Does It Matter If A Sweetener Is “Natural”?

The ancestral health community and other heath-conscious bloggers have increasingly embraced natural sweeteners such as honey, stevia, and maple syrup as healthier alternatives to refined sugar. But just how much healthier, really, are these natural sweeteners?

In this article, I’ll review the three major “natural” sweeteners typically used by Paleo dieters, and determine whether or not these foods belong in a healthy eating plan.

Find out if “natural” sweeteners like honey, stevia, and maple syrup belong in a #Paleo diet.


As I mentioned in the first article of this series, honey has long been an important food in the human diet. Its fructose to glucose ratio is similar to that of high fructose corn syrup, with about 38% fructose and 31% glucose (the rest being primarily water). Honey also contains enzymes and other proteins, trace minerals, flavonoids and other polyphenols.

Although honey is “Paleo” even in the strictest sense, it can be easy to think of it as just another source of sugar; better than table sugar, perhaps, but still an indulgence that should be kept to an absolute minimum. Sugar is sugar, right? On the contrary, increasing evidence indicates that honey is a functional food with uniquely beneficial physiological effects.

For example, two human studies found that supplementing with 3-5 tbsp of honey per day (depending on body weight) increases serum antioxidant levels, including vitamin C and glutathione reductase. In another study, the same dose of honey lowered plasma prostaglandin levels by 48-63% after 15 days, signaling a reduction in inflammation.)

In overweight and obese patients, consumption of about 3.5 tbsp honey per day for a month resulted in lower LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and C-reactive protein (particularly in people with elevated values), and higher HDL cholesterol. In another study, honey also reduced levels of homocysteine and blood glucose.)

Honey also has antibacterial activity, and can shorten the duration of acute bacterial diarrhea in children. Honey might even be an effective treatment in some cases of h. pylori infection. Other potential benefits of honey include antiviral, antitumor, and antimutagenic effects, and reduction of IBD-associated inflammation, but these have yet to be tested on humans. So it would appear that honey has many benefits that outweigh the potential downsides of consuming a concentrated sweetener. I recommend using raw honey, which will have the most enzymes and nutrients when destructive heat has not been used.


Stevia continues to be a contentious topic in the ancestral health world, with some respected bloggers endorsing it heartily and others cautioning against it. Although I’ve seen good points raised by both sides, the majority of the evidence indicates that stevia, used in reasonable quantities, is a harmless (and possibly beneficial) natural sweetener.

Because stevia contains almost no calories, one potential issue with stevia is that the sweet taste without the influx of sugar might confuse our insulin response (I’ll talk about this at length when I cover artificial sweeteners). While this is an understandable concern, stevia has actually been used traditionally as a treatment for diabetics and may actually improve blood sugar control.)

In one study, participants were given a dose of either sucrose or stevia before lunch. Compared with the sucrose preload, the stevia preload resulted in lower blood sugar after the meal and a lower insulin load, even compared with aspartame. Also, even though the stevia provided fewer calories than the sucrose, participants didn’t compensate by consuming more calories at lunch.

Another small study with 16 volunteers found that 5-gram doses of stevia extract every 6 hours for three days improved glucose tolerance. In insulin-resistant and diabetic rats, stevia improved insulin sensitivity, glucose tolerance, and liver and kidney function. Stevia has also been called into question due to its potential negative impact on fertility. Stevia was used traditionally in South America as a contraceptive, although we don’t know how effective it was, and results from animal studies have been mixed.

One study found that doses of stevioside up to 2.5g/kg bodyweight per day didn’t affect the fertility of hamsters, even after three generations. For a human, this would translate to about 0.34g/kg, so a person weighing 70 kg (about 150 lbs) would need to consume almost 24 stevia packets every single day to reach that dose. That’s far more than anyone would reasonably consume, even if they were consciously trying to maximize their stevia intake.

Although two other studies did find that stevia reduced fertility in male and female rats, those conclusions have since been refuted by studies using more reliable methods. Overall, the risk of negatively impacting fertility by consuming moderate amounts of stevia is very slim, but I would still advise people to be wary of stevia if they’re struggling with infertility.

