April 22, 2005

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What About Whey Low?

Quite a few of you have asked me about a new "low carb" sweetener called Whey Low. I have not tried it. There's a good reason for this: I read the list of ingredients. It says:




You know what that is? It's sugar. It's all sugar. Nothing but sugar. There is NOTHING low carb about this product. This is one of the most egregious misuses I have yet seen of the "net carbs" concept.

Sucrose is just plain table sugar, the same stuff you used to keep in your sugar bowl before you got smart, the same stuff you've been cooking and baking with all your life, to the detriment of your health. It's a carb, a high impact carb, and it's a nutritionally empty high impact carb. Are we clear on table sugar being bad for us?

Fructose is fruit sugar, but don't let the "fruit" part fool you into thinking it's healthy. Unlike actual fruit, in which the fructose is diluted with fiber and water, and brings vitamins along with it, the crystalline fructose in Whey Low is a refined sugar. It has no vitamins. It has no fiber. And because it's concentrated, it's easy to consume in excess. You've heard, no doubt, about the dangers of giving your children lots of fruit juice, because once you remove the fiber, it's really easy to get way too much sugar? Same problem here, only worse.

Fructose does have a much lower glycemic index than sucrose, but that does not mean that you don't digest or absorb it. You do, every gram. There may be some (notice the emphasis on the word "some") validity to discounting at least a fraction of the carbohydrates in the sugar alcohol sweeteners, because they are only incompletely digested and absorbed - I think it's unrealistic to completely discount sugar alcohols, but you don't absorb every gram of them that you eat. (And yes, I know I've left sugar alcohol counts out of the carb counts in my recipes - this is largely because different sugar alcohols are digested and absorbed at differing rates; you absorb somewhat over half of maltitol, but almost none of erythritol. I have no way of knowing which sweetener you'll be using.) But fructose? Saying that you don't have to count fructose as a carb just because it has a fairly modest glycemic index is, in my opinion, dishonest. You absorb it all - how is that not a carbohydrate?

The news about fructose is not good. A 2004 article in the journal Obesity Research states:

...the glycemic index does not address other metabolic issues related to excess sugar consumption. Prominent among these issues is the use of low glycemic index sweeteners, particularly fructose, which is increasingly present in processed food. Fructose is associated with increased adiposity, which may result from its effects on hormones associated with satiety. (Emphasis mine.)

For the record, "adiposity" means "fatness." Sounds great, huh?

A rat study reported just this month in the journal Hypertension showed that fructose induced fatty liver disease; it also increased the rats' blood pressure and triglycerides.

A study reported in Nutrition and Metabolism in February of this year said: A high flux of fructose to the liver, the main organ capable of metabolizing this simple carbohydrate, perturbs glucose metabolism and glucose uptake pathways, and leads to a significantly enhanced rate of de novo lipogenesis (fat creation) and triglyceride synthesis... These metabolic disturbances appear to underlie the induction of insulin resistance commonly observed with high fructose feeding in both humans and animal models.

Oh, goody - fructose may cause insulin resistance, the root cause of type II diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome. How... healthy. Yet the producers of Whey Low are recommending it for diabetics.

Then there's that part about triglyceride synthesis. That the makers of Whey Low insist it won't raise triglycerides doesn't change the fact that multiple studies have demonstrated that fructose does, indeed, increase triglyceride levels, and does so more effectively than most anything else.

So much for fructose being benign.

Lactose is the final sugar in Whey Low. Lactose is, of course, milk sugar. It has a fairly low glycemic index as well, but again, you do, indeed, digest and absorb it - unless you're lactose intolerant, at which point you don't - you just get gut cramps and gas instead.

Folks, need I point out that if you're going to decide that fructose and lactose, both manifestly digestible, absorbable carbs, somehow don't "count", you should be eating fruit and drinking milk, not baking cookies and cakes? And do you really believe you would be able to eat enough apples and drink enough milk to get the sugars you'd get in a dessert made from Whey Low?

The makers of Whey Low also claim it has 75% fewer calories than sugar. Since it is sugar, I haven't the faintest clue why I should believe this. Sounds like some very creative math to me - the same sort of creative math that lead them to call a product that is made of nothing but sugar "low carbohydrate."

Pay attention here: The "net carbs" concept (aka 'impact carbs', 'effective carbs', 'usable carbs', etc) never was meant to extend to subtracting low glycemic index carbs. It originated with subtracting only fiber, a type of carbohydrate which the human gut can neither digest nor absorb, and which actually slows the digestion and absorption of the usable carbs consumed with it. Just because a carbohydrate has a relatively low glycemic index does not mean it's not a carb, does not mean you don't digest and absorb it, does not mean it can't kick you out of ketosis, does not mean it can't refill your glycogen stores and make you retain water, and does not mean it can't screw up your insulin sensitivity and your triglycerides.

Furthermore, not only are the carbs in Whey Low digestible and absorbable, they're nutritionally vacant. Refined. Stripped of all nutrition value. Not a vitamin or a mineral in sight. And of course they're concentrated, so it's really easy to get a whopping big dose.

Whey Low also comes in a formula called "Whey Low D," apparently being marketed as their "diabetic formula." Whey Low D omits the sucrose, which is a bit of an improvement, but it's still nothing but refined, nutritionless sugars. It's still carbohydrate that you will digest and absorb, it can still cause "increased adiposity," jack up your triglycerides, etc.

I will continue to use Splenda in most applications. I know that some of you are unhappy about Splenda because it's not "natural." I will persist in pointing out that many of the most toxic substances on Earth are completely natural, so "natural" is no guarantee of safety - just ask anyone who is currently dying from using tobacco, a natural product.

If you just can't bear to use an artificial sweetener, stevia/FOS blend is available at most health food stores; I find it works better in some applications than others, but it does blend will with acid flavors, like fruit or yogurt, in particular. I usually use stevia/FOS blend to sweeten yogurt, especially since the FOS helps the body use the good bacteria in the yogurt. In recipes which need the textures of sugar, I like erythritol, which has both the lowest digestion/absorption rate and the least gastric effect of any of the sugar alcohols; I usually combine a small amount of erythritol and some Splenda. If you can find a source (I can't,) inulin, aka fructooligosaccharides (FOS) is pretty much unabsorbable, and considered a fiber. It improves your intestinal health as well - though since it's only half as sweet as sugar, you'll need to add something else to bring things up to the desired degree of sweetness. I consider all of these to be vastly better choices than Whey Low.

All of this being said, I think I've had my bag of Splenda down off the shelf twice in the past week, both times to use a teaspoon or two in a marinade, not to put a cup and a half in a dessert or a drink. I've used maybe two-three teaspoons total of the stevia/FOS blend to sweeten yogurt. I haven't made a single dessert. I haven't drunk a single sweetened beverage.

Please, please, stop looking for a way to have lots of sweets without consequences. Stop trying to make your low carb diet look like your old diet. There's nothing "normal" or "natural" about eating a lot of sweet stuff; the typical American intake of sweets, especially sweetened beverages, is nothing short of pathological, and changing sweeteners doesn't make it any more normal, historically speaking.

We need to back to the notion of a "treat" being something that we have on special occasions, not something we have every day.

Posted by HoldTheToast at April 22, 2005 01:56 PM