If you are trying to reduce sugar in your diet, you may be tempted to turn to artificial sweeteners, which please the taste buds but promise zero calories. But are they safe? Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes are found in a variety of food and beverages marketed as “sugar-free” or “diet”, including soft drinks and baked goods. Just what are all these sweeteners? And what’s their role in your diet? Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes. They may be derived from naturally occurring substances, such as herbs or sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners are also known as intense sweeteners because they are many times sweeter than sugar.
Uses for Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are widely used in processed foods, including:
- Baked goods
- Soft drinks, powdered drink mixes and other beverages
- Dairy products
- Canned foods
Artificial sweeteners are tempting because they don’t contain any calories, but still provide powerful sweetness. However, this is a dangerous combination. These non-nutritive sweeteners provide no sense of fullness or satisfaction, yet they simultaneously retrain the taste buds to require more and more sweetness. As a result, people end up eating and drinking too much, becoming addicted to sweet treats and gaining weight.
There are many artificial sweeteners currently on the market, and many of them are even added to seemingly healthier food options like yogurt, vitamins and breakfast cereal. The worst of the worsts include aspartame (found in Equal and NutraSweet), sucralose (found in Splenda) and saccharin (found in Sweet ‘N Low). Many people who use artificial sugars in their diets report many health problems including migraines, depression, IBS, weight gain and more.
What are some better options?
While it’s true that eating too much added sugar isn’t good for your health, there are many natural sweeteners and flavors that can enhance food without the need for artificial additives.
- Stevia- a natural sweetener that’s derived from the leaves of the South American shrub Stevia Rebaudiana.
- Sugar Alcohols- also known as polyols, are a type of carbohydrate naturally found in fruits and vegetables.
- Monk fruit sweetener- an extract obtained from the Sitraitia grosvenorii plant, which is native to China.
- Allulose- also known as D-allulose, is a monosaccharide (or sugar) that exists naturally in certain fruits.
- Dates- dried fruits from the date palm tree. These sweet, chewy fruits are an excellent alternative to refined sugar and offer several health benefits.
- Applesauce/Fruit Purees- replacing sugar with applesauce- or purees of other fruits like bananas- is an excellent way to reduce your refined sugar intake.
- Yacon Syrup- extracted from the yacon plant (smallanthus sonchifolius), which is native to South America. It’s sweet taste, dark color, and thick consistency make it somewhat comparable to molasses.
- Honey- thick, golden liquid produced by honeybees. It contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, as well as an abundance of plant compounds that provide anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.
- Maple Syrup- a thick, sugary liquid that’s made by cooking the sap of maple trees. It contains a small amount of minerals, including calcium, potassium, iron, zinc and manganese.
- Molasses- a sweet, brown liquid with a thick, syrup-like consistency. It’s made from boiling sugar cane or sugar beet juice. It contains a handful of vitamins and minerals, as well as several antioxidants.
At the end of the day, remember that if anything seems too good to be true, it is. The best way to reduce your sugar consumption is to wean yourself off of sweet things, pure and simple. If you are having sugar cravings, it is likely an imbalance in your gut of bad microbes that are doing the craving, not you! The only way to stop cravings is to not give into them or to slowly reduce your consumption until the craving passes. If you are going to consume sugar, make it a healthier sugar like the options above; have just a tiny bit, savor it and make it just a rare treat!