Episode #62: Sweet Truth: Identifying PCOS-Friendly Sweeteners and Avoiding the Harmful Ones
What you’ll learn in this episode
This episode is about unraveling the sweet truth about identifying PCOS-friendly sweeteners and avoiding the harmful ones. If you’ve ever wondered how your sweet tooth affects your hormonal balance, this episode is tailor-made for you. So, let’s jump right in and explore the vast world of sweeteners and their impact on PCOS!
Types of Sweeteners
There are many types of sweeteners, processed ones, natural ones, ones that will spike your blood sugar like crazy and other non-caloric ones, some inflammatory while others seem to be better options to indulge your sweet tooth while nourishing your hormones
Sweeteners and Nutrition Labels
Here is a list of sweeteners that are often hidden on nutrition labels to be on the lookout for:
High Fructose Corn Syrup
Barley Malt Syrup
Coconut Palm Sugar
Brown Rice Syrup
Maltodextrin, Maltose, Dextrose, Glucose, Trehalose, High Fructose, Corn Syrup, Sucrose, Caramel, Golden Syrup, Inverted Sugar, Refiners Syrup, Blackstrap Molasses, Maple Syrup, Honey, Sorghum Syrup, Lactose, Cane Juice, Barley Malt Syrup, Coconut Palm Sugar, Maltitol, Brown Rice Syrup, Fructose, Galactose, Agave Syrup, Xylitol, Glycerol, Sorbitol, Lactitol, Isomalt, Mannitol, Erythritol, Inulin, Stevia, Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose, Allulose
By the end of this episode, you’ll be equipped with valuable insights and practical tips to make better sweetener choices, leading to improved well-being, weight management, and enhanced fertility. So, grab your headphones, hit play!
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Let’s Continue The Conversation
Do you have questions about this episode or other questions about PCOS? I would love to connect and chat on a more personal level over on Instagram. My DMs are my favorite place to chat more.
So go visit me on IG @nourishedtohealthy.com
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Read The Full Episode Transcript Here
One of the areas that I struggled with the PCOS nutrition was finding a sweetener that I felt good about, that I enjoyed the taste of, and I felt good about consuming. I didn’t feel like it was a compromise, and I wanted something that allowed me to enjoy things like coffee with a little bit of sweetener on a regular basis while maintaining a healthy PCOS lifestyle. Today we are going to dive into all the different types of sweeteners and considerations as you discover which ones work best for you, your body, and your hormone health. So let’s get started.
You’re listening to the PCOS Repair podcast, where we explore the ins and outs of PCOS and how to repair the imbalances in your hormones naturally with a little medical help sprinkled in. Hi, I’m Ashlene Korcek. With many years of medical and personal experience with polycystic ovarian syndrome, it is my joy to watch women reverse their PCOS as they learn to nourish their body in a whole new way. With the power of our beliefs, our mindset, and our environment, and the understanding of our genetics, we can heal at the root cause.
