Sugar substitutes are extremely popular for people who are watching their caloric intake. However, some studies have found that people who ate a larger amount of chemical-based sugar substitutes actually consumed more calories because the extra sweetness made them crave more sugar. Here’s a look at four sugar substitutes and other sweetener options.
The Big Offenders
Aspartame. This substitute is more commonly known as Equal or Nutrasweet on the grocery shelf, and can be found in lots of “no sugar added” foods that are marketed today–from yogurt to cookies to pudding. Probably more dangerous than all other substitutes, aspartame is digested by the body and breaks down into formaldahyde. This occurs when enzymes in the brain, breast and eye tissues convert methyl alcohol from aspartame to formaldahyde. The biggest problems with the toxic chemical are an increased risk of cancer, gene damage and birth defects. Some experts suggest that women and children avoid aspartame altogether.
Sucralose. More commonly known as Splenda, the FDA calls this substitute safe because it can’t be completely digested by your body. The parts that are digested, however, are broken down into chlorine–great for cleaning your pool, not so great in your GI tract. Splenda did pass lab screening in its early stages of development in the 1990s, but there were other side effects, such as paralysis and infertility in the rats that were studied.
Saccharin. Saccharin doesn’t break down into harmful chemicals like the other sugar substitutes, and therefore is considered safe. Just use it sparingly. It’s not natural, and a chemical is a chemical.
Alcohol-based Sweeteners. Sorbitol and other similar sweeteners, like xylitol, found in chewing gum, are plant-alcohol based and generally have no side effects. They have about half the calories of sugar, but are not calorie free. So yes, they are safe! But sorbitol does have some minor but adverse side effects. Sorbitol users sometimes complain of diarrhea, bloating and gas.
Stevia. This herb has been around for years in Africa and Japan. It’s about 200 times sweeter than sugar, so it can be used in smaller quantities. Stevia was not approved by the FDA as a food additive, so it can’t be found in food products as a sweetener. It can, however, be used for baking or cooking at home, sprinkling on your cereal or adding to coffee and tea.
Natural Sweeteners. Honey and sugar are natural, like the herb stevia, and are exponentially better for your body than chemical sweeteners. The trade off is the calorie content. Otherwise healthy eating and a balanced diet will keep those extra calories in check.
Natural Foods. Get your insulin spike from naturally sweet foods like apples, grapes and other seasonal fruits. These options also come with a serving of antioxidants, fiber and vitamins.
When all is said and done, a healthy diet is incredibly important. But before you choose to put a chemical in your body, do your homework and decide if the benefits outweigh the risks.