(NaturalNews) Perhaps you've seen it while strolling down the baking aisle at your local health food store -- Swerve, the "all-natural sweetener" with no synthetic chemicals, no aspartame, and no genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). But is Swerve really a healthy sweetening alternative for health-conscious individuals trying to cut refined sugars from their diet?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question is not necessarily a simple yes or no. While preferable to artificial sweeteners like Equal, Sweet'N Low, and Splenda, Swerve is still a highly-refined sweetening agent made primarily from erythritol, a type of sugar alcohol naturally found in plants. Even though it is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), erythritol has been known to cause stomach pains, headaches, and even diarrhea in some individuals.
However, erythritol is non-glycemic and non-carcinogenic, and the company that produces Swerve claims it is non-allergenic and much less likely than other forms of sugar alcohol like xylitol and maltitol to cause gastrointestinal distress. Even so, it is still a sugar alcohol, which means it is not completely absorbed by the body, and thus has minimal nutritional benefits.
"Erythritol is absorbed in the small intestine and then excreted in the urine, therefore it is not metabolized and cannot contribute energy values (calories)," explains the Swerve FAQ page about why erythritol is considered a zero-calorie sweetener.
Though refined, Swerve ingredients appear to be in their most natural forms
Besides erythritol, Swerve also contains oligosaccharides, which the company says are "non-digestible carbohydrates extracted from fruit and vegetable sources." According to other sources, oligosaccharides are complex sugars that can actually help prevent the formation of chronic illness. According to a 2009 study published in the journal Carbohydrate Polymers, oligosaccharides can help promote healthy weight maintenance, modulate gut flora, enhance immunity, reduce diabetes, and lower cardiovascular risk.
So in a sense, using Swerve may actually help promote health in addition to fulfilling its primary role as an effective sugar replacement. However, the product also contains "natural flavors," an ambiguous ingredient class that, despite having the word natural in its name, is still a laboratory creation. Though the natural flavors in Swerve are admittedly derived from fruit and vegetable sources, and do not contain hidden monosodium glutamate (MSG), they are still unspecified additives.
To its credit, Swerve is made from completely non-GMO ingredients, and appears to be made from the most natural forms of each ingredient it contains. And with this in mind, Swerve may serve as a safe and useful sugar replacement, as long as it is used moderately. At the same time, whole, natural sweeteners like unrefined cane juice, raw honey, and stevia leaf are still preferable sweetening alternatives, as they exist in whole form as nature intended.