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21-Nov-2018

Are sugar alternatives scientifically better than sugar?

Author: Dr. Jyoti / 11/21/2018 04:31:03 PM
 

Did your doctor just tell you to lower down your sugar intake? What did you do? Started looking for sugar alternatives!

While opting for a sugar alternative, what do you consider first? Definitely, the new buzz word ‘healthy’! Or do you prefer to go with the flow in the market?

To reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases such as heart diseases, diabetes in adults and children and to prevent unhealthy weight gain and dental caries, World Health Organisation has recommended the intake of free sugars not more than 10% of total energy intake. A further reduction to below 5% or roughly 25 grams or 6 table spoons is perfect for a healthy human being. In hidden forms, sugars are present in processed foods apart from sweets e.g. one table spoon of ketchup contains around 1 teaspoon or 4 grams of free sugar. However sugars in fresh fruits and vegetables and natural sugar in milk are considered healthy.

When it is time for you to reduce the sugar and calories in your diet, you generally turn to artificial sweeteners or foods marked as ‘sugar free’ or ‘diet’ or to natural edibles containing natural sugars. The question arises that how healthy are they for you?

Few years back, artificial sweeteners were the ‘it’ sugar alternatives for people who were supposed to reduce their sugar intake. As the time progressed and their effects on health of people were observed, their popularity started declining. The examples of artificial sweeteners include acesulfame potassium, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose. No doubt that the artificial sweeteners improve the appearance, colour, taste and texture of the food and are many times sweeter than the regular sugar. Due to this they are also known as intense sweeteners. Brand names which sell artificial sweeteners include Sunnet, Sweet One, Sugar Twin, Splenda, and Sugar Free. They contain negligible amount of calories and are therefore are used in many weight loss diets. Since artificial sugars have low impact to the blood sugar, they are used by people with diabetes or by people who are on the border line of acquiring diabetes.

The above stated advantages of artificial sugars have been overpowered by the adverse effects on health of individuals after their regular consumption. FDA has approved saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame K and neotame as artificial sweeteners. Among all, aspartame is considered to be the worst of the worse. Most artificial sugars are completely devoid of nutrition content. Many studies have suggested that their consumption increases the risk of developing cancer in human beings.

  1. 1. Saccharin: The daily intake of saccharin approved by FDA is 5 mg/ kg of body weight/day. It is 200 to 300 times sweeter than the natural sugar and is followed by a bitter after taste. Apart from being a carcinogen according to some studies, saccharin poses the threat to cause some allergic reactions in certain individuals who cannot tolerate sulfa drugs. Therefore, pregnant women and children are advised by many to avoid saccharin.

  2. 2. Aspartame: For aspartame, 50mg/kg of body weight/day intake has been approved by FDA. It is 160 to 220 times sweeter than the sucrose. Aspartame is a big no for people with metabolic disorder phenylketonuria since it gets metabolized in the body and is not excreted in the same form as ingested. Negative health consequences of ingesting aspartame have been included under the term ‘aspartame disease’. These symptoms include headache, dizziness, and change in mood, increased hunger, vomiting or nausea, abdominal pain and cramps, change in vision, diarrhoea, and fatigue.

  3. 3. Sucralose: According to FDA, sucralose can be ingested up to 5mg/kg of body weight/ day. It is 600 times sweeter than the table sugar. The presence of chlorine in sucralose makes it a potent carcinogen. It is also known to cause gastrointestinal disturbances e.g. bloating, gas, diarrhoea, nausea; skin irritations such as, rash, hives, redness, itching, swelling; respiratory symptoms e.g. wheezing, cough, runny nose, chest pains. It can also hamper your mood and cause palpitations, anxiety and depression.

  4. 4. Acesulfame K: The acceptable daily intake of acesulfame K has been set up to 15mg/kg of body weight/per day. It is 200 times sweeter than the table sugar. Long term exposure to methyl chloride in acesulfame K can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, bad effects on your liver, kidney, eyes and cancer in humans.

