Did you know that the average American ingests 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day?
With 16 calories per teaspoon, that is 352 added calories per day or 2,464 added calories per week!
With sugar substitutes on the rise, I have been asked many questions such as:
- Do sugar alternatives actually help prevent weight gain or do they enhance the craving for sweet and, ultimately, lead to weight gain?
- Are they safe?
This month I am sharing with you some information about sugar substitutes.
Sugar Substitutes Approved by the Food and Drug Administration
Six sugar substitutes have been declared safe for human consumption by the FDA. There have been no harmful effects associated with these sugar substitutes, thus far. However, with a goal of eating clean, healthy and natural food, it’s important to be mindful of both sugar and sugar substitute intake.
- Saccharin, commonly referred to as Sweet ‘N Low, is the first invented sugar substitute and is 300 times sweeter than sugar.
- Aspartame, commonly referred to as Equal, is one of the most commonly used sweeteners and is 200 times sweeter than sugar. (Note: people with phenylketonuria cannot properly process aspartame and, therefore, should avoid consuming this product.)
- Acesulfame Potassium, also known as Ace K or Sweet One, is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Each tabletop packet contains the sweetness of two teaspoons of sugar. Ace K does not break down in heat so it can be used in cooking or baking. 95% of the consumed sweetener ends up excreted in the urine because the body can’t break it down.
- Sucralose, commonly referred to as Splenda, has a longer shelf life than other sweeteners and is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Sucralose does not break down in heat so it can be used in cooking or baking. The structure of sucralose prevents it from being absorbed in the body so it is eliminated through urine and feces.
- Stevia, commonly referred to as Truvia, comes from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana Bertoni bush, native to Central and South America, and is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar.
- Neotame, commonly referred NutraSweet, is 7,000-13,000 times sweeter than sugar, but is not available for purchase at this time. Neotame does not break down in heat so it can be used in cooking or baking.
These sugar substitutes are determined safe for consumption by the FDA and are a zero or low calorie alternative to sugar. Typically, the body cannot break down or absorb sugar substitutes, causing them to be excreted through the urine or feces. This is the reason for the minimal calories. When asked if I had to choose one of these, which is best? I say Stevia, naturally derived from the Stevia plant.
But Do Sugar Alternatives Actually Help Prevent Weight Gain?
The majority of studies show that sugar substitutes do not increase appetite, sensation of hunger, or food intake. However, there are a few reports of increased hunger sensation. Generally speaking, if sugar is substituted with sugar substitutes and no other dietary changes are made, weight loss is to be expected.
However, unwanted weight gain often accompanies sugar substitutes. But why is this so? Although it is true that sugar substitutes alone offer calorie reduction, many people tend to overcompensate in other areas. This mindset can be detrimental to weight loss efforts. People may think that it is okay to overindulge in other areas because they overestimate the calories cut out by using sugar substitutes.
In addition to overconsumption, many people who regularly consume sugar substitutes also find themselves increasingly craving sweet foods. Frequent use of sugar substitutes results in over-stimulation of sugar receptors. This may cause naturally sweet foods, such as fruit, to taste less sweet, leading to the need for more sweetness to satisfy a craving. This is the addictive factor that many people associate with sugar and sugar substitutes alike. Increased exposure alters flavor preference.
Sugar substitutes, in particular, may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake. This may lead to craving more sweets, tending to choose sweet food over nutritious food, and weight gain. Sugar substitutes do not fully activate the food reward pathways like sugar does, but only partially activate the food reward pathway. This results in a lack of satisfaction and may increase appetite or food intake.
Does this seem confusing to you?
Well, you are not alone. Let’s drop the talk about calories. Let’s drop the talk about sugar and how to replace it. Let’s focus on the foods that are most nutritious for your body, from the inside out. If we focus on cooking more foods at home, balancing your vegetables, healthy fats, lean protein, and quality carbohydrates, that leaves little room for added sugar, refined sugar or a sugar substitute. If possible, keep it real and when you feel the need for some extra “sweetness” in your life, enjoy the good stuff, but in moderation and on occasion.