Updated: Feb 10, 2018
Are you a fan of artificial sweeteners to help you control your weight? Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, acesulfame-K, sucralose and saccharin are used widely in a variety of food, beverages and chewing gum, advertised as ‘sugar-free’, ‘light’ or ‘diet’. Although Food and Drug Administration (FDA) endorses the safety of these artificial sweeteners, there is a lack of high quality, evidence-based research on humans to encourage their use, especially in a long term. Moreover, consumption of these artificial sweeteners is not recommended for children or pregnant women.
Indeed, a recent study suggested that regular intake of artificial sweeteners may cause the opposite effects such as weight gain and increased cardiometabolic risk. Regular consumption of artificially sweetened soft drink has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of stroke and dementia. Artificial sweeteners affect the body and brain’s ability to gauge how much has been eaten. Providing sweetness without calories confuses the body’s normal digestive processes, leading to food cravings and overeating. These artificial sweeteners not only negatively affect your appetite, but they also induce glucose intolerance by altering the balance and diversity of gut microflora. It is now recognised that the gut microflora is a key factor contributing to obesity, insulin resistance (i.e. prediabetes) and other chronic metabolic disease.
What are better alternatives to sugar
Sugar alcohols (e.g. xylitol, sorbitol, mannitol, erythritol) are low caloric sweeteners derived from sugar. They are not completely absorbed in the body, and therefore can have a laxative effect resulting in abdominal gas and diarrheoa if consumed in high quantities.
Natural sweeteners include maple syrup, coconut palm sugar, honey, dates, molasses and stevia. These in moderation are better alternatives to refined sugar and artificial sweeteners. Some natural sweeteners have a low glycemic load (i.e. they do not spike blood sugar levels) and provide the body with some vitamins and minerals. However, they should not be used as the source of vitamins and minerals due to their high sugar content.
Coconut sugar contains calcium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, zinc, antioxidants, and other phytonutrients (beneficial compounds found in plants). It can be substituted in the same measurements as table sugar when baking. It does not raise blood sugar levels as high as refined sugar.
Dates contain copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, and Vitamin B6. Dates are high in antioxidants and insoluble fibre, beta glucan, which may promote healthy cholesterol level and may help reduce LDL cholesterol. Date consumption has shown beneficial effects on serum triacylglycerol and oxidative stress and does not worsen serum glucose and lipid/lipoprotein patterns, in healthy subjects.
Honey contains B vitamins, Vitamin C, folate, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, enzymes, and antioxidants. It supports growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut and supports the immune system. The darker the honey, the richer the health benefits. It is best consumed from local sources.
Maple syrup (100%) contains calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, zinc, and omega-6 fatty acids. It also contains polyphenols, antioxidant compounds, that may have potential cancer chemopreventive effects. Choose darker, “Grade B” syrups with no added corn syrup or colourings.
Molasses (100%) contains calcium, choline, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, sodium, and omega-6 fatty acids. Choose brands with no additives.
Stevia is marketed as a natural, no-calorie alternative sweetener. It is made from the plant Stevia rebaudiana. However, some packaged stevia and other sweeteners made with stevia are not always 100% natural. Ensure you choose the most pure, natural form of stevia which contains only one ingredient i.e. organic stevia leaves without additives.
In summary, replacing sugar with artificial sweeteners may cause more harm to your health. If you want to control your weight, it is advisable to opt for the foods that are naturally sugar-free. It is best to eat whole foods as they are nutrient dense and high in fibre. Avoid artificial sweeteners and use natural sweeteners in moderation as part of a healthy balanced diet.