  5. 5. Neotame: For neotame, the acceptable daily intake is 18 mg/ kg of body weight/ day. It is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than the table sugar but should never be consumed by patients with phenylketonuria. Due to its structural similarity with aspartame, it may cause same problems as associated with aspartame. However, no scientific evidence exists for the same.

Apart from stressing your liver and kidney due to their chemical makeup, these artificial sweeteners may increase your food cravings and finally lead to weight gain which is contrary to their utilization for losing weight.

But you should not get troubled and anxious. Nature has the better options of natural sweeteners for you in its vast edible reservoir! As these alternatives come in natural forms, apart from having sweetening properties, they are often rich in additional nutrients.

  1. 1. Honey: The nectar of Gods! If you want to satisfy your sweet cravings with an edible packed with enzymes, antioxidants, iron, zinc, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B6, riboflavin and niacin; go for honey! Honey also helps in growth of healthy bacteria in your gut.

  2. 2. Dates: A complete blessing for your heart, dates add sweetness to your food. They are loaded with potassium, copper, iron, manganese, magnesium and vitamin B6 and reduce low density lipid cholesterol in blood as well as the risk of stroke. Being easily digested, dates also help in metabolising proteins, fats and carbohydrates. They can be easily added in your cakes and bars. The only precaution is that you should rinse your mouth after eating them so that they do not get stuck in your teeth.

  3. 3. Coconut sugar: Have you heard about coconut sugar? Coconut sugar is made from flower buds of coconut palm tree. Though it should be taken as sparingly as the traditional sugar, the low glycaemic load and rich mineral content of coconut sugar makes it a great alternative for diabetic and hypertensive patients.

  4. 4. Maple syrup: Maple syrup is generally made from the sap of sugar maple, red maple or black maple trees. It is an outstanding source of manganese, calcium, potassium and zinc. Its antioxidant content will also prevent the oxidative damage to your body by free radicals.

  5. 5. Chicory: Derived from the root of a perennial plant, chicory has a low glycaemic index. It contains vitamin B, soluble fibres and essential minerals like manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, iron and calcium. It also can prevent constipation and favour a healthy growth of bacteria in your colon. You should be careful while using it as it is not calorie free and is combined with other ingredients when sold as sweetener.

  6. 6. Monk fruit: A complete natural small melon found in tropical and sub tropical regions of South East Asia are the monk fruit. It is calorie free and is zero on glycaemic index. It is 150 to 200 times sweeter than the sugar and contains antioxidants to support your health. Since it is mostly sold as a blend containing sugar alcohols also, use it when needed.

  7. 7. Jaggery or Gur: Formed from the cane sugar or the palm sap, it is a healthier option with you milk and tea and sweet and savoury dishes than the traditional sugar. A good source of energy and an effective detoxifying edible, jaggery helps in losing weight and relieves constipation. Being rich in iron, it is also beneficial for the anaemic patients.

  8. 8. Cinnamon: Without any suspicion, this spice in your kitchen is an immune booster. It does not have extra calories and can increase your metabolism. When added to your morning cup of tea, coffee, milk or hot water; it can give a unique sweet taste.

  9. 9. Raisins: Rich in antioxidants and fibre, these sweet dried grapes can definitely find a place in your puddings and cakes.

  10. 10. Stevia: Stevia is 200 times as sugar as sugar and its zero calorie, zero carbohydrate content with no nasty side effects makes it a kind of ideal natural sweetener. Since crude Stevia extracts cannot be consumed, FDA has approved highly refined Stevia preparations as novel sweeteners.

 

Keeping in mind all the available sugar alternatives, do not forget that moderation is the key for consuming any sweetener, however natural it may be. You now have the whole list of sugar alternatives available. Be careful that you chose the healthiest sugar substitute and use the least amount possible. Right sugar in diet will keep you healthy throughout your life.