No ingredient has been vilified so much in the past decade as sugar. Rumors that it causes tooth decay aside, it has also been (inconclusively) linked to diabetes, cancer, obesity, and lifestyle-related problems.
Today there a whole bunch of people looking for sugar alternatives for many valid reasons. Some have been diagnosed with diabetes, a condition that prevents or limits their intake of sugar. Some are seeking to cut calories and to curb the negative effects of excessive sugar consumption on their health. If you’re someone who’s been doing the same, we’re sure that you’ve found a lot of possible solutions to your predicament.
However, at the same time, you may be worried about the potential side effects of sugar alternatives. At their most benign, they may offer no improvement over having processed sugar in your diet, and at their worst, a couple have been linked to liver cancer. So what do you do when you need that sweet fix?
You can’t realistically live without any form of sweetness in your life, and we don’t think such drastic measures are good for your state of mind, either. To help clear up some issues, we’ve done a bit of digging and what we found will surprise you, so do read on.
Remember – the truth will set you (and your sweet tooth) free!
Sugar-free is not always good for your waistline
First of all, have you examined the reason why you’re trying to find a sugar substitute? If you’re only doing it to shed a few pounds, then we may have a bit of bad news. Sugar-free anything is not going to do your waistline any favors.
If you’re looking to slim down, opting for alternatives may not be the best path to take. In fact, most doctors, trainers, and nutritionists agree that more often than not, “sugar free” is just a label – a clever marketing ploy by manufacturers that want to play on your insecurities about your weight to sell products without actually giving you an actual benefit.
Those foods may actually be loaded with calories, along with several ingredients that may not be healthy for you in the first place. If you’re simply replacing your daily cola intake with a diet soda habit, you may be doing more harm than good. What’s more, you may be playing tricks on your body that make you consume more calories than you would have gotten had you had the full-sugar option.
Because our bodies react to a dip in blood sugar by triggering hunger pangs, people who snack on food that make use of sugar alternatives may end up feeling hungrier. Hungrier people tend to have less willpower, and may end up eating carb-rich alternatives anyway.
Our health tip? Limit your sugar intake, but don’t rely on alternatives as a way to do so. Choose healthier means to satisfy your sweet tooth, such as high-fiber fruits like pineapple, mangoes, and apples.
Not all sugar substitutes are created Eq…the same
Sugar substitutes are grouped into four groups: artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols, novel sweeteners, and natural sweeteners. A simple way to remember what’s what is to remember how they are produced.
Artificial sweeteners have gotten the worst rap among sugar substitutes. It’s likely that people just don’t trust them because they were born in a lab. These sweeteners are exclusively synthetic, and are sweeter than regular sugar and other sweeteners, which has earned them the label "intense sweeteners".
Despite the assault on your taste buds, they’re non-caloric. On the other side of that coin, though, is the fact that they are also non-nutritive, meaning that they have no nutritional content whatsoever and exist only to give you that illusion of taste you crave.
Sugar alcohols contain no ethanol, but are extracted from naturally occurring carbohydrates in fruits and veggies. They’re nutritious and caloric, but less so than sugar.
Novel sweeteners are produced through a combination of processes and a combination of various types of sweeteners. This may get confusing, but if you think about it, everything else is so well defined that you can conclude what a novel sweetener is by the exclusion method.
Finally, we have natural sweeteners, which include honey, agave, and coconut sugar. They usually undergo minimal processes to extract them and are easier to come by. However, they can offer less of a sweet taste than regular sugar.
Artificial sweetener is not dangerous to your health per se
Let’s take a moment to discuss the most commonly used commercial alternative to regular sugar. Artificial sweeteners have been the target of myth-mongering since the 1800s, and some persistent negative images are difficult to dispel.
If you are simply not a fan of the chemical aftertaste that only a small population are biologically able to detect, or are against anything synthetic in principle (good luck with that, by the way), then there’s nothing wrong with avoiding them.
However, if you’re doing it because you think that eating artificial sweeteners give you bladder cancer, then you’ve been had.
There has been no conclusive evidence to prove that artificial sweeteners are bad for your health. In fact, several studies have been made to disprove or discredit the same studies that linked this form of sugar substitute to cancer. For example, in one study the test subjects were already predisposed to cancer, which made the study skewed.
All that aside, the amounts found in products labeled sugar-free and make use of artificial sweeteners are way less than what you would need to consume to suffer the same fate as the poor rats used in the test. Usually as much as 100x less.
As to the other ill effects – weight gain, potential obesity, and lifestyle-related diseases – well, they share these with real sugar as well as other substitutes. The only way to avoid these is to reduce your intake of any and all sugar.
Is there any good news in this?
Yes, there is. We can guarantee that most experts agree that sugar substitutes are, unquestionably safe to use. Any ill effects can be avoided easily with moderation.
In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Diabetes Association (ADA) have both issued a statement clearing the use of artificial sweeteners in place of sugar to combat obesity, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes. It’s full of precautions, but in essence, they say that there should be no negative effects for most users.
Are sugar substitutes worse than real sugar when it comes to the ill effects on your health? Experts say no, but proceed with caution anyway.