How To Choose Between Natural And Artificial Sweeteners

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There’s no dearth of choices when it comes to sweeteners today. Not too long ago, if you wanted to sweeten your food or drinks, you’d simply sprinkle a bit of sugar. With growing concern about obesity and fitness, sugar substitutes became all the rage. Sweetening choices remained pretty steady until the fairly recent influx of artificial, natural, low calorie, zero calorie, low glycemic index, and other types of sweeteners.

Most of us tend to gravitate towards foods with a sweet taste, but you also want what’s most healthy for you and your family. Figuring out which sweetener to use can be overwhelming to say the least when you have such an abundance of choice.

Types of Sweeteners

There are two main types of sweeteners – nutritive and nonnutritive.

Nutritive

or those which contain calories, such as white and brown sugar, molasses, honey, and agave, all contain 4 calories in each gram just like other carbohydrates and sugar alcohols.

Non-nutritive sweeteners

on the other hand are calorie-free and include the likes of sucralose, stevia, saccharin, and aspartame. Most of these are sold under different brand names, so you need to check the labels carefully.

Nonnutritive sweeteners can be divided into artificial and natural, with the artificial ones being created by scientists in a lab, while the natural ones are created from sources found in nature, such as fruits and plants. All of these sweeteners have been tested, some a great deal, others less, and at this point, they have all been deemed safe, with the exception of saccharin, which has been shown to be linked to cancer in lab animals. That being said, the choice of natural vs. artificial is usually a personal one.

How To Choose A Sweetener

Nutritionally speaking, the decision is a bit more complicated as both nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners have their pros and cons. To help you make the choice that’s best for you and your family, we’ve gathered information from both research studies, as well as manufacturers, about the benefits and negatives of the different sweeteners.

The facts about nutritive sweeteners are pretty cut and dry. A high intake of foods and drinks with sweeteners can lead to dental caries. Of even greater concern is the fact that they replace other more nutrient dense foods in one’s diet, leading to weight gain.

When we look at nonnutritive sweeteners, things aren’t always so clear. At first glance it would appear that getting the sweet taste you like with no calories or impact on blood sugar levels would be a win-win, but it’s not as simple as that. Even though these sugar substitutes have been labeled as safe, the results of research have been mixed. Some studies demonstrate that they pose no risk to health, while others show they may increase the risk of a variety of diseases, including various cancers.  In addition, most of these sweeteners have not been around very long, which means that far more research is needed to effectively demonstrate that they pose no health risk when consumed for prolonged periods.

What adds to the confusion is the question of whether or not calorie-free sweeteners really do lead to an overall lower calorie intake, which would be beneficial in preventing weight gain and promoting weight loss.

A good deal of research has been done on this subject, specifically focusing on beverages – those sweetened with sugar and others with zero-calorie sweeteners.   Unfortunately, the results are again mixed. It’s been shown that food calories replace each other, but beverage calories don’t. In other words, beverages may make us feel full, but we don’t eat less food throughout the day simply because we ingested more calories through fluids. So, no matter the caloric content of the drinks we consume, we end up eating the same amount of food throughout the day. In light of this, you may be inclined to replace your sugar-sweetened, calorie-rich drinks with sugar-free, calorie-free drinks to lower your daily caloric intake.

However, the other side to it is that if you replace sugar-sweetened drinks with so-called diet drinks containing no calories, you will lose weight, but your weight loss would not be equivalent to going completely calorie free (equivalent to switching to water instead). The reasoning behind this research is that artificial sweeteners create that sensation of sweet and make your body taste sweet, but because liquid calories do not satiate like solids, you start to crave more sweet foods to feel satisfied and end up having more sweets.

Another point to consider when choosing a sweetener is whether it will work in the manner needed, in the context of taste. Sugar obviously sweetens, as do all other sweeteners, but it does much more than that as an ingredient in baking. It promotes browning, tenderizes, and helps keep baked goods moist; something that not all of the alternatives do. In addition, most recipes are created based on the sweetness of sugar, but many of these substitutes are much sweeter and you must alter the amount you use. Finally, not all of the sweeteners are heat safe – many lose their sweetness at high temperatures

As you can see, there’s a lot to consider when choosing a sweetener. Whatever your choice, it would be best to use sweeteners sparingly, while also limiting your intake of foods cooked with them.

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