Category: Nutrition Published on Wednesday, 09 February 2011 07:10 Written by Amari Vaughn Hits: 1423
As the concern of obesity and diabetes continues to rise in our society, so does the desire to use an alternate source of sweeteners. These sugar substitutes are found in an array of products such as soda, gum, chocolate, hard candy, pastries and ice cream. More people are living diet and sugar free because they feel it's a healthier alternative to regular sugar, but is it really more beneficial?
Studies have shown that low-calorie sweeteners, do in fact, aid in weight loss by reducing overall calorie intake. Most artificial and some natural sugar substitutes are low if not almost entirely calorie free and is great for those who are sugar and calorie conscious. Sugar, on the other hand, has approximately 15 calories per teaspoon (approximately 10 teaspoons in one regular can of soda) and can add up quickly, leading to weight gain. Certain natural sweeteners like sorbitol and xylitol (found in sugar-free gum and candy) have a minimal blood sugar impact. In comparison, sugar can cause an insulin spike to rush blood sugar out of the body, dropping blood sugar and insulin levels below normal, leading a person feeling tired and more hungry. Many sugar free products are a great way to curb a sweet tooth and fill you up without all of the empty calories.
Controversy has lead to questioning the ingredients and safety of sugar substitutes as consumer usage continues to grow. Some of the FDA approved artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (found in yogurt, sugar free gelatin, pudding and Equal), and saccharin (Sweet'N Low) are alleged of causing cancer in laboratory animals. Mechanistic studies of how a substance works in the human body show that these results are inconclusive of affecting humans. After extensive research and testing, the FDA still considers them both safe to consume.
Another popular sweetener sucralose, also known as Splenda, was approved in 1998 for use in the United States. This chlorinated sugar can also be used for cooking, unlike aspartame and saccharin, which are not heat stable. It's believed by some that sucralose causes liver swelling and calcifies kidneys. Other claims are that it possibly affects the nervous system, immune functionality and other body systems. FDA has conducted over a hundred safety studies, including cancer risks but there has been no clear evidence that it causes cancer or any other health risks.
The natural sweetener stevia, derived from the stevia rebaudiana plant, is probably deemed to be one the most non-threatening sugar substitutes however, it is more of an acquired taste due to its bitter aftertaste. South American natives have been using this plant for hundreds of years for its sweetening capabilities. Even with it being a natural sweetener, there is still skepticism over the safety of stevia. Some of the derivatives of stevia, such as stevioside, are under study for the possibilities of promoting reproductive problems in lab animals when fed large amounts. Steviol is also being questioned on whether is can cause cancer due to its capabilities of mutating DNA cells. These tests, again, have been for the reactions in laboratory animals fed in large quantities, so there are no proven side effects on humans.
When deciding which works best for you, balance is the rule of thumb. Just because it says "sugar free" or "diet" on the label doesn't necessarily mean it's a free for all. Some sugar free products, even though don't have the same affect on blood sugar levels, still have the calories and fat, so it can still promote weight gain if overdone. Moderation is key as with anything we do in life. Too much of even a good thing, whether it's regular sugar, artificial or natural sweeteners, can be unhealthy.
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