Sugar- artificial or the real thing?

Sugar and Sweets



Tiffany Batsakis, MS, RD, LD                                                                                                                                   Registered Dietitian

Meals on Wheels of San Antonio

People always ask me if it’s OK to use artificial sweeteners or if it’s better to use the “real thing,” sugar.  It seems as if every week there are new studies, some say use it, some don’t…  Let me give you my take!  Wanting something sweet is normal, it is actually part of our physiology, although preferred levels of sweetness will vary between people.  According to the FDA, all approved sweeteners in use in the United States are considered safe, but do they cause weight gain? Do they contribute calories to the diet?  Do they aid in weight loss?  Do they affect blood glucose levels?  Do they cause cancer?

In short, it is safe to use artificial sweeteners, but like I always say, all things in moderation.  I would not want you to go and drink a liter of coke, but I also wouldn’t want you to go drink a liter of diet Coke!  An 8 oz. glass, on occasion, however, is OK in my book!  With moderation in mind, there are a few things to consider when making decisions to sweetener choices.  When it comes to weight loss or maintaining a healthy body weight, our calorie intake has to balance out at the end of the day to meet our goals.  So, if you want to lose weight, you have to consume fewer calories than needed to maintain your weight (and everybody is different, so each person has different requirements- we can maybe save that for another blog).  Non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS), like Splenda, sweet and low, and equal, can provide the sweetness we desire without the calories.  For some people, this may be beneficial because it allows them to stick to a meal plan or diet that is manageable for them.  When looking at a calorie controlled diet, this is helpful as NNSs do not contribute calories whereas foods such as sugar and honey do.  Sometimes, however, people feel they are “saving” calories when using NNSs, so they have a tendency to eat more foods.  As a result, their calorie intake increases and eventually, they will gain weight.  This phenomenon can be avoided though by staying within the amount of calories your body needs and, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, we do need to control the total amount of calories consumed in a day.  If we lose body fat and achieve a healthy weight, we can lower the risk of becoming overweight or obese.

Many diabetics opt for NNS because they do not raise blood sugar levels.  Some people do not agree with this, but the American Diabetes Association states that non-nutritive sweeteners are safe when used within the limits set by the Food and Drug Administration.  They help control carbohydrate intake in diabetics and that is important in that population.

If you want to limit both sugar and artificial sweeteners, that is completely OK.  There are some other natural options you can try as well.  Stevia, monk fruit, and xylitol are all natural, low calorie options.  You can find them at your local grocer and they are marketed with different names including Sweet Leaf, Sun Crystals, Stevia, Truvia, and PureVia (Stevia); Monk Fruit comes from a Chinese fruit called Lo Han Kuo, and xylitol is extracted from hardwoods or corn and some brand names are XyloSweet, Miracle Sweet, and Nature’s Provision.

Like I said, all foods, including sugars and non-nutritive sweeteners should be consumed in moderation.  According to the Institute of Medicine, added sugars should not be more than 25% of one’s overall total calorie intake.  We need to eat food that gives us vitamins and minerals and foods high in sugars typically do not do that.  The American Heart Association recommends minimizing the intake of sugar sweetened foods and beverages and states most women should not have more than 6 tsp (25 g) of added sugar per day and men should not have more than 10 tsp (38 g) per day.  If you want to replace some added sugars with artificial sweeteners, that is ok, just remember- all things in moderation!

Click here to see how much sugar is in some of the food you may be eating regularly!

If you have any questions, please leave a comment!


Behind the scenes, delicious and nutritious!


Last week, I went to Lux bakery with one of my UIW students, Andrea.  We sampled some of the goodies we serve here at MOW and had a tour of the facility. Please read her story below. The picture is of the strawberry oatmeal chia bar we serve.


My name is Andrea and I’m an international student at UIW, about to finish my bachelor’s degree in Nutrition and Dietetics. This semester I had the awesome opportunity of completing my practice hours for a Practicum in Nutrition class at Meals on Wheels, learning from Tiffany Batsakis, the registered dietitian. As a Mexican citizen, I’ve had the opportunity to learn a lot from the US culture and vice versa; at Meals on Wheels, I’ve been able to give my thoughts and incorporate my own culture into the meal planning process. There is a big Hispanic population in San Antonio.  Tiffany takes client preferences AND nutrition guidelines into consideration when menu planning, so a project for me was to create a new Mexican flavored meal to serve to the clients.   The meal we put together was the pork pozole that was served on April 16th.  We had to modify the original recipe a bit so it could be served in the tray, but all in all, the dish was pretty tasty!  I’ve also learned how to implement variety, flavor, health, and work within a budget when creating menus. I’ve been able to experience the importance of analyzing the ingredients in the meals that are distributed every day to make sure the clients receive the most nutritious meal possible.  I’m glad that I’ve been able to put into practice what I have learned throughout my Nutrition career.


I also got to go with Tiffany to visit a client to talk to her about diabetes and advise her on making healthier lifestyle choices. This was a really nice experience because we got to help someone by simply talking to them and listening to their concerns. Every facility that serves food to seniors follows established safety guidelines.  I learned about this when I accompanied Tiffany for an inspection at Grace Place, the Alzheimer’s Day Care Facility.  I even attended a presentation given by Tiffany on the basics of a nutritious diet for seniors.  I was able to take notes on how to give a presentation to that specific audience and learned several facts myself!


I have gained a huge respect for all the people who make Meals on Wheels possible. I learned how all of the departments work together at Meals on Wheels to make meal delivery possible.  I had the opportunity to go out with a staff driver to deliver meals and meet the clients, I’ve been out with a Case Worker and learned what is behind the process of the Referral for Services system, and I’ve seen how the other areas of Christian Senior Services work. It feels great to see the people who work there are happy about the job they do and feel gratification for helping others. I’ve had an incredible experience at Meals on Wheels and I’ve learned more than I could have imagined!