As for other potential benefits of stevia, a 2-year RCT in Chinese adults with mild hypertension found that taking 500mg of stevioside powder 3 times per day significantly reduced blood pressure compared with baseline and placebo, from an average of 150/95 to 140/89. However, smaller doses didn’t provide the same benefit, and there isn’t enough evidence to recommend large doses of stevia as a supplement to lower blood pressure.

Finally, stevia appears to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial properties, but thus far we don’t know whether these properties have practical significance in humans. Ultimately, I think stevia is a good sweetener to use for those who have blood sugar control issues and would prefer to use a non-caloric sweetener.

Maple Syrup, Coconut Sugar, and Molasses

Maple syrup, coconut sugar, and molasses are other popular natural sweeteners, but they don’t have the modern research or the traditional background that honey and stevia do. Composition-wise, they’re all relatively similar: they’re mostly sucrose, with some free glucose and fructose. They all contain some minerals such as calcium, zinc, and iron, but they’re not going to contribute all that much to your daily mineral needs. (The exception to this might be molasses, which contains 20% of the daily value for potassium, 10% DV for calcium and vitamin B6, 15% DV for iron, and 8% DV for magnesium in just a tablespoon.

All three are lower on the glycemic index than white sugar, which falls at around 65, with the award-winner being coconut sugar at 35. Maple syrup has gotten a little research attention, and preliminary analytical and in vitro studies show that it has antioxidant and anticancer properties, as well as potential for the management of type 2 diabetes. However, this isn’t anywhere near being of clinical significance for humans.

If you’re just looking for an alternative to refined sugar to use occasionally, all of these are fine sweetener choices; they’re natural, minimally processed (depending on the quality you purchase), and still contain the minerals and phytonutrients that occur naturally. They also have favorable fructose:glucose ratios, which can be an important consideration for those with gut issues or fructose intolerance. (This is one reason I don’t recommend agave nectar.)

But if you’re looking for health benefits beyond simply replacing refined sugar with something a little healthier, current research (and tradition) sides with honey and stevia.

by Chris Kresser

Please call 734-726-0153 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic healing strategy. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life.

