Are Sugar Substitutes Healthty?

Continuing with our food education, today we are going to cover the topic of sugar substitutes: the good, the bad, the confusing. Just like all of our other food discussions, this post is simply to help you to be as informed as possible about what you put in your body; the more you know, the better choices you can make.

First we need to break down the different types of sugar substitutes, and define exactly what makes something a ‘sugar substitute’. Loosely defined, a sugar substitute is any sweetener that you use instead of regular table sugar. Sugar substitutes fall into several different categories,artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, novel sweeteners, and natural sweeteners.

 

Artificial Sweeteners

 

Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One) Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), Neotame, Saccharin (SugarTwin, Sweet’N Low), Sucralose (Splenda), Advantame

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes but can also come from naturally occurring substances such as herbs or even sugar itself. Used in processed foods, soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, candy, puddings, canned foods, jams and jellies, dairy products, and scores of other foods and beverages, artificial sweeteners are also considered intense sweeteners because they can be anywhere from 30 to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar. While they can be a good substitute for diabetics and contribute to fight weight gain and obesity, numerous studies also suggest that they could be linked to certain cancers. Other people develop headaches after consuming foods sweetened with aspartame. The FDA has established an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each artificial sweetener which is the maximum amount considered safe to consume each day over the course of your lifetime. ADIs are intended to be about 100 times less than the smallest amount that might cause health concerns. However, consider the fact that you are putting into your body something that needs to have a limit set on it for consumption in order for it to be “safe”. Is that really something you want in your body? Maybe not….

 

Sugar substitutesSugar Alcohols

 

Erythritol, Hydrogenated starch hydrolysate, Isomalt, Lactitol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol, Xylitol

Sugar alcohols (polyols), found in found in many processed foods like chocolate, candy, frozen desserts, chewing gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, baked goods and fruit spreads, are carbohydrates that occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, but they also can be manufactured. Sugar alcohols aren’t considered noncaloric or non-nutritive sweeteners because they contain calories, but they are lower in calories than regular sugar. While arguably less dangerous in the long term than artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect, causing bloating, intestinal gas and diarrhea. Again, perhaps not something you want to consume too much of, if any of it at all.

 

Novel Sweeteners

 

Stevia extracts (Pure Via, Truvia), Tagatose (Naturlose), Trehalose

Novel sweeteners are combinations of various types of sweeteners, making them more difficult to fit into one particular category because of what they’re made from and how they’re made. These products are not sugar-free but again have less caloric value than sugar. Stevia can be used in everything from baked goods to salads to drinks. These particular types of sweeteners have not been around long enough to know what the long-term effects are on the human body, but there have been studies that suggest negative effects on the reproductive, cardiovascular, and renal systems per the FDA. Stevia may also cause low blood pressure and may also interact with anti-fungals, anti-inflammatories, anti-microbials, anti-cancer drugs, anti-virals, appetite suppressants, calcium channel blockers, cholesterol-lowering drugs, drugs that increase urination, fertility agents and other medications. Yikes? A bit.

 

Natural Sweeteners

 

Agave nectar, Date sugar, Fruit juice concentrate, Honey, Maple syrup, Molasses

Natural sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are often considered to be “healthier” options than processed sugar or other more unnatural sugar substitutes. Just be aware that even some of the “natural” sweeteners like agave nectar go under processing and refining. Also try to buy raw honey to ensure that you are not getting processed honey that has added sweeteners, and aim for 100% maple syrup…otherwise you could end up with something like Aunt Jemima’s syrup which is just a bunch of chemicals and caramel coloring. YUCK. Among the natural sweeteners that the FDA recognizes as being generally safe for consumption are fruit juices and nectars, honey, molasses, and maple syrup.

 

The whole sugar dilemma can be confusing: do you choose the stuff that can cause obesity, tooth decay, and diabetes or the cancer causing sweeteners, or the one that causes an upset stomach? The choice is always up to you and in small amounts any sugar substitute is probably not harmful. I personally choose to use natural sweeteners, namely raw honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, date sugar, and on occasion, real sugar. I like the fact that these sweeteners are all-natural and less refined, not manufactured by humans or extracted or exposed to chemicals. My body feels best with as little sugar as possible though, too much sugar and I feel sick and weak, and I develop cracks at the corners of my mouth. Remember that the BEST option is to avoid sugars in general aside from those from natural sources like fruit, and always read your labels so that you are aware of what you are actually eating. Many people don’t realize that much of the sugar they ingest is “hidden” in processed foods. For example, a can of soda may contain up to 10 teaspoons or 40 grams of sugar, with a tablespoon of ketchup packing a whopping 1 teaspoon of sugar. In fact the World Health Organization suggest that people only ingest 5% of their daily caloric intake from sugar. That breaks down to about 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of sugar per day for an adult with a healthy BMI. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar intake to no more than half of your daily discretionary calorie allowance: No more than 100 calories per day for women (about 6 teaspoons) and no more than 150 calories per day for men (9 teaspoons). So clearly, everyone is in agreement that the less sugar you consume, the healthier you will be. Try reducing your sugar consumption and see how you feel, you might notice huge differences!

 

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