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I know that in the quest to cut calories and eliminate sugar from our diets, many folks turn to sugar substitutes. I have heard some very diverse opinions on these alternatives, and wanted to find out- what’s the deal? I found this great article from the Mayo clinic and wanted to share.
Understanding artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
Sugar substitutes are loosely considered any sweetener that you use instead of regular table sugar (sucrose). Artificial sweeteners are just one type of sugar substitute. The chart lists some popular sugar substitutes and how they’re commonly categorized.
The topic of sugar substitutes can be confusing. One problem is that the terminology is often open to interpretation. For instance, some manufacturers call their sweeteners “natural” even though they’re processed or refined, as is the case with stevia preparations. And some artificial sweeteners are derived from naturally occurring substances — sucralose comes from sugar, for example.
Regardless of how they’re classified, sugar substitutes aren’t magic bullets for weight loss. Take a closer look.
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes but may be derived from naturally occurring substances, including herbs or sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners are also known as intense sweeteners because they are many times sweeter than regular sugar.
Uses for artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are attractive alternatives to sugar because they add virtually no calories to your diet. In addition, you need only a fraction compared with the amount of sugar you would normally use for sweetness.
Artificial sweeteners are widely used in processed foods, including baked goods, 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 popular for home use. Some can even be used in baking or cooking. Certain recipes may need modification, though, because artificial sweeteners provide no bulk or volume, as does sugar. Check the labels on artificial sweeteners for appropriate home use.
Some artificial sweeteners may leave an aftertaste. You may need to experiment with artificial sweeteners to find one or a combination that you enjoy most
Possible health benefits of artificial sweeteners
One benefit of artificial sweeteners is that they don’t contribute to tooth decay and cavities. They may also help with the following:
- Weight control. One of the most appealing aspects of artificial sweeteners is that they are non-nutritive — they have virtually no calories. In contrast, each gram of regular table sugar contains 4 calories. A teaspoon of sugar is about 4 grams. For perspective, consider that one 12-ounce can of a sweetened cola contains 8 teaspoons of added sugar, or about 130 calories. If you’re trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, products sweetened with artificial sweeteners rather than with higher calorie table sugar may be an attractive option. On the other hand, some research has suggested that consuming artificial sweeteners may be associated with increased weight, but the cause is not yet known.
- Diabetes. Artificial sweeteners may be a good alternative to sugar if you have diabetes. Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners generally don’t raise blood sugar levels because they are not carbohydrates. But because of concerns about how sugar substitutes are labeled and categorized, always check with your doctor or dietitian about using any sugar substitutes if you have diabetes.
Possible health concerns with artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners have been the subject of intense scrutiny for decades. Critics of artificial sweeteners say that they cause a variety of health problems, including cancer. That’s largely because of studies dating to the 1970s that linked saccharin to bladder cancer in laboratory rats. Because of those studies, saccharin once carried a warning label that it may be hazardous to your health.
But according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, there’s no sound scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the U.S. cause cancer or other serious health problems. And numerous research studies confirm that artificial sweeteners are generally safe in limited quantities, even for pregnant women. As a result of the newer studies, the warning label for saccharin was dropped.
Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food additives. They must be reviewed and approved by the FDA before being made available for sale. In some cases, the FDA declares a substance “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). These GRAS substances, including highly refined stevia preparations, are deemed by qualified professionals based on scientific data as being safe for their intended use, or they have such a lengthy history of common use in food that they’re considered generally safe and don’t require FDA approval before sale.
The FDA has also established an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each artificial sweetener. This 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.
Natural sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are often promoted as healthier options than processed table sugar or other sugar substitutes. But even these so-called natural sweeteners often undergo processing and refining, including agave nectar.
Among the natural sweeteners that the FDA recognizes as being generally safe for consumption are fruit juices and nectars, honey, molasses, and maple syrup.
Uses for natural sweeteners
Natural sweeteners have a variety of uses both at home and in processed foods. They are sometimes known as added sugars because they’re added to foods during processing. They may be used to sweeten drinks such as tea and cocktails, in desserts, as pancake and waffle toppings, on cereals, and for baking, for example.
Possible health benefits of natural sweeteners
Although natural sugar substitutes may seem healthier than processed table sugar, their vitamin and mineral content isn’t significantly different from that of sugar. Honey and sugar, for instance, are nutritionally similar, and both end up in your body as glucose and fructose. Choose a natural sweetener based on how it tastes and its uses, rather than on its health claims.
Possible health concerns with natural sweeteners
So-called natural sweeteners are generally safe. But there’s no health advantage to consuming added sugar of any type. And consuming too much added sugar, even natural sweeteners, can lead to health problems such as tooth decay, poor nutrition, weight gain and increased triglycerides. Also, be aware that honey can contain small amounts of bacterial spores that can produce botulism toxin. Because of that, honey shouldn’t be given to children less than 1 year old.
Moderation is key with sugar substitutes
When choosing sugar substitutes, it pays to be a savvy consumer. Get informed and look beyond the hype. While artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes may help with weight management, they aren’t a magic bullet and should be used only in moderation.
Just because a food is marketed as sugar-free doesn’t mean it’s free of calories. If you eat too many sugar-free foods, you can still gain weight if they have other ingredients that contain calories. And remember that processed foods, which often contain sugar substitutes, generally don’t offer the same health benefits as do whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.