Imagine you are at your coffee house with a great cup of freshly brewed coffee. You find yourself in front of the condiment bar faced with a wide assortment of sugars and sweeteners. Which one to choose? With the best intentions, you reach for the artificial sweeteners; I mean you are watching your sugar intake right? Although you may not be spiking your blood sugar, you may be creating additional obstacles on your path to health and wellness. Let’s explore the $10.5 billion industry of artificial sweeteners and how they compare to table sugar.
Aritificial Sweeteners vs. Sugar
According to studies conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, “Artificial sweeteners may affect the body’s ability to gauge how many calories are being consumed.” One study found that those who drank artificially sweetened beverages had a 47% higher increase in BMI (body mass index) than those that drank regular sugar beverages.
Additionally, recent studies have shown how sugar and artificial sweeteners affect the brain in very different ways. Our brain responds to sweetness with signals to consume more calories, in addition to increasing your craving for more sugar. However, when we consume artificial sweeteners, it provides a sweet taste without any calories and our brain continues to signal for more. This leads to increased cravings for more sweet foods and drinks, which adds up to additional “nutrient-less” foods – empty calories.
The University of California – San Diego conducted MRI scans on the brain activity of volunteers after sipping sugar-water and artificially sweetened-water. What they found is that sugar activates particular regions in the brain associated with “food reward,” or that feeling of satisfaction. However, artificial sweeteners did not trigger the same “reward” response in the brain. The University concluded that “sugar signals a positive feeling of reward, while artificial sweeteners may not be an effective way to manage cravings for sweets.”
Here is a quick breakdown of some artificial sweeteners and their taste comparison to sugar:
Sucrose: (table sugar)
Calories: 16 per teaspoon
*Should make up no more than 5-10% of your diet
*No nutritional value
Calories: 20 per teaspoon
*tastes sweeter than honey, in theory, can use less
*contains more fructose than table sugar, which is less likely to spike your blood sugar than sucrose
*more likely to reduce your metabolism and increase insulin sensitivity
*same calories as honey (per teaspoon), but with very little antioxidants
Aspartame: (Equal, Nutrasweet)
*180 times sweeter than table sugar
*Approved by FDA in 1981
*is constantly being evaluated for possible links to weight gain and cancer; no evidence to support claims
Stevia: (Truvia, Pure Via)
*300 times sweeter than table sugar
*the FDA has allowed companies to use an isolated chemical from stevia as food additive, calling the chemical “generally recognized as safe.”
*in large amounts, may cause low blood pressure, which would be of concern to some taking blood pressure medications
Saccharin: (Sweet ‘N Low)
*300 times sweeter than table sugar
*Studies in early 1970’s revealed a link between saccharin and bladder cancer in lab rats, mandating a warning label in 1981
*Later studies showed that the link between saccharin and bladder cancer may only occur in rats, thus being removed from the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens in 2000 (effectively removing any warning labels.)
*600 times sweeter than table sugar
*Received approval by FDA in 1998
*one study was published showing its negative impact on the immune system – this study was later dismissed as follow-up studies did not find a correlation
The important thing to remember is that natural and unprocessed is always better when it comes to your foods and moderation, moderation, moderation! You must be your biggest cheerleader for your health and wellness goals, and the rest will fall into place.