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Sweeteners: Are they a Sensible Alternative to Sugar?

We’re all pretty familiar about the health impact of sugar and the importance of watching our intake, we’ve even covered it on this very blog. Since so many of us are trying to cut the amount of sugar in our diets, sweeteners are getting more attention as an alternative to get that sweet fix. However, there are concerns about the kind of effect these may have on our health and whether or not they are entirely safe. But what is the truth about sweeteners?

Are Sweeteners Safe for Our Heath?

It’s usually assumed that all sweeteners are cooked up in a laboratory which causes some people to avoid them. While this is true for many there are also those made from natural sources. These natural sweeteners are made from what’s known as Stevia. Stevia is produced from the leaves of a Stevia rebaudiana plant and is 300 times sweeter than sugar. This natural origin makes it popular sugar substitute for those wanting a sweet kick with no calories and the reassuring reputation of natural products, but this doesn’t mean synthetic alternatives have no place.

Synthetic sweeteners can often turn people off a ‘sugar free’ version of a product, but synthetic doesn’t mean its unhealthy. Common varieties like saccharine and aspartame have ominous sounding names but there are no associated health risks. Additionally, their intense levels of sweetness make them ideal for products like soft drinks as only a small amount needs to be added, making them cost effective. There are also larger more ‘sugar like’ varieties such as xylitol which works well in confectionary. These may be made in a lab but they are subject to the same rigorous regulations as all food products would be, so they’re perfectly safe.

Can They Help Weight Loss?

Since sweeteners are a calorie free – or very low calorie – it seems reasonable that they can help keep the excess weight off, as it is so often claimed.

However, there are some theories that consuming sweetener based ‘diet’ snacks and drinks do not assist with losing weight and in some cases can do the opposite. It’s thought that due to the low-calorie content of these products they do not provide satiation, inadvertently causing a person consume more calories than they would have without the sweetener-based snack.

Ultimately, to get the potential benefit of sweetener-based products over sugar-based ones it requires self-discipline to avoid eating or drinking too much of anything else. The low and no calorie content that sweeteners provide can only be made the most of if the rest of your diet is not negatively affected by their consumption.

Are They Worth Using?

Generally, there is no reason for the vast majority of the population to avoid sweeteners in their food, natural or artificial. The only real exceptions are children under the age of three should avoid artificial sweeteners and those with the genetic condition phenylketonuria should avoid one particular artificial sweetener called aspartame.

Beyond these select cases the low calorie and low sugar content of sweetener-based items can help with weight loss and can even be a sensible choice for diabetics. What should be remembered is that they are not a quick fix to help lose weight and shouldn’t be relied upon or abused. Instead they are a helpful tool to help you get a sweet taste without consuming a load of sugar. As always, moderation is key.