If you are trying to lose weight, you are likely to be intuitively drawn to the yogurt with the low-calorie artificial sweetener, while by-passing the naturally sweetened variety. However, when the health benefits of artificial and natural sweeteners are broken down, molecule by molecule, we have a case of faulty logic. Natural sweeteners not only have a higher food energy content, but also provide important nutrients, and even the ability to prevent tooth decay.
The healthiest way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume by boosting your metabolism. The carbohydrates found in sugar, starch and dietary fiber store and transport energy, providing the body with vital energy. Yet, as with any foods, natural sweeteners should be used in moderation. Too much sugar can lead to obesity, hypertension, high blood pressure, pre-diabetes and, eventually, diabetes.
The importance of natural sweeteners in a healthy lifestyle has been valued since ancient times. The use of honey by athletes to enhance performance in ancient Olympic Games has been often cited, but how exactly did Grecian athletes benefit from honey? According to recent studies, honey provides a steady release and source of carbohydrates for athletes, helping them to achieve a higher level of endurance and power compared to those taking a placebo. Moreover, protein drinks sweetened with honey have been shown to help both muscles and glucose levels to recover at a faster rate than sports drinks sweetened with artificial sweeteners.
Nutrient-Rich Natural Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners, lacking high food energy and nutrients, are not unlike taking a placebo. Natural sweeteners, on the other hand, are a good source of food energy and nutrients. Not all natural sweeteners, however, deliver the same health benefits. Table sugar and fructose corn syrups deliver high carb content that is quickly converted to energy, but have limited nutritional value. When too much fructose is consumed, it stimulates fat production and raises cholesterol levels.
Among healthy natural sweeteners, black strap molasses has the highest nutritional value, including important minerals such as iron, calcium, potassium and magnesium. Dates provide a mild flavor and high fiber content. Nutrient-rich natural sweeteners from Asia are entering the Western diet, including the traditional and nutritious amazake, which is made from fermented rice and the exotic Luohanguo fruit from Southern China.
Cavity-Fighting Sugar Alcohols
A number of sugar alcohols derived from fruit and vegetables have been commoditized and now compete with popular artificial sweeteners. These natural sweeteners include lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. Unlike refined sugar, which leads to tooth decay, these natural sweeteners attack harmful micro-organisms. Together, bad bacteria and fermenting carbohydrates, namely sugar, create acid that erodes tooth enamel. Xylitol, a natural sweetener that is increasingly used in gum and toothpaste, prevents acid from developing and helps to maintain healthy pH levels.
The next time you are weighing the artificially sweetened against the all natural yogurt in the grocery store, consider the benefits of adding a dab of nutrient-rich honey to the start of an energized day.