Welcome back to the PCOS repair podcast. I’m really excited about today’s topic because I think you’re going to walk away with some really clear action steps of new sweeteners to try, see what works for you, and some new considerations on what things to put a lot of emphasis on, and what things to be less concerned about. First of all, I want to start out by talking about sweeteners, sugars, things like that, and how they affect PCOS. So a couple of considerations, and we’ve talked about these in other episodes, so I’m just going to touch on why this topic is important in this regard. When it comes to sugar, like table sugar, brown sugar, maple syrup, any calorie based sweetener. One of the concerns here with PCOS is that PCOS is so insulin sensitive, or in a lot of cases insulin resistant. So insulin is a big part of it. When I say insulin sensitive, it’s so finicky, like we need to be careful with our insulin and even if currently your insulin is not a problem, so much research shows that women with PCOS have a much higher tendency of moving along that diabetic spectrum. Starting with just having a higher insulin effect all the way to creating insulin resistance and then type 2 diabetes and so whether or not you have any indication that there’s an issue there, I think it’s important to just be mindful of the fact that that is a big risk for women with PCOS and so as we choose what sweeteners and treats and sugars to include in our diet on a regular basis, we want to find ones that are not going to spike our blood sugar because the issue here is that as we repeatedly spike our blood sugar, we can wear out our insulin system and before we even wear out our insulin system, our hormones can be affected by eating foods that spike our blood sugar and lead to large amounts of insulin being released into our bloodstream over and over and over throughout the day, throughout the week, month, year, and so on. That where our hormones are responding to that insulin being present and becoming less balanced and less responsive to our body as a whole. There are many things we can do to improve our insulin sensitivity, to reduce the amount of insulin that our body produces when eating certain foods. But overall, those type of foods are not going to be assisting us in maintaining our root cause health and that goes for people that even don’t have PCOS but we just know with PCOS, we’re that much more sensitive. The other concern that I have with certain sweeteners, as well as regular sugars that we think of, such as, again, brown sugar, table sugar, maple syrups, all the different types of mainstream high calorie based sweeteners, but also including the non caloric ones like Splenda, Aspartame, Sweet and Low. Those ones that we see in a restaurant when we order coffee that they bring to us in a little container that are pink and blue and yellow. Those ones don’t have calories as in your body doesn’t see them as something to create energy with. However, there are some studies that show they may have a negative impact on our insulin. In fact, a lot of studies show that people that drink diet sodas, so that are filled with these these items actually have a higher rate of obesity or as high. The studies are mixed, but definitely showing that it did not cure the overweight issues for those individuals that were drinking diet sodas. There’s a lot of convoluted information there. Does it actually spike our insulin a little bit? Does it just train our taste buds to crave sweet? Are there chemicals in there that are leading to difficulty losing weight and so on? With these artificial sweeteners, my concern with them is that one, they’re highly processed, and so that’s always going to be a little bit more inflammatory to our bodies. They may have some insulin spiking effects, which is going to not be great for our hormones. Overall, the foods that we typically put them into are usually also quite processed. These sweeteners are also quite a bit sweeter than regular table sugars.
We are training our taste buds by consuming these artificial sweeteners like Splendor, Aspartame, Sweet & Low. We’re training our taste buds to crave really intense sweeteners. One of the things that I think women go through when they do my PCOS detox is that they are actually retraining their taste buds to taste food in its more natural form. When food is in a more natural form like a berry, it doesn’t taste as sweet to us as all of these artificial sweeteners that we may have consuming before, and it can taste bland but over time, as we reduce the amount of other sweeteners that we’re eating, we start to actually appreciate the sweetnessness and the flavor of a strawberry or raspberry or other fruits, other foods, and those flavors become a lot more enjoyable and we don’t need the others, like sweeteners and artificial foods as much. We don’t crave them. They still taste good. But sometimes they will actually start to taste overly sweet or overly chemicalized, depending on what food you’re eating. Those are things that can happen over time as we move towards a more whole foods, natural form of the food that we’re eating.
