Sugars, Sweeteners, and Gut Health

There's a big trend in food and beverages today to replace old fashioned sugar and artificial sweeteners at any cost. If you're reading this, you can probably guess I'm against artificial sweeteners and there's already plenty written about those by more qualified people so I won't get into that. I'm going to focus on the natural sugar substitutes that have been exploding in foods and beverages so companies can keep marketing "no sugar added".

Stevia

Stevia is a sugar alternative you've probably heard of that has really grown in popularity in the last few years. I'm even a fan of some of it's promising health benefits - like less calories, less impact on blood sugar, and less likely to give you cavities. However, if you have a weak stomach like I do, it might be better to avoid. Research has shown Stevia can interfere with your healthy gut bacteria, which as I've written before has more and more evidence coming out about how important that bacteria is to your digestion and overall health. Also, if you want to use Stevia to try and lose weight, it might not be a good choice since studies have shown it can actually increase your appetite throughout the day and surprisingly lead to an increase in body weight over time.

 

Monk Fruit

Monk fruit is another natural sugar alternative that boasts similar benefits to stevia including zero calories, low carbohydrates, and less impact on blood sugar. One problem with monk fruit sweeteners today is it's almost always combined with erythritol which has been shown to increase nausea and stomach rumbling (although only at pretty high doses). In addition to that, there hasn't been a lot of research to date about monk fruit's effect on the healthy gut bacteria. Overall, I'm excited for more research to come out on monk fruit because it seems to have a lot of potential to be the best sugar replacement for people with stomach issues. It could be a potential ingredient in Soov one day!


Fruit Sugars

A pretty common, and somewhat sneaky, trick to replace "added sugar" these days is to take the concentrate of a fruit that doesn't have an overwhelming flavor but is very sweet. Some examples would be white pear concentrate or grape concentrate. These are technically natural sugar and don't need to be labelled as added sugar. I'm not saying that's wrong to do, but if you have a sensitive stomach it can be an issue for you. Fructose, which fruit sugar is very high in, is difficult to digest and can cause stomach pain, flatulence, bloating, and diarrhea. You've probably heard of high fructose corn syrup which is extracted from usually genetically modified corn and has it's glucose (easier to digest) converted to fructose (harder to digest). Fruit sugars are definitely a step up from high fructose corn syrup though.

Honey

You know honey, it's used as a sweetener in all kinds of foods and for a lot of teas and other drinks. Honey tastes great but sadly it contains a very high amount of fructose meaning it comes with all the same stomach and digestion issues that fructose does. However, honey has other health benefits like antioxidants so if your stomach can handle it go ahead and eat it!
Honey is hard on stomachs
            Honey can be particularly hard on your stomach since it's so high in fructose

Agave Nectar

Same fructose issue here again. Shockingly though, agave nectar has 90% fructose which is a much higher composition than honey, fruit juices, regular sugar, or even high fructose corn syrup! I would definitely avoid it if you have a sensitive stomach even though it sounds like a healthy option.

Sugar

Surprisingly, regular sugar seems to be one of the best sweeteners available for people with stomach issues. Obviously, high amounts of sugar can cause stomach aches (like after trick-or-treating as a kid) but in a low dose it should not have a negative impact on your stomach. Regular table sugar does contain fructose but in pretty close to equal parts with glucose which aids the absorption process during digestion. My recommendation is to pay close attention to your sugar intake and avoid high sugar drinks and foods. For a biased example, drinking Soov instead of a ginger ale or soda :)


Bonus: FODMAPs

If you have IBS like I do, you've probably heard of the FODMAP or Fermentable Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides and Polyols. Very intense name that basically means carbs that absorb poorly during your digestion and can cause stomach issues. People with IBS often try to do low-FODMAP diets where they avoid high-FODMAP foods and beverages. All sweeteners have some level of FODMAPs but some are much worse than others. Surprisingly to many, cane sugar is considered safe while alternative sweeteners that people consider healthy like agave, fruit sugar, and honey are not. For a great breakdown of sweeteners by FODMAPs check out this article.
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