Tuesday, July 17, 2012
The Skinny on Sweeteners
“Added sugar,” “naturally occurring sugar,” “sugar substitutes,” and more! Oh sweet confusion! But don’t fret. Heather K. Jones, RD The Diet P.I. is here to help you sort out the sugars!
Naturally Occurring Sugars:
Naturally occurring sugars are those which are an inherent part of a food or drink—and also help explain why some foods just naturally taste sweeter than others. Take, for example, the difference between fruits and veggies. Many fruits have more naturally occurring sugars (called fructose) than veggies, causing them to taste sweeter, even without the addition of anything to step up the sweetness. And it’s A-ok to enjoy foods with naturally occurring sugar without guilt, since you also get the benefit of vitamins and minerals that are part of the natural makeup.
Added sugars are sugars that are just as they sound—added to foods or drinks, not found naturally in them. Processed foods and beverages with a lot of calories from added sugars can be nutrition bombs, since you end up investing a lot of calories, and get little benefit for your body in return. Be on the lookout for added sugar by reading the ingredient label of drinks or foods. Sucrose (table sugar), fructose (fruit sugar), lactose (milk sugar), glucose, maltose, and dextrose are popular forms of sugar you might see added. Other “sweet clues” for added sugar are: brown sugar, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, syrup, fruit juice concentrate, invert sugar, cane juice, and malt syrup.
There is nothing wrong with a little sugar, the problem is we eat WAY too much of it. Moderation is key. Limit yourself to around ten teaspoons (40 grams) or less of sugar per day. And because the closer to nature your food is, the better, stick with minimally processed sugar choices—think honey, raw sugar, real maple syrup, and molasses. (Agave, by the way, is not the best choice. While it comes from the blue agave plant, it is processed to form a syrup or nectar, and nutritionally and functionally, agave syrup is similar to high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose (Karo) syrup.)
Low- and no-calorie sweeteners are everywhere. Grocery store shelves are crammed with products labeled "reduced sugar" and "no added sugar," but buyers should be beware…
• Sucralose (Splenda) is sucrose (sugar) chemically combined with chlorine. Splenda’s controversial “made from sugar so it’s tastes like sugar” marketing slogan is technically true, but very misleading, as the final chemically-altered product contains no sugar.
• Aspartame (Equal) is a synthetic sweetener made by combining two amino acids. It appears to be safe, however, a small amount of people may develop headaches after ingesting it, and it should be avoided if you have the rare disorder phenylketonuria (PKU).
• Sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, lactitol, isomalt, erythritol) are safe, but they are poorly digested and may cause a laxative effect or gas and bloating if consumed in large amounts.
• Acesulfame (Sweet One, Sunett) is a synthetic chemical that has not been adequately tested. It might be safe, but more research is needed to tell.
• Saccharin (Sweet 'N Low) is a synthetic chemical that caused an increased risk of bladder cancer in the only human study to date. More testing is needed.
• Stevia (Sweet Leaf, Honey Leaf, Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf, OnlySweet, Stevia In The Raw) is an extract from a shrub that grows in South America. For safety reasons, the FDA does not allow Stevia to be used as an ingredient in food; it can, however, be sold as a supplement (the rules for supplements are not as stringent as for food). Although Stevia is promoted as a natural alternative to synthetic sweeteners, it may or may not be safe; more research is needed to tell.
The sweet bottom line: A small amount of any low- and no-calorie sweetener is probably not problematic for most people, but if you want to play it safe (and I know I do!), a clean and natural diet free of artificial sweeteners is the way to go. Stick with minimally processed real sugar, and just eat less (a lot less) of it. And, of course, the absolute best way to satisfy your sweet tooth is with good old-fashioned whole fruit!