When we’re looking at creating a lifestyle, it really always comes back to it needs to be sustainable, it needs to be enjoyable, and it needs to not be overly restrictive while providing nourishment and not providing detriment to our PCOS hormones. Enjoying our food and enjoying things with a little bit of sweetness is part of a lifestyle. If we ignore this part, most of the time we find it’s unsustainable. It’s really important to find what are the things that matter to you and to continue to search for that best way for you to enjoy what you want. For me, I really enjoy a morning cup of coffee and I like it to be slightly sweet. It doesn’t have to be a whole vanilla latte or a mocha or something where it’s very sweet. It doesn’t have to be an iced frappuccino but I do like to have a coffee I like the taste of the coffee, so I buy really high quality organic coffee. There’s a family-owned business in Canyon Beach, Oregon, where my grandma lives. So I grew up going there and there’s a coffee shop there that creates just the most delicious coffee. It’s not overly acidic it has just this amazing flavor. So I have it shipped to my house. So I found a coffee that I like how it’s produced. I love how it tastes and it’s a little bit of a splurge but at the same time, I don’t need to add a lot to it to make it taste good. I add a little bit of cream and I add a little bit of sweetener. We’re going to get into which sweetener I prefer and which sweeteners I have tried over time as we go through this episode. But that was something that to me, I was like, this is important to me. I want to be able to enjoy a morning cup of coffee. So as you decide through your lifestyle what things are important to you, consider what things do you want to continue on a regular basis, like a morning cup of coffee. Now, if you like to have a sweet treat and want to have a dessert every now and then, you don’t have to find a complete alternative to that. You can enjoy normal desserts on an intermittent basis as it fits into your hormone health. So as your hormone health improves, one, you actually might crave them less, but two, you might actually be able to tolerate them better, you’re going to learn to really truly enjoy a couple bites as compared to maybe the whole thing. You’ll find your own balance of how you fit that into your life. This is not about having to cut out all other kinds of sugar, but how do we know which ones are good choice for us and what’s out there in options for us? Then if we think about the types of sugars, we have all of the mainstream sweeteners. This is going to include things like table sugar, all of the ones that there’s actually, I have a full list and I’ll try to put it in the show notes for you. But these are the things like rice syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, really all of the different kinds of sugars that you’re going to see on nutrition labels. Then you’ll see people sweeten things with things like fruit. So maybe they do a date puree or even any sort of dried fruit, things like that that people are using and they’re pureeing them and they’re using it as a sweetener in a lot of recipes. You’ll see people do that. That still counts as sugar because you’re using basically just a fruit sugar at that point.
All of the artificial sugars. So this can be all of the ones that are non caloric, like we mentioned, aspartame, Splenda, Sweet and Low are some of the main ones. There’s some other ones that are less commonly seen. Then there’s ones that are newer and we see a lot of in things that are Keto friendly. So it’s going to be things like Erythritol. We see a lot of Stevia, which is a more natural choice and then a new one that we see a lot of is monk fruit. Of each of these, I think that it’s important to mention, the last few that I mentioned, monk fruit, erythritol and stevia, have not been extremely well studied. There are a few studies on them, I think most of the studies out there on them are not very conclusive. We’ll talk about that in a second but the ones that have been very well studied are ones like Splenda, Aspartame, and Sucralose. They’ve been studied for risks of Alzheimer’s, risks of cancer and the bottom line is that even at enormous amounts of consumption, there is no conclusive evidence that they are the cause of these things. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re not, and you have to take everything with a grain of salt. Just because they don’t cause cancer doesn’t mean that they are then healthy. But I do want to make a point of… I’ve worked with a lot of women who are really struggling to cut out having a diet Coke during the day or really love ice tea, but they like to put some Splenda in their iced tea. These are things where while they’re probably not your best choice, if you are buying something somewhere, like if you’d like to go to Starbucks and you like to get a green iced tea and you like them to put a Splenda in it, you can try having them switch to Stevia in the raw because most Starbucks carry that option. But at the same time, it may really affect your case because Stevia is a bit bitter. If that is something that really helps you cut your cravings in the afternoon, I think it’s worth noting that there is not a ton of research that shows that these are as awful as we tend to