Most likely you are aware that too much added sugar can have negative impacts on your health. When we want to lose weight we tend to go for diet food, with alternative sugar substitutes and diet beverages to help reduce our daily calorie intake. Instead of natural sweeteners, such as sugarcane, honey, maple syrup, or molasses, we look often for artificial sweeteners that add little or no calories to the foods they flavor.
The FDA has approved a new high-intensity sweetener called “advantame.” Other artificial sweeteners are often marketed under various brand names, for example Sweet’N Low, which is a brand name for saccharin, or Equal, a brand name for aspartame. Advantame does not yet have a brand name. But examples of uses for which it has been approved include baked goods, non-alcoholic beverages (including soft drinks), chewing gum, confectionary and frostings, frozen desserts, gelatins and puddings, jams and jellies, processed fruits and fruit juices, toppings, and syrups.
But will it really help us to lose weight? I actually use sugar substitutes too, especially when I am cooking low carbohydrate baked goods. I try to use natural products, such as raw stevia, but I realized that they do not really satisfy me as much as real sugar does. So I asked the question, will they really help me to reduce calories, and if so what effect will it have on my body, especially in the long term? I found that there’s a few things that we need to be aware of.
• There’s quite a number of sugar substitutes on the market, but the FDA approved ones are sucrose (same sweetness as sugar), saccharin (Sweet’N Low — 300x sweeter than sugar), aspartame (Nutra Sweet — 200x sweeter), Splenda (sucralose — 600x sweeter), and acesulfame-K (Sweet One — 200x sweeter). The latest high-intensity sweetener approved by the FDA is Neotame (advantame — more than 10,000 sweeter than sugar!). In addition to these six high-intensity sweeteners that are FDA-approved as food additives, the FDA has received and not questioned GRAS notices for two types of plant/fruit based high-intensity sweeteners, including certain steviol glycosides obtained from the leaves of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni) and extracts obtained from Siraitia grosvenorii Swingle fruit, also known as luo han guo or monk fruit. Unfortunately these are not listed together with recommended amounts on food labels, so we can not know how much we are able to safely consume.
• Our body has sweet taste receptors not only on the tongue. We actually have them in our brain, bones, lungs, liver, pancreas, intestine, adipose tissue (fat cells) and in the male testes. For example, when we consume artificial sweeteners the brain does not get a reward (dopamine) as it does for natural sugar, and this can cause us to still keep seeking the reward and keep eating.
• Some studies have shown no effects on insulin, which is the hormone that the body uses to regulate blood sugar levels, after consuming artificial sweeteners. Some studies, however, have shown effects on insulin. It actually makes sense that artificial sweeteners will spike insulin levels, especially when we consider that the body has sweet taste receptors in the pancreas. We also need to question the effects that they can have on the gut microbiome too.
Unfortunately, there is not yet enough scientific evidence to show that these concerns are true. But if you feel that you are consuming too many artificial sweeteners, and you are not getting the results that you want, then you may need to consider experimenting with cutting back on your intake. I found when experimenting on myself, and with my clients too, that consuming too much artificial sweetener — such as adding to coffee, tea and cooking with them — increases hunger levels and impairs digestion too.
I did not really find that one type of sweetener is a lot better than the others. I did find, however, that monk fruit had the least negative effects, when compared to others like stevia, xylitol, and erythritol. Also do remember that you will find these sweeteners almost everywhere, especially in diet foods, gums, medicine, baked goods, jam and dairy products, and much, much more… Please do read the labels carefully so that you know what you’re consuming. You may need to just try out the alternatives and pay close attention to how your body reacts, to know which are best for you.
Ayda Ersoy, Nutritionist (Dip.C.N., Dip.S.N.), Master Trainer (CPT ACE, NCSF, CanfitPro), Registered Yoga Teacher, Founder, Health Angel Nutrition, Fitness and Wellness, Founder, SMS (Stability, Mobility Strength) Intuitive Training System.