Sugar has been a controversial topic for years in the nutrition and health world. Sugar is also an inseparable part of the food we consume every day. However, its excessive consumption leads to bad health, bad teeth, weight gain, and more. Thus, artificial sweeteners were created to provide ‘sugar-free’ alternatives. Nutritionist and dietitian, Hitaf Zwein, raises the question “are artificial sweeteners a good alternative for sugar or not?” There is no correct or wrong answer. Follow along to find out the health benefits, risks, and alternatives to artificial sweeteners.
What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are compounds added to food to make them taste sweet without the use of sugar. They have virtually zero calories in them and are marketed to promote weight loss.
These sugar substitutes can be found in a wide range of processed foods, including sodas and soft drinks, candy, canned food, jams and jellies, baked goods, and dairy products. These are usually found in the diet sections with the label ‘sugar-free’.
Possible Health Benefits Of Artificial Sweeteners
Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners don’t contribute to tooth decay and cavities. They may also help with:
Artificial sweeteners have virtually no calories. One teaspoon of sugar contains 16 calories. One can of regular soda contains 10 teaspoons of sugar. That is 160 calories, give or take. For someone trying to limit their calorie intake, 160 calories of pure sugar are not ideal. Diet sodas containing artificial sweeteners may be a more attractive option in this case, although their effectiveness for long-term weight loss isn't clear.
For people suffering from diabetes, artificial sweeteners are a solid alternative to sugar because they are not carbohydrates. They generally do not raise blood sugar levels.
Possible Health Concerns Of Artificial Sweeteners
As much as sugar has been scrutinized over the years, sugar substitutes have been as well. Critics believe that artificial sweeteners cause a variety of health problems and most notably cancers. 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 cause cancer or other serious health problems. Numerous studies confirm that artificial sweeteners are generally safe in limited quantities, even for pregnant women.
The main concern of long-term consumption of artificial sweeteners is developing insulin resistance. Because these substitutes taste sweet like sugar even if they don’t contain any, your body does not know the difference. It will produce insulin to regulate the glucose in the body without finding any. Over time, cells in your muscles, fat, and liver won't respond well to insulin and won’t be able to use glucose from your blood for energy. To make up for it, your pancreas makes more insulin causing your blood sugar levels to go up with time.
Yes, we did mention weight loss in the benefits, but hear us out. When using artificial sweeteners in baking and desserts, the taste will be different from what you are traditionally used to eat. This difference in taste causes a lack of satisfaction when eating the advised portion for weight loss which can be a small piece of cake. To feel satisfied, the person will overeat to satisfy this sugar crave, resulting in weight gain.
The other reason weight gain may happen is due to artificial sweeteners affecting gut bacteria and gut receptors. Imagine your intestines as a fire, once you get it going, the fire will need some time to die down. When you consume sugar-free foods, your stomach will work to burn them. However, they do not or rarely contain any calories. So your body will demand you feed it more. This might manifest as cravings or binge-eating resulting in weight gain.
So, back to sugar?
The answer is never simple. Yes, sugar is bad for you and harmful for people with diabetes, but if consumed in moderation with a balanced and healthy diet, you should not face any problems at all. Sugar is not the enemy, an unhealthy lifestyle is.
If you still intend to cut sugar out of your life, there are always natural alternatives for you to try. Raw honey, molasses, and fruits are great sources of natural healthy sugar. People with diabetes (or just anyone) can give Stevia and monk fruit a try. Monk fruit has been praised by studies lately more than Stevia. It has shown no side effects when eating moderately, does not raise blood sugar levels, and is filled with antioxidants.
The lesson here today is that nothing is ever black or white. You need to do your research and find out what works best for you and your body.
Check the Sugar-Free section at Mint Basil Market for all the delicious snacks and treats you can dream of that are naturally sugar-free!
If you have any questions regarding this topic, please do not hesitate to reach out.