By: Marie Gibbon, IFBB Figure Pro, Personal Trainer, Nutritional Consultant
Do you suffer from a sweet tooth? If you are like me there are times you could kill for sugar!
Many of us turn to sugar substitutes, trying anything to avoid extra calories and carbohydrates, BUT do we really know what we are putting in our mouths? Have you checked the impact of your choice of sugar substitute?
The more I read and about this, the more questions and concerns come up; it’s like opening up a can of worms every time I read more!!! I encourage everybody to learn and understand what they are putting in their bodies and realize there are pros and cons to everything! Always remember that most products are ok in moderation, which includes regular sugar (unless you are competing). Please consider the lack of definitive research in this area when you are buying your children’s food. We have no idea what most sugar substitutes will do/cause in the future since most of them haven’t been around long enough yet.
In my opinion you should stay away from most sugar free products. You really need to know what ingredients are being substituted for sugar if you are considering adding these products to your diet. Most of them still have sugar in them just in different forms and under different names. “Fake” sugar can also give you gas and cause bloating. So many competitors complain about swollen stomachs and bloating, but still keep adding sugar free syrup, candy and sugar substitutes to their food.
Before we take a look at some of the most popular sugar substitutes out there, let’s get familiar with a few numbers:
- 1 teaspoon contain 15 calories
- 1 cup sugar = 770 calories (1 cup brown sugar= 830 calories.)
1. Splenda (Sucralose)
The number one selling sugar substitute right now is Splenda. Splenda seems to be taking over the sugar free market and can be used in drinks and for baking. Splenda is 600 times sweeter than regular sugar. Splenda is made from sucralose, chlorinated sugar, but can’t be broken down by the human body (which is why it is called calorie-free). The truth is Splenda does have calories: 1 cup contains 98 calories (1 package of Splenda = 3.31 calories). This is nothing compared to real sugar but something to keep in mind for anybody trying to lose body fat and losing weight. There is also research that Splenda, because it doesn’t get broken down in the human body, can be disruptive as it passes into the ecosystem and scientists worry it could become a threat to our current food chain.
2. Sweet-N-Low (Saccharin)
Sweet N Low is about 300 times sweeter than regular sugar and best used in drinks only. While saccharin doesn’t have calories in it, it has been linked to diabetes through overproduction of insulin in the pancreas. Studies have also showed it caused cancer in lab animals but no proof of cancer in humans.
Saccharine is banned in Canada.
3. Aspartame (Equal)
Aspartame is about 180 times sweeter than real sugar and is also used best in drinks. It’s a chemical that once digested breaks down to methanol and formaldehyde – two compounds used in embalming.
Aspartame has been linked to fibromyalgia, arthritis and cancer.
4. Agave syrup
One of the problems with agave syrup is finding the right product. Natural agave products are good and won’t spike blood sugar like regular sugar does. However, if the agave syrup contains fructose or high fructose corn syrup it will cause blood sugar to rise just as fast as regular sugar. Agave syrup has 1/3 of the taste as regular sugar and actually has 20 calories/teaspoon compared to regular sugars 15 calories/teaspoon; watch your calories if you’re trying to lose weight.
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol that is only partially absorbed of the body and doesn’t raise blood sugar levels. It only contains 9 calories/teaspoon and is very low in the Glycemic Index. Xylitol is often used in drinks and can be used in baking. Xylitol have antibacterial properties and are therefore often used as a sweetener in sugar free gum. It’s said to be a safe choice but overuse can cause severe stomach ache, gas and diarrhea.
So what is the answer?
It looks like your best choice is to turn to Stevia, an herb found in South America used for hundreds of years. Some Stevia products have a bitter aftertaste and therefore people turn away from it. My favorite brand is NuStevia found at Whole Foods; it does not have an aftertaste. New products like Sweetleaf and Truvia are made from the sweetest part of the plant and neither have a bitter aftertaste. Stevia products are sweeter than regular sugar and can be used in drinks and in baking. Stevia has almost no GI and won’t spike blood sugar levels, making it a favorite for diabetes and carb controlled diets.
To sum up; please keep in mind this is just skimming the top of all the information out there and I encourage you to read and learn about your choice of sugar substitute. More importantly, remember anything is okay in moderation and, after reading all the different side effects, you might decide regular sugar, honey or molasses will be the way to go for you. Moderation is the key here and for those of you who choose to compete, choose your evil: a few months without sugar or sugar substitute that might have as yet unknown side effects. Just make sure you control what you put in your body and know how you will react to it.
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