A Sweet Escape
It’s undeniable; America has a major sweet tooth. In fact, the average American consumes 20 teaspoons of sugar a day! This is a problem because the excessive sugar intake has helped feed the country’s obesity epidemic, linking sugar intake to heart and other lifestyle diseases. In order to lose weight and still get a sweet fix, many people have turned to artificial sweeteners, which have no calories. However, with such controversy a surrounding the safety of sugar substitutes, it is hard to tell which color packet you should reach for: white, pink, blue, or yellow. To clarify, here is the latest health info on four of the main sweeteners.
Sugar: (white packet)
Regular sugar is by far the most commonly used sweetener and is found in everything from processed foods to home baked goods. Almost 60% of sugar intake comes from corn sweeteners, which are main ingredients in sodas and other flavored drinks. The remaining 40% is sucrose or table sugar. With 15 calories per teaspoon, large quantities of sugary foods lead to a surplus of calories and thus, cause weight gain. Obesity is a major risk factor for heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and many more. It should also be noted that people with diabetes, should avoid sugar because of its effects on blood glucose levels.
Aspartame: (blue packet)
Aspartame, also known as NuetraSweet and Equal, is found in thousands of processed foods across the US. The sweetener, approved by the FDA, has faced some health controversy over the years. Many have complained of adverse side effects such as systemic lupus, vision problems, headaches, brain tumors, seizures, behavioral changes, and fatigue. In fact, jump on the internet and you will find numerous websites calling for a ban on the sweetener. However, according to the FDA, there a lack of credible evidence proving a clear link between aspartame and these health conditions. The FDA and many other heath agencies across the world stand behind their approval of the sweetener and say it is safe for the general population and for people with diabetes. Aspartame is common in processed foods, has a long shelf life, but is not good for baking because it degrades when heated.
Saccharin: (pink packet)
Saccharin, or Sweet’N Low, has been widely used for a century but its safety has been repeatedly called into question. In a study in the 1970’s high doses of saccharin were shown to lead to bladder cancer in male rats, which lead to its ban. The ban was soon removed because it was said the study used unrealistically high doses of saccharin on the subjects. Since then, controversy has surrounded the sweetener and its possible link to cancer. With limited evidence linking it with cancer in humans rather than animals, the jury is still out. Saccharin is widely used in processed foods and is used for baking because it has a high heat tolerance.
Sucralose: (yellow packet)
Sucralose is best known as Splenda and is a recent addition to the list of FDA approved sweeteners. It tastes like sugar because it is derived from sucrose or table sugar, but it has no calories because the body cannot digest it. Sucralose has not been shown to pose any health problems. It doesn’t lead to tooth decay or alter blood glucose levels, making it an option for diabetics. It is also good for baking. More and more, products are being made with suralose instead of other artificial sweeteners because it tastes more like sugar, poses no known health risks, and consumer demand for it is rising. If you are going to consume a sugar substitute, this is by far your best option.
How do you know which foods contain sweeteners? Added sugars and “fake” sugars are most commonly found in sweetened drinks, cereals, pre-packaged or processed foods such as baked goods, ice cream, and basically anything sweet. A sure fire way to tell what you are consuming is to read the label on the box. To find sugar, look under the carbohydrate section on the nutrition facts and it will have its own category. Foods with artificial sweeteners tend to have a “no sugar added” or “low carb” claim on them. You can tell which kind of sweetener is in the product by looking for it in the ingredients list.
Which Is Sweetest For Your Health?
It is a complex question. Is it better to eat nutrient-deficient calories and possibly gain weight, or to consume fake and chemically altered sweeteners, which have no calories, but may pose other health risks? With the information currently available, it would be wise to limit all four of these sweeteners from your diet. If you are in the mood for something sweet, you should opt for something with Splenda (sucralose) or go for the real deal and splurge on a sugary treat. It is better to put a real food or a food-derived substance in your body, than large doses of chemicals.