There has been plenty of conversation and debate about the benefits and detriments of artificial sweeteners. From aspartame to sucralose, these low-calorie sugar-alternatives have an upside if you’re trying to reduce your calorie count, but is the upside worth the price you may pay for a few less calories?
Here are the most common artificial sweeteners, the impact they may have on you, and some natural alternatives.
There are a handful of sugar substitutes that are used in a large variety of food and beverages, including cereals, chewing gum, yogurt and diet soda. These include:
- Acesulfame potassium: Acesulfame potassium has been in use in the US since 1988. The calorie-free sweetener is 200 times sweeter than sugar. While the least common and well known of the sweeteners in the list, sugar-substitutes Sunett and Sweet One contain acesulfame potassium.
- Aspartame: Aspartame is low-calorie and, like Acesulfame potassium, is also up to 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is found in the sugar-replacement products Equal and NutraSweet.
- Saccharin: This sugar-replacement is found in the products SugarTwin and Sweet’N Low. It’s been around for quite some time, dating back to the 1800s. It remains in use as it’s less expensive than sugar and has zero calories. This is probably your Mother-in-Law’s go to sweetener.
- Sucralose: Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Both sugar and sucralose begin the same way during the production process. For sucralose, however, molecules are altered slightly — which makes for an intensely sweet and calorie-free sweetener. Sucralose is most commonly marketed under the brand name, Splenda. It also makes up a lot of sugar-free syrups, like the one that you find in your favorite Skinny Vanilla Latte.
Possible Health Effects
There have been concerns raised about the effects of sugar alternatives on the human body. As the use and prevalence of these substances increase in foods, so does the research into their impact on consumers.
One possible effect of consuming artificial sweeteners is weight gain — which may seem counterintuitive as people often use them to avoid gaining weight. When it comes to being able to use taste to deduce caloric intake, though, artificial sweeteners may disable the body’s ability to assess calorie count based on food sweetness. A Purdue University study found that this can result in a person’s inability to regulate food intake — and also the inability to control their body weight.
This can happen because acesulfame potassium, aspartame, sucralose and saccharin are far more intensely sweet than naturally-occurring sugars. That means over time, natural sugars can become less appealing or completely undesirable.
This phenomenon can result in the healthy, filling and nutritious foods including fruits and vegetables being dismissed in favor of artificially flavored foods with minimal nutritional content — leading to far less balance in your body and potential weight gain.
Of course, it’s also worth mentioning that a recent study has revealed that Sucralose has been downgraded by the Center for Science in the Public Interest from “caution” to “avoid” after lab rats contracted leukemia and other blood cancers after prolonged exposure to Sucralose.
Instead of reaching for sugar substitutes as your sweetener, consider utilizing a naturally-occurring sugar. This ensures you are ingesting more complex substances the body can recognize and even use effectively as energy. Some options include:
- Date sugar: Date sugar is simply finely chopped dates, which makes it hardly refined at all. The lightly sweet taste delivers butterscotch notes as well. It can be applied as a one-to-one replacement for white or brown sugar.
- Maple syrup: Straight from nature, maple syrup is a naturally-derived sweetener. When substituting in maple syrup for sugar, use three-quarters as much maple syrup as the recipe calls for sugar. Remember this syrup won’t be quite as sweet as white sugar and will slightly darken your baked goods. It may also cause baking to brown faster.
- Honey: Honey is another sugar alternative, but it is sweeter than white sugar. It is made up of fructose, glucose, some water and minerals including calcium, iron, potassium and magnesium.
Although the American Heart Association and American Diabetes Association have both provided their approval of artificial sweeteners, they’ve done so cautiously. There is still much debate on the benefits and detractors of these synthetic substances. Moderation is suggested for all these products.
However, since natural sugars aren’t necessarily detrimental in moderation, either, perhaps it’s best to stick with what Mother Nature made for you — after all, mother knows best.