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!