demonize them to be in the health and wellness space. However, if you don’t already use them, there are some better options and if you’re using options at home, there are less and better options to experiment with. But when you’re out and about, if getting a Starbucks green tea or black tea is something that helps you through your afternoon and you get that at lunch and then you enjoy it over the next hour or two, there are worse things. There’s a lot worse things for your PCOS health and letting yourself have something that’s otherwise fairly inconsequential, may be what keeps you from over-snacking, keeps you from having an energy slump, and keeps you well hydrated. I mean, there’s some great benefits to just drinking lots of fluids and as you go in towards your evening, if it makes you feel better and you’re enjoying your day better, that all needs to be taken into account as we look at what we’re doing. Now, if you’re thinking about currently at Starbucks, you get a green tea, iced tea, like a venti green tea, iced tea, and you have them put a pump of sweetener in it, that is just pure sugar that they’ve made into a simple syrup. So switching to something like Splenda or Equal or something like that would be a much better choice than the pump of syrup. Those are things where we think about the best, okay, and not ideal those are things that you want to look at. We don’t want to do the not ideal on a daily basis. We want to stick with the best on a daily basis. Some okay options, but we really want to not have the not ideal on a daily basis. Then as you look at the newer sweeteners like I was talking about that we’ve seen a lot, they’re not new, but we’ve seen them more available in grocery stores. So they’re more available to consumers of Monk fruit, stevia, and Erythritol. A study was published earlier this year that talked a lot about erythritol and the dangers of it to heart disease and increased risk of stroke through clotting. So a couple of things that I was listening to another expert, and then as I read through this study. This study was very poorly done. I think, you can’t ever take a study and say it’s not true, but this study does not prove in my opinion that Erythritol has any increased risk of heart disease or stroke. Here’s why first of all, they looked at people who consume Erythritol and on a regular basis. They’re getting a lot, not extensive amounts, but they’re consuming it regularly in various forms, various drinks. So they may be getting more than the average person on a day. So they chose these people, then they followed these people for I think it was three years and it was several thousand people, and they were all older so these were people that were at an age where cardiovascular events or stroke heart attack type of thing was possible. So we weren’t following 20 year olds, 30 year olds, 40 year olds. They were following people that were primarily in their 50s and 60s and then they just counted how many cardiac events occurred. The problem with this is they did not compare it to what would the average for a population that was not being studied to also have cardiac events. So while the percentage of cardiac events was definitely high and alarmingly high if it was truly linked to erythritol but it was not compared properly to what if we took erythritol out of the equation and we just looked at the general population of that age bracket what would we find? In that sense, the data is not useful. The other consideration is then they wanted, because they found this, in my opinion, not conclusive data, they basically then said, Oh, well, let’s take a look at how come Erythritol is causing clotting, then they started to use in a ridiculously high amount that would not be what the average person would consume anywhere. They wouldn’t consume anywhere close to that on a weekly basis, let alone a daily basis. They were giving this as if it was a daily basis and looking at the effects of platelet clotting. They found that there was higher rate of clotting. They just concluded that that was why there was a higher risk of cardiac events. You can see that this was a poorly thought out strategy of how to look at a sample and take actual information from it. Yes, it should be studied more but I don’t feel like this study that has hit the news and has gotten everybody talking about Erythritol, really actually gives us any conclusive information at all. I think it’s very, very worthless. It may shed light that maybe we should research this topic, but it itself didn’t give us any conclusive information.
The stevia definitely has some areas where research has maybe indicated that there may be some concern with it. However, again more of a slight something or rather that indicated further research. Anytime there’s a non conclusive finding and it suggests further research, what I would take away from that is don’t just go crazy on this, but it’s probably not significantly harmful to where when you think about what else we’re consuming and exposed to on a daily basis, this isn’t something that I need to worry about in small amounts. That’s where I take away from that because I don’t have a research lab, so I can’t dive in and do the extra research myself. But then I definitely keep an eye out for new information that’s coming out on those topics.
