If you don’t like the taste of sugar say, “sugar tastes gross”. **crickets**
If sugar was considered a health food, the world would be, how can I put this, a lot less “squishy”. Without a doubt, over consumption of sugar is a leading cause of obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, and many other health issues.
So how can we still enjoy the pleasures of life without destroying our health?
It’s all about choices.
Choice to replace sugary processed foods with whole foods. Easier said then done, I know. You’re probably asking, what about the sugar fix and cravings?
My answer, sweeteners. But are all sweeteners healthy? DEFINITELY NOT! There is a lot of confusion and shady marketing practices when it comes to sweeteners (Splenda is synonymous with these glorified health claims – more on this later). Don’t fall for the hype. My goal is to shed a little light on this subject so you can be comfortable making better food choices.
Sweeteners are described as sugar substitutes without the calories. They are packed with sweetness (anywhere from 30-8000 times sweeter than table sugar), therefore having far less calories compared to sugar. Most packets (and you only need one packet to sweeten up your food) has ZERO calories. A gram of sugar contains 4 calories. A gram of sweetener contains 0 calories.
Sweeteners are everywhere no. They’re used in diet drinks, protein powders, light yogurts and dairy, and mostly anything that should have carbs, but is now considered “low carb”. But remember just like “fat substitutes“, not all sugar substitutes are healthy or created equal. There is a lot of confusion on the health benefits/risks of certain sweeteners. It’s important to understand the difference between artificial sweeteners and natural sweeteners. That’s what I will be covering in this article.
Here are your options and the affect artificial and natural sweeteners have on your body.
Remember, it’s all about choices. Just make the right ones!
The American Dietetic Association has approved the following daily intake of these specific artificial sweeteners:
- Acesulfame K (a.k.a. Sunett & Sweet One): 15mg per kg of body weight (about 30 cans of lemon lime soda)
- Aspartame (a.k.a. NutraSweet & Equal): 50mg per kg of body weight (about 18 cans of diet soda)
- Saccharin (a.k.a. Sweet’N Low & SugarTwin): 5 mg per kg of body weight (about 9 packets)
- Sucralose (a.k.a. Splenda): 5mg per kg of body weight (about 6 cans of diet soda)
Just because the American Dietetic Association says it’s safe to eat, does this mean it’s going to help you accomplish your health and fitness goals? I’ll let you be the judge.
Pros and Cons of Artificial Sweeteners
Pros (although most are debatable)
- Do not affect blood sugar levels: Diabetics are safe to use these sweeteners because they do not affect blood sugar levels like normal carbohydrates do. BUT there are new studies coming out that show the artificial sweeteners do spike insulin, thus creating fat storage.
- Adds sweetness to food without the extra calories: Since these sweeteners are so much sweeter than sugar, it takes a lot less quantity to create the same sweetness effect. This lowers the calorie count of the food you’re eating or drinking. BUT there are new studies coming out that show artificial sweeteners can increase cravings of carbs and other sweets.
- Doesn’t cause tooth decay: Since the sweetener doesn’t contain sugar, it doesn’t cause tooth decay.
Cons (still debatable as well)
- Consuming too much can cause negative side effects: Like with most things, moderation is key. Reported negative side effects of over consumption include: diarrhea, dizziness, head aches, impaired vision, and weight gain. Other studies report over consumption can cause bladder disease, cancer, seizures, depression, and even lower sperm count.
- Some Can Be Chemically modified: Splenda is chemically modified by adding chlorine to its chemical structure. This addition makes it more like a pesticide than something we should be eating.
- Your body really is not meant to digest artificial sweeteners. It’s a foreign substance full of chemicals. Here are a few other unproven but discussed potential issues: linked to potential cancer, negative effects on organs like the liver and kidneys, gastrointestinal problems, development problem in children and fetuses, and the list goes on.
- Overall artificial sweeteners ARE NOT a health product. Don’t fall for the hype! In some circumstances, they can be even more harmful to your body than sugar. It’s like comparing evil 1 to evil 2. There’s no winner. As mentioned, there are no 100% clear cut studies yet (if there was hopefully they’d be removed from the market) but…don’t you want to play it safe and not take the risk with something artificial and unnatural?
Natural Sweeteners – The Real Winners
If you care about your health and fitness, focus on using these NATURAL sweeteners.Natural sweeteners include raw honey, organic maple syrup, and sorghum syrup. These natural sweeteners taste great and provide real nutrients and antioxidants unlike sugar. The only drawback is they contain similar calories to sugar.
So what can you do if you’re following a low calorie and carb diet?
Stevia is naturally produced from a plant. It’s not a chemical like the artificial sweeteners mentioned above. Although you may have never heard of it, it has been used for centuries. It is very sweet, up to 300 times sweeter than sugar. It’s diabetic and low carb diet friendly since doesn’t affect blood sugar levels and a packet contain 0 carbs and 0 calories.
I personally use Stevia when cooking. You can add it to your oats, plain yogurt, smoothies, and any baking items. Give it a try. You can find it at most grocery stores in the health food section.
Is found naturally in some vegetables and fruit. Similar to stevia, it doesn’t affect blood sugar levels. Consuming xylitol in large amounts has been known to cause gastrointestinal discomfort.
You can also use honey, maple syrup, or even fruit to sweeten up your meals.
Always use any sweetener (regardless if artificial or natural) in moderation.
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