A Must-Read Guide to Enzyme Basics

Our Body's “Construction Workers”: A Must-Read Guide to Enzyme Basics
Contrary to popular belief, we are not what we eat, but what we absorb. Without proper digestion, the benefits of the healthiest diet are lost. Enzymes are the key element to successful digestion. Dr. Loomis, an enzyme nutritionist and founder of Loomis Institute, calls enzymes “the construction workers of the body.” They are responsible for maintaining normal physiological processes and building health. Enzymes break down and shuttle away toxic waste, construct muscle from protein, and deliver hormones, among many other things. They also are responsible for the absorption of food, thereby allowing us to reap food's nutritional benefits. Our health depends on our ability to digest food, and our ability to digest food depends on enzymes.
Digestion Basics:
Before we delve more into the specifics of enzymes, let's travel with them through the digestive process. Here is a basic summary of what happens in our bodies when we eat a piece of pizza. Let's pretend the pizza is being digested by someone who eats few, if any, raw foods and therefore is deficient in  food enzymes:
1. Mouth: Pizza is chewed, the more the better (chewing, not pizza, that is). Salivary glands secrete saliva containing the enzyme, amylase, which digests carbohydrates and is one of the bodies naturally occurring enzymes. Bits of cheese, sauce and bread are then swallowed.
2. Upper part of the stomach (cardiac portion): This is our “pre-digestive stomach” where plant enzymes begin to break down food. This takes 30-60 minutes as the pizza waits for the lower portion of the stomach to produce hydrochloric acid. On a diet that is low in raw, organic foods, there will be few, if any, enzymes to help in this process. In other words, without enzymes for pre-digestion, this piece of pizza will just camp out in the cardiac portion, not quite sure what to do with itself and taking up space while it waits for the completion of hydrochloric acid production.
3. Lower port of the stomach: Here the pizza takes its long-awaited hydrochloric acid bath. It is broken down by the extreme acidity.
4. Duodenum (upper part of the small intestine): The pizza is alkalized (the pH rises to around 7.2) and further decomposed by pancreatic enzymes. Since the food has not been properly pre-digested, the pancreas is left over-burdened and exhausted, probably cursing our lack of foresight and unhealthy pizza obsession.
5. Jejunum (second part of the small intestine): This is the big hurrah for which the first four parts of digestion are preparing us. We finally begin to absorb all the health benefits of our food! Unfortunately, since we eat too much pizza and too little raw foods, there are still fairly large bits of cheese and grain floating around the jejunum. Over time, these undigested bits of food can wear down the small intestine and lead to a condition known as Leaky Gut Syndrome.
6. Colon (elimination): The final stage in our digestion - expelling of wastes. Over 90% of our bodies bacteria live here. Most of these bacteria are helpful. However, sometimes food that is not properly digested will feed pathogenic bacteria, yeast and fungi. When wastes are not eliminated properly, toxins produced by pathogenic bacteria are re-absorbed into the blood which requires more work by the liver. That pizza could be coming back to haunt you in more ways than one.
What Happens When Food is Not Properly Digested?
Besides conditions listed above, enzyme deficiency manifests as common conditions of the major systems of the body:
Respiratory System
-        asthma
-        bronchitis
-        hay fever
-        chronic allergies
Endocrine System
-        PMS
-        menopause
-        hot flashes
-        infertility
-        menstrual irregularities
Musculo-Skeletal System
-        injuries (bruises, sprains, broken bones, tendonitis, disc problems)
-        neck and shoulder aches
-        back weakness
-        aching feet
-        arthritis
Immune System
-        inflammation
-        common colds
-        sinus infections
Nervous System
-        head aches
-        insomnia
-        depression
-        mood swings
Circulatory System
-        heart problems
-        high blood pressure
Digestive System
-        gastritis
-        ulcers
-        acid reflux
-        constipation
-        diarrhea
-        urinary weakness
-        irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Integumentary (skin) System
-        acne
-        psoriasis
-        skin rashes
Where do Enzymes Come From?: 
  1. The Digestive System. Our body naturally produces many digestive enzymes which aid in food break-down and absorption.
  2. Food. It is imperative that we fill our diets with foods rich in naturally ocurring enzymes in order to support our digestive system. Raw vegetables, nuts, fruits and raw meat are excellent examples of enzyme-rich foods.
  3. Scientists (supplements created in a lab). When our bodies need an extra boost, we can supplement our digestive system and food intake with enzyme supplements.
3 of the Main Digestive Enzymes 
1. Protease
- What does it digest?
- Why is protease important?
When taken on a full stomach, protease helps digest proteins. Protease helps break down debris from bacteria, parasites, fungi, viruses, and cancer cells. It is also an especially powerful tool for those that take medications such as Nexium, Prilosec, and Omeprazole for acid reflux disease, since these medications inhibit protein digestion.
- What does Protease support?
Protease helps resolve bacteria, viral and yeast infections, and helps support the immune system.
2. Amylase
- What does it digest?
-Why is amylase important?
A modern, Western diet consists of too many carbohydrates. Amylase can help ease digestive distress due to over-consumption of carbohydrates.
- What does Amylase support?
Hypoglycemia, Type II diabetes, carbohydrate cravings, allergies. Also helps ameliorate symptoms of asthma and emphysema.
3. Lipase
-What does it digest?
Fat, and fat-soluble vitamins.
- Why is lipase important? 
Healthy fats such as omega-3 and omega-6 from flaxseed and cold-water fish, or fat-soluble nutrients such as beta carotene, lutein, vitamins A, D, E and K, are extremely beneficial. However, the American diet is artificially chocked full of saturated fats which clog our arteries and necessitate the use of elastic waist bands. Avoiding processed foods quickly and easily fixes this problem. Lipase assists our body’s digestion of necessary and healthy fats. Lipase is especially helpful for those who have had gall bladder surgery and have an especially difficult time with fat digestion.
- What does lipase support? 
Lipase helps resolve high cholesterol, high triglycerides, weight-loss issues, cell permeability, vertigo or labrynthis (Meniere's Disease), and heart disease.
Enzymes Supplements and Appropriate Use: Full v. Empty Stomach
The enzymes found in plants or supplements can be taken either on an empty or full stomach, with varying results.
1. Break down food throughout the digestive system (Full Stomach)
By taking digestive enzymes white eating you can alleviate the stress on your pancreas and small intestine. When consumed with food, digestive enzymes can predigest up to 60% of the carbohydrates, 30% of the protein and 10% of the fat before the bodies digestive system takes over.
2. Vacuum-Cleaners and Inflation Deflators (Empty Stomach)
When taken on an empty stomach, enzymes enter the blood stream and help the immune system by digesting and disposing of toxins like high-powered vacuum cleaners. Taking enzymes in this way can help reverse inflammation. Each enzyme has a specific method for combating inflammation, which is why it is important to consult a health practitioner about which enzyme is best for you. Since plant enzymes digest toxins instead of annihilating them (as antibiotics do with bacteria), this cleansing process leaves no unwanted side effects. We can safely and efficiently eliminate the digested toxins through the urinary tract, skin, colon and lungs.
In Defense of Food
We need to get digestive enzymes primarily from food, not supplements. Our diets have become increasingly homogenized and processed, full of artificial sugars, saturated fats and extracted chemicals. By returning to a diet based on organic vegetables, proteins and fruits, our bodies will begin to heal.
Multivitamins v. Digestive Enzymes
Sometimes a simple diet change is not enough. Our bodies may need some additional support. Though we need to get digestive enzymes primarily from food, not supplements, supplemental digestive enzymes are much more efficacious than multi-vitamins. Tons of vitamins and minerals, boasting their numerous healthful qualities, line the shelves at every supermarket and pharmacy. All those vitamins and minerals seem so enticing in their simplicity: A one-pop-stop to true health. However, complete wellness takes more than a pill, though the pharmaceutical and diet industry would like you to think otherwise.
Plant v. Animal Based Enzyme Supplements
There are 2 different types of supplemental enzymes:
Supplement Enzyme Type 1. Plant 2. Animal (or glandular or pancreatic)
Where do they come from? Cultivated in fermentation tanks Obtained from the pancreas and stomach of cows and pigs
Function Helps the body support and maintain a healthy digestive system. Helps the body reduce inflammation. For acute symptoms.