Okay, so as we get into the other options, one of my favorite that has been around for a long time, but again, was not readily available, and I will include a link to the one that I use in the show notes. I think that Monk Fruit is a newer one. I don’t know how I feel about these new ones. There’s really no research about Monk Fruit. It appears to be a more natural option, although we have to keep in mind that it is still processed. But the one that I have become really interested in and been using a lot is one called allulose. Now, unlike other sweeteners, non caloric sweeteners this is actually basically a fiber and it is less sweet than table sugar. You actually need to add more, which feels really weird I’ve been used to monk fruit or erythritol or even stevia where a little goes a long way. With allulose, I’m doing about three times the amount that I would have done of those I have a whole keeping teaspoon in my coffee and it’s still actually way less sweet than if I had had a third of that of like monk fruit and erythritol so this one is definitely one that you would use more of. It does not cook as well because it will turn brown. It cooks just fine, but it can make foods brown, so keep that in mind. But this is one where it’s very natural, it’s a fiber, and although it’s still processed to be able to make it into something that can be used as a sugar. This one that I think is probably a best choice. When I get it in a big bag of loose granules from Amazon. There’s two different ones. There’s one that’s pure allulose. I actually opt for one that’s monk fruit and allulose because the allulose isn’t that sweet and so I feel like the monk fruit and allulose combination is a little bit nicer. So that’s one that I have found to be really enjoyable. It really does the trick in my coffee, and it’s one that I can feel good about consuming on a regular basis. And again, I’ll put those links in the show notes below. So then this is where we have to think practically. So if we’re making something at home, it’s really easy to switch to things like monk fruit, stevia, allulose, or even Erythritol, or a combination of those because sometimes I like to just hedge my bets. We don’t know which one we’ll find things out about in the future, so not consuming too much of one or the other is always a good idea and on that note, I think it’s always important to remember, we do want to train our taste buds to not be overly needing of sweet food. Tempering it down a bit and how sweet we make our foods is actually a really good habit our taste buds will start to pick up on the gentle sweeteners. It doesn’t have to be so extreme it just takes a couple of weeks for us to readjust and recalibrate to that with our taste buds.
When we’re creating our own foods, it’s easy just to have these type of sweeteners in our pantry but what about if we’re buying foods? When we’re buying foods, the cool thing is that there are more and more and more that are sweetened with monk fruit or stevia or Erythritol. The protein powders that I get are sweetened with Monk fruit, and that’s really a nice change to start to see things like that. One of them that I get is sweetened with Monk fruit. Another one that I really like, if you get the flavored versions, they are sweetened with coconut sugar, which again is a very natural sugar. It does still spike your insulin, so be aware of that, even though it’s natural. Still a downside there. However, the ratio of it in the protein powder is so low and the protein levels are so high that it’s still a great option. When you’re buying foods, though, and you’re out and about, that’s where I want to say you have to look at the overall big picture of your lifestyle an iced tea at Starbucks where you have them put a little bit of Splenda in it is way better than getting the frappuccino at Starbucks. When you’re looking at finding ways of enjoying your life, living your life, it’s a balance. The point of this episode is to help you understand which sweeteners you want to really lean into, avoid impossible. No sweetener needs to be leaned into. When we talk about sweeteners, it’s something that we’re doing for enjoyment, bottom line. Sweeteners are not needed. They are there for enjoyment because lifestyle is about enjoying and making it something that we want to live, not have to endure.
A lot of healthy recipe creators use fruit as a sweetener. I have no problem with fruit for PCOS. I think it is loaded in nutrients. I do think that we do need to remember those that it does spike our glucose considerably and certain fruits more than others. When we’re using fruit as a sweetener, it is a more healthy nutrient dense option, but it doesn’t equal healthy for our formula. It doesn’t equal free range, that thing and so it’s really important to just keep that in the back of our mind because a lot of times we’ll see things that are sweetened with fruit. A big one that people will do is naturally sweetened with fruit on a label and if you go through and decipher what they put in there, they’re sweetening it with apple juice which is essentially just fructose, basically a less processed version of table sugar and so not really doing you any favors in that department. It sounds good for marketing, but just something to keep in mind that fruit as a sweetener may or may not be super great, you’ll see a lot of really healthy recipes like energy balls where they whiz-up dates, the amount of dates that they’re whizzing up, they might just put a cup of brown sugar in it. That would have been a lot easier, probably less expensive, and overall had a very similar effect on your glycemic index. So keep that in mind that just because it looks more healthy to do it that way doesn’t mean that for your hormones, your root cause metabolic hormones, that it really had a different net effect. So as we wrap up today, just to recap we have all of the sugars, all of the ones that you’re going to see on food labels that are going to spike your blood sugar, that are going to lead to release of insulin that is going to have to some degree a negative impact on your root cause health, whether it’s inflammatory because you have to remember sugar by itself is inflammatory.
