Carbohydrates (fiber, sugars and starches) can be a problem if you suffer from digestive issues for a variety of reasons. When there is an imbalance of ‘good’ to ‘bad’ bacteria (dysbiosis) in the digestive tract, dietary carbohydrates can be fermented inappropriately causing excessive gas which leads to bloating, pain, cramps and changes in bowel habits. As well, if there is significant inflammation, there can be damage to the lining of the gut which leads to a decline in, or dysfunction of the enzymes that are needed to digest carbohydrate leading to similar gastrointestinal woes.
In an attempt to reduce sugar consumption, people often look to alternatives to ease digestive discomfort while adding some sweetness to the foods they eat for obvious reasons; plain oatmeal or ‘naked’ Greek yogurt and berries? Not for me thank you; small amounts of added sweeteners like brown sugar or maple syrup have long made eating more enjoyable and can actually help to increase the nutrient density of any diet simply by making less tasty nutritious foods taste better.
Sugars, sweeteners & alternatives, oh my
The problem though is that typical sweeteners like table sugar, brown sugar, agave syrup, maple syrup, coconut sugar can be a challenge for those with IBS, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), fructose malabsorption (40 to 50% of the population) or Celiac disease. Sugars like table/brown/coconut/turbinado etc are actually 2 single sugars joined together (glucose + fructose) which must be broken apart before they can be absorbed. Having gut issues can make this more difficult and when the sugars aren’t digested and absorbed properly, they can stay in the gut longer leading to further gas production leading to pain, bloating and in the case of SIBO, aggravate the problem by feeding the bacteria.
Sweeteners like agave are arguably more of a problem. Fructose is slow to be absorbed in the best of times and excess fructose can lead to gastrointestinal issues even in those without established digestive health issues, so using products like honey and maple syrup which has free fructose or agave which has loads of fructose (up to 90% of the total sugar) is like adding gasoline to a fire.
Sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, lactitol, isomalt and hydrogenated starch hydrolysates are used in food products as a way to reduce sugar content and are found in many ‘sugar free’ or ‘no sugar added’ products but these compounds are also famously gut un-friendly; the most common side effect of eating too much of them is gas, loose stools and diarrhea. Whereas someone without gut health issues will recover once they stop eating them, someone with digestive issues will pay a higher price.
Some studies have shown that sugar alcohols are more problematic than what we’ve been led to believe with digestives issue happening at much lower doses than what health authorities have said are tolerable levels; using hydrogen breath testing, sorbitol for example has been shown to increase bacterial fermentation with as little as 5 to 10 g with symptoms becoming more severe at doses of 20 to 25 g – well below the 50 g cutoff the FDA in the US states is acceptable.
Low-calorie sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose are actually a better choice in the sense that they won’t lead to fermentation and gas production, many don’t want to use them and that’s fine, ultimately it’s a personal choice despite their long standing safety record
So what’s a person with digestive issues to do?
Stevia and erythritol
Stevia has heen used for years as a sugar substitute. The term stevia refers to the leaves of the plant Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni. The leaves of the plant, which can be used fresh, dried, or dried and powdered, contain sweetening compounds referred to as steviol glycosides. The term stevia is also used to refer to water extracts of stevia leaf. These crude extracts have not undergone purification steps to concentrate the steviol glycoside content so there is a lot of variability in the degree to which they will sweetened a food
Purified stevia extract, on the other hand, is prepared in a manner that results in a highly concentrated (minimum 95%) extract of steviol glycosides. Purified stevia extract is also referred to as “steviol glycosides“. Purified/standardized products will give a predictable sweetness when used as a sugar substitute.
There are 9 different forms of the glycosides each with their own ‘sweetening’ profile. The most common form used in stevia products is Rebaudioside A or “Reb A“. Stevia glycoside are not fermentable like sugars and therefore won’t contribute to GI discomfort or aggravate existing digestive issues.
Similarly, erythritol has unique properties which makes is a good choice as a sugar alternative for those with digestive woes. Unlike the other sugar alcohols, erythritol is mostly (90%) absorbed in the small intestine. Even the 10% that remains in the intestines may not be a problem as gut bacteria are not able to metabolize (ferment) it.
SPLENDA® Stevia No Calorie Sweetener
Because other stevia products use the compound Reb A, they are famously bitter; the bitterness is the chief complaint from people about steiva whether it’s a dried leaf, whole stevia product, powders or liquid versions – it’s just plain awful.
SPLENDA® Stevia No Calorie Sweetener does get its sweetness from stevia leaf extract, but not just any stevia leaf glycoside. By using a stevia leaf extract that’s rich in Rebaudioside D or “Reb D”, SPLENDA® Stevia No Calorie Sweetener truly unlocks the sweet taste of stevia – with no bitter aftertaste. When paired with erythritol, this new stevia sugar substitute is really clean tasting; it has no bitter aftertaste and is a great alternative to those with digestive challenges (SIBO, fructose malabsorption, IBS, low FODMAP or SCD treatment) who need to reduce the amount of carbohydrate they consume.
It’s also a great choice for anyone looking for ways to reduce their sugar intake and who don’t what to use traditional low-calorie sweeteners.
SPLENDA® Stevia No Calorie Sweetener is very gut-friendly