Are you seeking a sweeter alternative to sugar

The Good Life Letter 

5th July 2015

Okay let me be clear about this – I don’t like artificial sweeteners.

My own sweet palate has been responsible for many ills in my life, and a significant proportion of my girth – but I would rather do without sugar altogether than use something out of a lab as a substitute.

In particular I hate anything to do with aspartame, which as far as I’m concerned should be banned.

It is vile, addictive and strongly linked to so many health concerns that I can’t believe it is allowed to be included in foods, let alone sweets aimed at children.

In my view any product that claims to be low-calorie or reduced sugar is to be avoided as the chances are it will contain one of the increasingly used chemical sweetening agents.

But... a shock about-turn today I want you to consider a sugar substitute which even I have to admit isn’t all bad.

And if you choose wisely you will have something that is 100% natural and derived from birch trees rather than cooked up by Dr Jeckyll in his labs.

First though the case against all things artificial – if you were in any doubt.

I despair of huge corporate entities (yes I’m talking about you Coca-Cola!) who try to make out that they are improving the health status of their products by using these chemicals.

Claiming that their ‘zero sugar’ versions are somehow safe and doing their bit to allow customers to have a healthy choice is plain wrong, and we should not let them get away with it.

But when these companies (and I’m definitely talking about you now Coca-Cola) then pay nutritionists to claim that their sugary beverages are a healthy snack that could help you lose weight, they should be prosecuted for endangering lives.

My reasons are simple:

  • Studies actually show that using aspartame causes people to gain weight not lose it(1).
  • Further studies show that far from reducing the risk of developing diabetes and other metabolic conditions aspartame can actually heighten the risk(2).

So, I think I’m fairly clear on this issue – I don’t want anyone to have aspartame or many of the artificial sweeteners because they are just not safe.

Here is the answer to the sweet but not sugar conundrum, and all from a tree

Low calorie alternatives compared

If I’m going to dismiss every single artificial sweetener then I guess I also need to consider some of the all-natural sugar replacements too, so here is my list and comments:

1)    Honey. Still my favourite sweet treat, and by consuming pure and raw honey I know that I will also get the maximum health benefits as a result. Honey gets its sweet taste from fruit sugar, fructose, in its most natural form.

Fructose can be a major problem, particularly when it is concentrated from corn (high fructose corn syrup – HFCS) but in honey it is not likely to cause any of the problems associated with other versions.

2)    Agave syrup or nectar. This is one natural sugar replacer that I consider to be nothing short of a con, as even though it is claimed to be natural most of the product available has been concentrated in food labs and actually contains more fructose than even the highest concentrated HFCS.

3)    Stevia. A natural sugar alternative that is derived from a South American leaf and has a very sweet taste (almost 200 times sweeter than sugar). I have used several types of Stevia and found it to be agreeable and sweet, but with a noticeable aftertaste. There have been some reports of allergic reactions but these are rare and most people tolerate it well.

4)    Pure Glucose. The sugar our body can use straight away in every cell is not as sweet as granulated sugar but is a useful addition to desserts and sprinkled on sharp fruit or foods like rhubarb.

5)    Lo Han Guo. A relatively new and rare import from China where the Lo Han fruit has been used as a sweetening agent for centuries – if you can find it give it a try.

Then there is one more which I first heard about from a friend of mine who visited Finland about ten years ago, and for a long time I dismissed as one those strange things that Vikings did – like pickling herrings or brewing liquor from trees.

But over time I began to see more and more research supporting the safe and effective use of this product as a food – and even a medicinal aid, especially in the fight against tooth decay.

And finally it became the star of the Channel 4 show – Superfoods – which was aired this week.

The product is called xylitol and it was discovered about thirty years ago as an extract from birch trees (in fact it was this that was being fermented to make the alcohol in birch schnapps!) and it has really taken Finland by storm.

The Finnish government are so convinced that xylitol is a good and safe product that it pays for xylitol pastilles to be given to children in kindergartens and schools every day in the same way that our kids used to get milk.

Interestingly the evidence shows that their children now have significantly reduced levels of tooth decay than previously... and puts our poor dental health statistics in the shade.

Finding this product has been a problem in the past and much of what has been sold in the UK came from cheap genetically modified corn cobs – but I have good news.

There is a wholly natural supply available which is 100% pure xylitol and all from birch trees called XyloBrit – and [you can get it here.

Just in case you thought I had missed it...

Before anyone starts to e-mail me about the horror story of how xylitol is produced using heavy metals... this version isn’t.

One other subject of contention is about how xylitol is digested and whether it contributes to gut imbalance – the simple answer is ‘not as much as sugar does!’

In more detail, this compound passes undigested through the stomach and leads to an increase in water being drawn into the bowel as a result. This additional water can lead to loose stools, but as long as you are not using masses of xylitol every day most people have no problems at all.

So, in summary:

If you want to cut down on sugar but feel the need to keep a sweet edge to your food try XyloBrit – the only natural sweetener I will allow into my house, apart from honey.

Click here to discover more about XyloBrit

Yours, as always



(1) de Matos Feijó, F., Ballard, C. R., Foletto, K. C., Batista, B. A. M., Neves, A. M., Ribeiro, M. F. M., & Bertoluci, M. C. (2013). Saccharin and aspartame, compared with sucrose, induce greater weight gain in adult Wistar rats, at similar total caloric intake levels. Appetite, 60, 203-207.

(2) Swithers, S. E. (2013). Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism, 24(9), 431-441.

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