Sweeteners, Artificial and Otherwise
Sometimes a sweet tooth can’t be tamed. A love for sweets can be difficult to overcome when trying to lose weight or reduce your carbohydrate intake, so it’s worth exploring alternatives to table sugar and sweetened foods.
Many people embrace artificial sweeteners like saccharin and aspartame to reduce their calorie consumption. What you have to be wary of is downing a zero-calorie soda only to replace it with calories from another food source. While recommendations from the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association recognize the benefits of using artificial sweeteners to reduce calories and maintain a healthy weight, both caution of the risk of losing those benefits if the low-to-no calorie foods are replaced with other foods.
Further, Dr. David Ludwig of the Harvard-affiliated Boston Children’s Hospital notes that artificial sweeteners are often sweeter than natural sugar. As a result, people who regularly use artificial sweeteners may become desensitized to sweetness. Fruits and vegetables will seem less satisfying, making their consumption less likely.
Another risk researchers at Harvard note is that artificial sweeteners may cause us to disassociate sweetness with calories. We become partial to sweeter foods while discounting their caloric impact. In other words, we’ll fail to understand that putting something sweet in our mouth means we are consuming a higher number of empty and less nutritive calories.
The Food and Drug Administration has approved several artificial sweeteners, including saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. Research has disputed links to cancer. Still, studies show that these sweeteners aren’t having their intended effect. In fact, regular (read daily) consumption of diet drinks has led to a substantial risk for metabolic syndrome (central obesity) and type 2 diabetes, according to recent research. With those results, one must ask what the point is.
Does this mean we should explore more natural alternatives? Some that are worthwhile include:
Stevia, which is made from the stevia plant
Erythritol, a sugar alcohol that is almost as sweet as sugar but has fewer calories because the body does not absorb it well
Xylitol, another sugar alcohol; however, it is highly toxic to dogs, so beware if you have pets
Yacon syrup, also similar to the sugar alcohols; it is poorly absorbed, so it doesn’t result in absorbed calories
It’s important to note that erythritol, xylitol, and yacon syrup all cause digestive problems if consumed in significant quantities. The knock against stevia is that some people don’t like the aftertaste.
Completely natural sweeteners such as maple syrup, coconut sugar, molasses, and honey are interesting alternatives to table sugar. But they are really just sugar. One advantage is that they have more flavor than standard table sugar, so you might be inclined to use less.
When it comes to sugar, we all know that less is better. If you have a sweet tooth, sugar substitutes might be helpful in achieving your health and nutrition goals. Being informed about your choices is step one.