The artificial sugars are probably quite inflammatory. The more we process things tend to be more inflammatory, as well as having the glycemic and the insulin effect of having things that spike our blood sugar which all caloric sweeteners will do. We’re finding that potentially even non caloric processed sweeteners like Splenda, Aspartame, and Sweet and Low could do and then we didn’t really get into this. But just to mention, because you may have heard something like this before, not 100 % conclusive evidence, but we’re seeing more and more that inflammatory effect of these sweeteners and sugars can have a real impact on the gut. I think that this is something that just hasn’t been conclusively studied, but we’re seeing it. So clearly as practitioners in the health and wellness space that we feel like it’s true. So I definitely want to make this point is that it creates a gut health problem to where we’re creating more and more inflammation in the body. And that in itself can increase our insulin response, can increase our metabolic dysfunction, which is, of course, going to make our PCOS root causes worse.
Then we have our more natural less studied, it’s important to remember that, less studied options like Monk fruit, Erythritol. Erythritol is not a natural one, but it’s a newer one. So I think of it in that sense it’s typically considered better than aspartame, fell into sweet and low, things like that. But again, less studied. So take it with a grain of salt and then stevia and then my favorite, allulose and then we have to balance that with what is it that we actually enjoy. So everyone’s going to have their own thing. For me, I wanted something for my coffee. I want something to be able to put in things like overnight oat or Chia pudding. I wanted something that I could use to just give a slight sweetness to foods that I cooked at home. If I make a salad dressing or a marinade, sometimes you just want something that’s a little bit sweet and things like maple syrup honey, although they’re considered natural and in some circles healthy options, they spike our blood sugar almost as much as regular table sugars.
Those are all things that we want to take into consideration and mold to what works for us as we continue on our PCOS healthy journey and be sure to check out the show notes for this section because I’m going to include a lot of links to things that I use and lists so that you can go through and get a better idea. In a few episodes, we’re going to be talking about decoding nutrition labels and starting to recognize all of the hidden sweeteners and sugars and insulin spiking substances and ingredients that are put in foods. So you’ll get a better understanding of that then. But for now, just learning all the different ways that sugar can hide in the foods that we’re eating so that we have a better idea of what we’re looking for and then also getting to explore some new options and some new ideas of how you can include some enjoyable sweeteners in the foods that you’re creating in your kitchen, as well as how to order and avoid as big of a sugar impact when you’re eating out or ordering beverages on the go. With that, if you have any questions or if there’s a sweetener that you heard about or something that you heard about that I didn’t specifically address here because I know this is a topic that is all over social media, all over the internet, on different opinions on which sweeteners or beverages or diet versus non diet are going to be a better choice, or you should avoid certain things altogether. And then it really comes down to what are the things that you enjoy? Like, if you really, truly enjoy a diet Coke but that’s your one splurge where does that fit into things for you? And do you feel like that’s something that you need to limit? Or are you feeling like that’s something where you have so many other things that you need to work on, and then people are telling you, you shouldn’t be drinking your diet Coke? That’s where we want to look at that.
If you have any questions or want to continue this conversation, you know where to find me. I’m over on Instagram @Nourishedtohealthy. Send me a DM. I love connecting with you there. Until next time, bye for now.
Did you know that studies of PCOS epigenetics have shown that our environment can either worsen or completely reverse our PCOS symptoms? I believe that although PCOS makes us sensitive to our environment, it also makes us powerful. When we learn what our body needs and commit to providing those needs, not only do we gain back our health, but we grow in power just by showing up for ourselves. This is why I’ve created a guide for you to get started. My PCOS fertility meal guide can be found in the show notes below. I want to show you how to create an environment that promotes healing while still being able to live a life that you enjoy. This guide is completely free, so go get your copy now so that you can step into the vision that you have for your life and for your health.
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