Functions within what pH Range? Can function in pH range of 3.0-9.0 Can function only in 8.0-9.0 pH range
Versatility More versatile Less versatile
New Beginnings at Ann Arbor Holistic Health
Supporting our enzymes, the “construction workers,” is essential not only for food digestion and absorption, but also the health of our entire body. The symptoms of enzyme deficiency are our body’s way of alerting us about a digestive problem. Though facing enzyme deficiency can be daunting, it is imperative that we heed these messages and remember that there is hope. After slight modification to our diets and lifestyles, and taking appropriate supplements as needed, our bodies can heal. If you or a loved one is experiencing the symptoms of a compromised digestive system, make an appointment with one of the digestive health experts at Ann Arbor Holistic Health today. Please call 734-222-8210 to schedule a free consultation and evaluation. 

At Digestive Health Ann Arbor we are known for providing professional and compassionate care. We strive to guide people towards a comprehensive and holistic strategy of healing. Restoring your body to health will restore the quality of your life. Please visit our website at

Enzyme Nutrition: You're not what you eat, but what you absorb.

I. Changing the Question
II. The Cause of Symptoms, Pain & Discomfort
III. Enzyme Nutrition Can Heal
IV. The Importance of Digestion
V. Warning Signs of a Compromised Digestive System
VI. The Role of Enzymes in Digestion
VII. Enzyme Therapy: Assessing your Path Towards Healing
VIII. Take Command of your Health
IX. Links to Helpful Information
X. A Call to Action

I. Changing the Question
To live healthy lives, we need to change the question from, “How can we most effectively manage symptoms and pain?” to “How can we help our body heal?”

