Concerned about your sugar intake? You’re not the only one! Many Americans are trying to cut back on the amount of sugar they eat, however it can be hard to adjust to eating less sugar. Artificial sweeteners have been created as an alternative to sugar, as they give sweetness without the calories. But are they safer?
Artificial sweeteners are also known as non-nutritive sweeteners, are much sweeter than sugar, which means they can be used in very small amounts.
In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulate the use of artificial sweeteners. The FDA has approved six sweeteners to be added to foods in the United States: saccharin (Sweet N’ Low), aspartame, acesulfame potassium (Sunnet), sucralose (Splenda), neotame, and advantame.
Two other sweeteners have been given GRAS notices (meaning Generally Recognised As Safe) have been submitted to FDA for two other types of high-intensity sweeteners. These are certain sweeteners created from the leaves of the stevia plant, and extracts obtained from monk fruit. GRAS notices means that the substances are considered to be safe by qualified experts.
The FDA note that sweeteners are considered to be safe for use by the public, unless there is a known reason for harm (for example, people with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) have difficulty metabolizing phenylalanine which is in aspartame, therefore they must avoid aspartame.
Another category of sweetener is sugar alcohols, which again provide a sweet taste with minimal calories. Examples of sugar alcohols include sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, and erythritol.
There have been reports in the media that sweeteners are linked to an increased risk of diabetes, however a systematic review on this topic has found that the evidence is not clear.
The use of sugar alcohols has been shown to cause gut issues when taken at higher doses, particularly in those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, so care is needed to avoid unpleasant side effects.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics released a position statement in 2012 stating that people can enjoy sweeteners when eaten as part of a diet that is guided by nutrition recommendations.
Across the pond, Public Health England have endorsed the use of sweeteners in foods and drinks by acknowledging their useful role in weight management, stating that:
“replacing foods and drinks sweetened with sugar with those containing no or low calorie sweeteners could be useful in helping people to manage their weight as they reduce the calorie content of foods and drinks while maintaining a sweet taste. For this reason, PHE acknowledges that foods and drinks containing low/no-calorie sweeteners can be useful in helping to reduce calories.”
The use of artificial sweeteners is an individual choice. To answer the original question, it appears that artificial sweeteners are better if you are trying to lose weight. If you currently consume a lot of sugar, switching to an alternative which contains sweeteners will help to cut calories, which may help lose weight as part of a calorie controlled diet; however in the long run, it may be better to try to wean yourself off the sweet taste altogether, which will make following a healthy lifestyle easier.
It’s also important to be aware of the ‘health halo’ effect- some people believe that foods with sweeteners are healthier, though they may not be low in calories, and may contain a lot of fat or other carbohydrates. Also, there can be a temptation to eat more calories elsewhere when you are ‘saving’ some by having diet products.
Sweeteners can help you improve your diet, but for overall health, the focus should still be on consuming plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and whole-grains, and treating sweet foods as treats rather than everyday occurrences.
At Cook For Your Life, we believe that sugar should not be demonized, and so we choose to use natural sugars in our food instead of sweeteners. We promote moderation and correct portion control of all sweet things, so that these foods can be a part of a healthy diet with no guilt.
What’s your opinion on sugars vs. sweeteners? Let us know in the comments!