By: Jillian Weissman, MD, PGY-2 TMH FMRP
Sugar. It’s what makes our most favorite sweet treats so delicious. Unfortunately, with that deliciousness comes calories (four calories per gram to be exact). On a daily basis, I find myself discussing healthy eating techniques with my patients. Often, I am asked about sugar alternatives and which ones are the best to use. The most important thing to remember is that while artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes may help with weight management, they aren’t the magic answer. There is no “quick fix” to losing weight.
The list of sweeteners available on the market is vast, but some of the most common include Agave, Aspartame (Equal/Nutrasweet), Saccharin (Sweet N’ Low), Sorbitol, Splenda and Stevia. They are all generally recognized as safe by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and each sweetener has acceptable daily intake (ADI) which is the amount that the FDA feels is safe to consume each day. All of these sweeteners are man-made with the exception of Stevia. Stevia originates from a plant, however chemicals are used during processing. Splenda is heat stable and known to be good for cooking and baking. Natural sweeteners, such as Agave, are often promoted as healthier than processed table sugar or other sugar substitutes, however they also undergo refining and processing. Sorbitol is a type of sugar alcohol that can be found in a majority of sugar-free sweets. It has been reported that it can cause bloating and diarrhea in some people (independent of quantity).
Substitutes can help to curb cravings and make it easier to decrease your sugar intake. Products that contain sugar substitutes include diet soda, sugar-free syrup, gum, ice cream, fruit cups, light yogurt, pudding, and many more. It is important to remember that “sugar-free” does not mean calorie free. While the sugar substitutes themselves are calorie-free, the foods they are added to generally are not. Reading labels is essential.
Nothing replaces eating whole foods and exercising. Even though artificial sweeteners might not be bad for you, the most nutritious foods and drinks don’t contain sugar substitutes. The real key to a healthy lifestyle is consistency, moderation and self-control.