II. The Cause of Symptoms, Pain & Discomfort
When our body's tissue systems are under stress for an extended period of time, they are unable to absorb nutrients they need to support the ongoing needs of our life. This stress comes in many forms. There is the stress of everyday life; mechanical stress caused by an accident, sports injury, or repetitive stress injury; and biochemical stress caused by medications, poor nutrition or the environment.  Regardless of its source, the effects of stress are always the same. Without sufficient nutrients, our systems cannot function properly and begin to break down. Once the body begins to deteriorate, it needs a kick start in order to heal. Enzyme nutrition can provide us with the momentum to resolve symptoms and reach true vitality.

III. Enzyme Nutrition Can Heal
The healthiest diet imaginable is useless if your body cannot absorb food's essential nutrients. We eat not only because food tastes delicious, but also to sustain our body's 35 trillion cells.  The saying “you are what you eat” is not true - “you are what you absorb” is much more accurate.

Enzyme Nutrition is the process through which we can restore our ability to fully absorb the food we eat. It provides three basic steps to healing:
1.    Help identify and remove sources of stress.
2.    Nourish stressed organs and tissues.
3.    Assist the body in flushing out accumulated waste.
If we can do these three things the body will heal itself.

IV. The Importance of Digestion
The digestive system plays two essential roles in our bodies:
1.    Ingesting, digesting, absorbing, transporting, utilizing, and eliminating food.
2.    70% of the body’s immune system lives directly in your digestive system and it is the first line of defense against all diseases.

V. Warning Signs of a Compromised Digestive System
1. Allergies (both food and environmental)
2. Arthritis
3. Asthma
4. Bronchitis
5. Constipation or Diarrhea
6. Fibromyalgia
7. Gastro-intestinal Disorders (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, IBS)
8. High blood pressure
9. High cholesterol
10. Frequent headaches and migraines
11. Sinus problems
12. Skin problems such as psoriasis, eczema, and acne
13. Stomach problems (gastritis, ulcers, acid reflux)
14. Unresolved Muscular and Skeletal Pain
15. Chronic Fatigue
16. Gradual weight change
17. Depression, anxiety

VI. The Role of Enzymes in Digestion
Enzymes are extremely important for aiding failing tissue systems after repeated stress for the following reasons:
1.    Enzymes coordinate almost all biochemical processes in an organism, plant or animal.
2.    Enzymes are catalysts for chemical reactions within the cells.
3.    Enzymes function as key elements of pre-digestion in the mouth and digestion in the stomach, small intestine, large intestine, and colon.

VII. Enzyme Therapy: Assessing Your Path towards Healing
Through appropriate assessment tools we can discover your enzyme deficiencies; detect biochemical, emotional and mechanical stressors; and identify the most effective detoxification methods. At Ann Arbor Holistic Health we use three assessment tools for a comprehensive assessment of the body's deficiencies: Signs and Symptoms Survey, 12-hour-fasting Nutritional Stress Test and Loomis 24-hour urinalysis. At a follow-up appointment, we present a complete “statement of findings,” explain the results, and suggest the appropriate Enzyme Therapy to address the conditions revealed.

1. Signs and Symptoms Survey
This subjective gauge gathers a wide range of information about your health, habits, and history. The survey covers medical history, diet, your immune system, your state of mind, and digestion information.
2. 12-hour-fasting Nutritional Stress Test
This thorough physical assessment examines over thirty stress points which identify nutritional deficiencies in the various tissues systems of the body.
3. Loomis 24-hour urinalysis
Unlike other urinalyses that are based on a single random sampling, the Loomis 24-hour urinalysis tests all the urine produced in one full day. Since the general composition of urine fluctuates constantly, this testing method provides a more comprehensive appraisal of overall digestive health and absorptive functions. The test is helpful in predicting our future digestive health if deficiencies are not addressed appropriately. The urinalysis analyzes:: pH, Specific Gravity compared to volume, Chlorides, Calcium, Vitamin C, Indican, Sediment, and Abnormal Solutes.

VIII. Take Command of Your Health
Eating a balanced diet is just the beginning of the path to digestive health. Many obstacles exist, but with careful observation and objective scientific tests we can unravel practical and straight-forward solutions. The body is a resilient and wise instrument that can achieve true vibrancy with care and awareness. Enzyme Nutrition is an essential step in your journey of healing.