December 2014 Newsletter: Bitter Truth about Sweeteners

Who doesn’t love sweet things? The sweet flavor releases serotonin in our brains, the chemical responsible for our sense of well-being and contentment. We love to sweeten foods with sugar and feel pious when we use brown or raw sugar instead of white sugar.

But sugar is sugar, whether white, brown or raw. One teaspoon of any sugar has around 16 calories, and all sugars have pretty much the same composition, with some raw forms having trace amounts of minerals and vitamins but nothing significant. However, when it comes to sugar substitutes, not all are created equal.

A sugar substitute is loosely considered any sweetener that you use instead of regular table sugar (sucrose), and artificial sweeteners are just one type of sugar substitute. This chart here – insert link: (http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/artificial-sweeteners/art-20046936?pg=1) lists some popular sugar substitutes and how they're commonly categorized.

Studies have cited potential side effects and health risks from sweeteners such as white table sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners like aspartame (brand names: Equal Next, Equal Original, Equal Spoonful, NutraSweet), saccharin (brand names: Equal Saccharin, Sweet’N Low, Sweet Thing), and acesulphame potassium (brand names: Equal Original and Equal Spoonful).

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However, no conclusive evidence has been found to show how safe or harmful sugar substitutes (especially artificial sweeteners) are. Most studies have limitations such as small sample size, high doses, statistically non-significant or borderline significant results, and effects shown in animals but not in humans.

Still, the bottom line is that sugar substitutes should not play a major role in a healthful diet. Even if all of these sweeteners were given the green light for safety tomorrow, they would still fall short when it comes to nutritional value. Like sugar, sugar substitutes and many of the foods that contain them contribute little or nothing in terms of nutrients, and they take the place of more nutritious foods in our diets.

Limit yourself to a couple of servings a day, and even though some evidence suggests that certain artificial sweeteners can be helpful in losing weight, most experts agree that sugar substitutes in general are neither the cause of nor the cure for obesity.

Be a savvy, smart consumer and consider these points when deciding about sweeteners:

  1. Read labels and do your research. Sugar substitutes are now found in hundreds of products and they often make dubious health claims. A woman did some research and  filed a class-action lawsuit for $6.1 million against Truvia, a plant-based sweetener, which makes claims of being “naturally” derived from the Stevia plant, when there is no conclusive evidence to support this claim.

  2. Vary your choices, or use products containing more than one sweetener. Because some sweeteners enhance each others sweetness, blends often use less of each, reducing your exposure to any single sweetener.

  3. Get informed and look beyond the hype when choosing sugar substitutes. While artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes may help with weight management, they aren't a magic bullet and should be used only in moderation.

  4. Remember: A product marketed as sugar-free isn't free of calories. If you eat too many sugar-free foods, you can still gain weight because these foods have other ingredients that contain calories. And processed foods, which often contain sugar substitutes, generally don't offer the same health benefits as whole foods such as fruits and vegetables.

You can use a few unprocessed sugar substitutes to sweeten drinks, food, and baked goods. Because these substitutes are all approximately 1.5 times sweeter than regular sugar, you can use less of them. Here are two you can find in most supermarkets or natural food stores:

Raw Honey

Everyone seems to love honey, one of the oldest natural sweeteners in the world. Each honey has a different flavor depending on the plant source. Some can be very dark; others intensely flavored. When possible, choose raw honey, because it's unrefined and contains small amounts of enzymes, minerals, and vitamins. If you have seasonal allergies, locally grown raw honey can help alleviate some of the allergy symptoms.

Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is the concentrated extract of the sap from maple trees. It adds a rich, deep flavor to foods and drinks. Read the label. Look for 100% pure maple syrup, not maple-flavored corn syrup. And as with all sweeteners, organic varieties are best.

Honey and maple syrup are slightly “less bad” than regular sugar but definitely not something you should eat vast amounts of every day. In fact, even though “natural” sweeteners are healthier than sugar substitutes, the bottom-line is that even these alternatives are sugars and are best when eaten in small quantities.

Do you want to better manage your sweet cravings? Do you want to make tasty but healthy desserts?  Then let’s talk! Feel free to schedule a free healthy eating & living consultation with me today, or pass this offer on to someone you care about!

References:

  1. Sugar Substitutes: Health controversy over perceived benefits
  2. Sugar Substitutes: Are they safe?

  3. Sugar vs Sugar in the Raw
  4. Is Pure Maple Syrup Healthy?

  5. Nutrition and Healthy Eating: Artificial Sweeteners
  6. Truvia Maker settles Hawaii-based suit for $1.6 million