Are Sugar Substitutes Better?

Looking at my affirmations for this month, I wondered: “Why did I choose to do this during summer school and my birthday month?” Reducing your sugar intake is no easy task, especially for someone like me with a sweet tooth. Cookies at work always grab my attention, and when I see a co-worker’s desk with a bowl of chocolate, I can’t help but pick up a piece (either imagining it in my mind or actually scooping it out of the bowl). However, having too much sugar can lead to many health dangers we already knew about: diabetes, tooth decay, and weight gain. Normally I ignore these thinking I can go to the gym after work, but eventually, it catches up with you. After hearing co-workers who have detoxed and eliminated sugar from their diet and report having fewer headaches and having more energy, I was intrigued to learn more. However, I was very concerned about my sweet tooth. What should I do if I can’t ignore the cravings? Would sugar substitutes be a better option? Most would give a resounding, “No,” but I decided to go into these substitutes to see if there is any truth to the nay-sayers. The results? Well, complicated, but here’s what I’ve uncovered about sugar substitutes:

According to the Mayo Clinic, sugar substitutes are divided into four categories: artificial sweeteners (i.e. aspartame, sucralose/Splenda, saccharin/Sweet ‘N Low), sugar alcohols (carbohydrates that naturally occur in fruits and vegetables), novel sweeteners (i.e. Stevia extracts), and natural sweeteners (i.e. agave nectar, maple syrup). While these substitutes are used mostly for weight control and managing diabetes, the Mayo Clinic sites that artificial sweeteners, saccharin, in particular, were criticized for causing a variety of health problems including cancer. Well + Good also reports that research on mice who were fed sucralose (the main ingredient in Splenda) throughout their lifetime developed various blood cancers. The Mayo Clinic, however, reported that research from the National Cancer Institute and other organizations found no evidence supporting claims that artificial sweeteners cause cancer. The Mayo Clinic also adds that sugar alcohols (which can also be manufactured) can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea since they are natural laxatives. Even natural sweeteners like agave nectar and honey can cause tooth decay and high triglycerides if not consumed carefully.

Does this mean there are no safe sugar substitutes or sweeteners? Are there no options if you need to satisfy your cravings for sweets? Moderation is the key. With anything in life, we have to find a balance. Although sugar substitutes can help manage your weight, it doesn’t mean they are a sure fire way to lose weight. Eating products that are sugar-free does not guarantee you won’t gain weight since you can still gain weight from other ingredients in the product. When it comes to food, the best method never fails: chose fruits and vegetables over processed foods.

What’s an acceptable amount for consuming artificial sweeteners? Consult the FDA’s guidelines on Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) and Eat Right for more information.

Cover Image Photo Credit: Pixabay

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