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The Truth about Artificial Sweeteners

artificialsweeteners Sep 08, 2020

There’s a lot of mixed messaging out there regarding artificial sweeteners, which makes it difficult to sort fact from fiction. Today, we will discuss the evidence behind artificial sweeteners and how they can be used safely. We will also look at more natural alternatives to sweetening food. 



The purpose of artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are generally used as a sugar alternative. Sugar is a significant component of many of the foods we eat and acts as a sweetener, preservative and bulking agent. Generally, it is found in highly processed foods like biscuits, cakes, muesli bars, yoghurts, soft drinks, and juices.

When eaten in excess, these foods can contribute to weight gain and elevated blood glucose levels. Replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener can help to reduce kilojoule intake and support better blood glucose control. This is important to note because sugar-free alternatives are a great tool for weight loss and better management of chronic conditions, like diabetes and heart disease.

 

Disadvantages of artificial sweeteners

Although not extreme, it is essential to discuss some of the weaknesses that are related to the use of artificial sweeteners. 

  1. Taste changes. Long-term use of artificial sweeteners may change the way food tastes. We only need a small amount of artificial sweetener to mimic sugar, as artificial sweeteners have an intense flavour. Therefore, if used frequently, artificial sweeteners can overstimulate our sugar receptors, which may limit our tolerance to complex flavours.
  2. Cravings. Regular use of artificial sweeteners can increase our cravings for sweet foods. As a result, people may lean more towards sweet, nutrient-poor foods, increasing the risk of weight gain.
  3. Gastrointestinal symptoms. Overeating artificially sweetened food can cause stomach upset, like cramping or diarrhoea.
  4. Unpleasant after taste. Artificial sweeteners can have a sickly-sweet after taste.

 

Types of artificial sweeteners

These days there are a HUGE number of artificial sweeteners on the market. Many people recognise that Stevia or Equal are artificial sweeteners; however, there are many more. Examples include NutraSweet, Splenda and NatVia. The beauty with these sweeteners is that you only need to add a small amount to a recipe, to replicate that sweet, sugar taste.

 

Common foods sweetened artificially 

Artificial sweeteners can be found in a variety of store-bought foods and drinks. Common examples include:

  • Sugar-free maple syrup
  • Chocolate with no added sugar
  • Pepsi Max
  • Sugar-free mints
  • Chobani Fit
  • Sugar-free brownie mix

Artificial sweeteners are commonly found in the ‘health food’ section of supermarkets, with labels reading ‘sugar-free’ or ‘no added sugar’.

 

Types of sugar substitutes

Xylitol and erythritol are often regarded as sugar substitutes, rather than artificial sweeteners. This is because they act as a bulking agent, as well as providing that sugar-like taste. For instance, if a recipe calls for ½ a cup of sugar, you can replace the sugar with ½ a cup of xylitol. No conversions required.  

 

Types of natural sweeteners

There are a variety of ways we can sweeten our food naturally, without the use of table sugar or artificial sweeteners. Examples of natural sweeteners include honey, fruit, dried fruit and fruit juice. These foods still contain sugar, but they also come with added nutrients, like vitamins, minerals and fibre. It’s essential to be mindful regarding the amount of ‘natural sweetener’ we are adding to our cooking, as we don’t want to go overboard on the kilojoule content.



As you can see, there are many ways we can sweeten our food. On the one hand, we have artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes. On the other hand, we have natural sweeteners. Therefore, there is no right or wrong sweetener to use. Instead, we need to avoid overconsuming excessive amounts of either sweetener category. For tailored advice regarding what’s best for your personal situation, contact CQ Nutrition to organise a consult with a dietitian.

Written by Annabel Johnston, BAppSc&MDietPrac

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