There is a great deal of confusion and controversy around artificial sweeteners, so I thought I would do my own exploration so I can get a better understanding.
I have sometimes used sweeteners, such as Agave Syrup or Date Syrup, believing they are a better 'natural' alternative to refined white sugar, or to 'artificial sweeteners such as Splenda or Canderel.
- The first thing I learnt is that there are two types of sweeteners; nutritive and non-nutritive. This means the former has calories and the later has no or reduced calorie content.
- The 'artificial' sweeteners fall into the non-nutritive band, and hence when added to drinks and food can be classified as 'no added sugar' because they do not add any calories to the drink and they are not regarded as sugar. Great idea! You can now enjoy the sweeteners of the drinks and food you like but without the added calories content that nutritive sweeteners have. It must be a win:win situation? There has been some research which has shown that certain artificial sweeteners may cause side effects such as migraines, cause inflammation, particularity in the bowel or gut and effect how we metabolise food.
- However another side effect which has been explored in a study in 2017, has been their link to obesity. One of the suggestions is that because artificial sweeteners are not 'satisfying' in terms of calories but only in terms of taste, consumers compensate by ordering larger portions, thus increasing calorie in take.
- Artificial Sweeteners can also be 'synthetic' and 'natural'. Aspartame, Sucralose, Saccarain and Sorbitol are all in the former category and Stevia (plant), Xylitol (Birch Tree bark), Agave, Erythriol (sugar alcohol in certain fruits) and Yacon are in the later category. Both these types can have side effects.
- The way the sweeteners work is to bind to the same receptors in the mouth and palate which cause the sensation of sweetness.
- There is also a suggestion that we can become addicted to them, because of their ability to make foods and drinks much sweeter than 'normal' sugars, in some cases up to 600 times sweeter, as in the case of Sucralose (Splenda)
By this point in my research I was gaining a bit more knowledge but I was till confused? I just wanted to have a clearer idea of what I should be looking to avoid and what I could use instead.
What to avoid
- Refined Sugars
- Artificial Sweeteners
- Products containing Fructose Corn Syrups.
What products can I find these in? This is by no means an exhaustive list.
- Children’s juices
- Vitamin gums or jelly gum sweets
- Chewing gum
- No calorie waters
- Frozen yogurts
- Low fat products
- Zero calorie or low calorie drinks and food
- Children’s medication such as Calpol
What can I use instead?
The first thing to point out is there is no magic 'fix' to craving or for that matter reducing added sugar from our diet. It is about changing our palate and about having the knowledge to:
- understand labels and ingredients
- understand that your body treats ‘all’ sugars in the same way, whether it is naturally occurring in foods or added in the form of sweeteners
- understand that it will take time to change a habit of a lifetime and to work out how to circumnavigate around the maze of misinformation and ‘bad’ products available to us.
So taking the above into consideration, and for more information read my article on sugar and I also have a few videos on my YouTube channel (click the icon in top right hand corner).
These are alternatives that can be used to add sweetness to foods or drinks, but be warned they do contain calories so be cautious:
- Raw, unpasteurised, honey
- Maple Syrup
- Blackstrap Molasses
- Fruit purees; banana, apple, berries
- Coconut sugar