“To sweeten or not sweeten”. That phrase may as well be “to be or not to be”, because the more you use sweeteners the less likely you are “to be”.
Sweeteners are food additives used to enhance the taste of sweetness of a food or meal. Sweeteners can be classified as natural or artificial, and they can be classified as nutritive (providing calories) or non-nutritive (providing no calories). But, all of them effect your body’s physiology in one way or another.
Nutritive Sweeteners: The Good and Bad
In addition to providing calories which can be good or bad depending on your situation, nutritive sweeteners act as preservatives (jams and jellies). They also are necessary for fermentation for breads and pickles. They also help maintain the freshness and quality of some foods. That’s the good.
The bad is they really are not necessary and adversely affect insulin levels by raising them and high insulin levels ultimately are what makes us fat. Excess sugar in the diet also contribute to glycation – the attachment of sugar to proteins. Enzymes and hormones are largely protein based molecules and glycation essentially “deactivates” them.
It’s best to avoid foods where sugar has been added, that’s if you want “to be” longer.
Examples of Nutritive Sweeteners
Sweeteners go by many different names so it’s important to recognize them when reading food labels.
- Brown sugar
- Confectioner’s sugar
- Corn sweeteners
- Maple sugar
- Raw sugar
Most non-nutritive sweeteners are artificial, or “man-made” (stevia is an exception). Touted as being supposedly safe to consume you may wish to consider that the FDA receives more complaints about aspartame (Equal® and NutraSweet®) than any other product, and sucralose (Splenda®) was originally developed as an insecticide. It works great for killing household ants.
And aspartame has been associated with a multitude of neurologic symptoms. Each individual really needs to do their own research on artificial sweeteners, but my recommendation is to avoid them.
A recent study found that people who consumed diet soft drinks daily suffered more cardiovascular events.
Non-nutritive sweeteners are anywhere from 30 to 700 times sweeter than sucrose or table sugar. Though they don’t add calories, which certainly sounds appealing if you are overweight, artificial sweeteners can interfere with the brain’s ability to tell that you have eaten enough and some studies show a tendency to overeat with some artificial sweeteners.
At this time stevia seems to be the safest non-nutritive sweetener, and again it is natural and is marketed as Truvia® and Sun Crystals®. It does not raise blood sugar levels and it stimulated insulin release and improved insulin sensitivity in some studies.
Examples of Non-Nutritive Sweeteners
In addition to aspartame, sucralose, and stevia, other non-nutritive sweeteners available in the US include acesulfame K (Sunett® and Sweet One®), and saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low®).
Avoid sweeteners of all kind as much as possible and that’s especially true if you are overweight or struggle to maintain safe blood glucose and insulin levels. If you must you a sweetener use a natural one including it as part of a well-balanced diet in conjunction with eating lean protein and/or healthy fats. Honey, agave nectar, and molasses are acceptable along with glucose, fructose, and lactose naturally found in fruits, vegetables, and dairy products.
See related articles.
“Sugar: the News Isn’t So Sweet”
“Too Early for the Next Meal?: Try These Healthy Snacks”