she has been forced (by me) to try them all! High praise indeed.