You’re probably well aware that too much sugar is bad for you. However, it’s also linked to diabetes, liver disease, and heart disease, according to the University of California San Francisco. But, with all the hype that’s out in the media about various “natural” sweetener alternatives, it can be a little confusing knowing which ones are the best.
Many of our food and beverages contain sugar substitutes and artificial sweeteners. They’re marked as “diet” or “sugar-free”. You typically won’t find them in healthy vending machines since they’re not considered ‘healthy’. Some examples are:
- Soft drinks
- Chewing gum
- Fruit juice
- Baked goods
- Ice cream and yogurt
So, what’s with these artificial sweeteners and what’s their role in your health and diet?
Most artificial sweeteners are man-made, synthetic sugar substitutes. They may, however, come from naturally occurring substances. They’re much sweeter than normal sugar.
Although these alternative sweeteners aren’t clearly linked to cancer in humans nor have any toxic effects like many critics claim, several large studies have found a connection between these sweeteners and weight gain.
Artificial Sweeteners: The Good and the Bad
Here are a few of the “not so great’ artificial sweeteners:
Aspartame: There have been claims made that this artificial sweetener has caused a variety of health effects such as:
- Digestive symptoms
- Changes in mood
These claims aren’t scientifically proven.
Agave: According to Consumer Reports, agave is high in fructose and made from extracted syrup from the agave plant. Concentrated forms of fructose may cause issues like higher levels of blood triglycerides that can affect heart health in a negative way.
Stevia: The type used in beverages, packaged foods, and packets doesn’t come from the plant extract and is a highly refined and processed ingredient. Stevia has whole-leaf and crude extract forms that the FDA still hasn’t approved as food additives due to safety concerns that are still unresolved.
Other artificial sweeteners to that could affect your diet include:
- Sweet ‘N’ Low
If you’re not keen on using these artificial sweeteners, it’s important that you check the labels of all processed and pre-packed foods for these fake sweeteners.
The best way you can sweeten up your drinks and food is by using frozen or fresh fruit. Fruit is a natural sweetener that doesn’t contain empty calories. Mix your oatmeal with some applesauce or a banana. Add berries to your chilled water or plain Greek yogurt. Use frozen fruit to make your smoothies. Add natural sweet flavor like almond extract, vanilla, or cocoa powder to your foods. Honey is a great natural sweetener too and is loaded with antioxidants.
Sugar substitutes or sugar alone is not healthy in excess. This is the case no matter what it’s in be it sweet tea, soda, fruit drinks or packets. If you must use artificial sweeteners, just use them sparingly. For snacking, try to opt for snacks out of healthy vending equipment instead that doesn’t carry sugary foods and beverages.