Food / Lifestyle / Research

The bittersweet truth about sugar substitutes

After giving up sugar, I found myself developing an addiction to artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes. I loved the fact that I was able to satisfy my sweet tooth without consuming unnecessary calories. But almost every time I would tear open a sachet of artificial sweetener, I would be forced to endure a lecture on the detrimental health effects by a concerned friend. Whether it’s the supposed carcinogenic effect, or the belief that artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes are actually more preventive to weight-loss than regular sugar, everyone has an opinion on artificial sweetener. So I decided to do some research on four favourite sugar substitutes to find out which ones to stay away from, and which ones aren’t so bad after all.

 Canderal

canderal red

Canderal (the original flavour) is one of South Africa’s most popular artificial sweeteners. It contains the ingredient aspartame, which has been the subject of controversy since its approval by the FDA in 1974. It has often been accused of being carcinogenic, but according to the American Cancer Society, there is no concrete evidence to support such theories. Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) have failed to find a link between Aspartame and Cancer, and have declared it safe for use.

 Vanilla Canderal

vanilla

Many people opt for Vanilla Canderal because it is aspartame free, and is instead made from sucralose. Sucralose is a zero calorie artificial sweetener made by replacing three select hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms. Sucralose, however, comes with its own health dangers, according to a review entitled Sucralose, A Synthetic Organochlorine Sweetener: Overview of Biological Issues.

 According to one of the authors of the review, Dr Schiffman, Sucralose reduces good gut bacteria. It alters the amount and quality of those beneficial bacterial counts that are found in your stomach, an alteration which is associated with weight gain and obesity.

Xylitol

xylitlol

Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol. It is absorbed more slowly than sugar, and so it does not cause a rapid spike in blood glucose.  Although it has the same amount of carbohydrates as sugar, it has very little effect on blood glucose and insulin levels because it is not broken down and metabolized, making it suitable for weight loss and diabetics. However, excessive use can have a laxative effect.

Stevia

stevia c

Stevia is a sugar substitute made from a plant native to South America that has a negligible effect on blood glucose levels. Many deem it the healthiest and most natural option because it is derived from a plant, although it has been associated with health concerns. It is suspected of having the ability to lower blood pressure, dangerous to anyone taking blood pressure medication.

Conclusion

It seems that every type of sugar substitute comes with pros and cons, but in my opinion Xylitol seems like the safest bet. The supposed after taste and the expensive price are factors affecting the popularity of artificial sweeteners, but the biggest issue seems to be the health concerns. The truth of the matter is that anything artificial is not going to be healthy, but the side effects of artificial sweeteners definitely aren’t as bad as they’re hyped up to be.

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