What’s the Skinny on Sugar Substitutes?

I eat sugar.  It goes into my coffee and the occasional cookie (well, OK, maybe a little more than occasional ;-)).  Why do I still eat sugar?  One reason is because it’s hard to find things that don’t have some form of added sugar.  Another reason is because I refuse (as far as it is incumbent upon me) to eat artificial sugar substitutes.  I’d rather reduce my intake or find a natural alternative than fill my body with chemicals that our bodies were not intended to consume.

Sugar substitutes come in two varieties artificial/synthetic (sucralose, aspartame, saccharin) and natural (stevia, agave nectar, honey).  When it comes to calories – a calorie, is a calorie, is a calorie – you have to be careful that the sweetener you choose isn’t actually increasing your calorie intake if your goal is weight loss.  Honey is pretty hefty in the calorie department per serving at 60 calories per tablespoon.  Unfortunately, I need at least a tablespoon, or two, to match the sweetness I’m used to in teas and coffee plus the honey imparts a different flavor that not everyone will enjoy.  Agave nectar is a good substitute if you can control your portions as well and get the cold pressed.  If you do some research you will learn agave nectar can be processed in different ways and each product will affect the body differently.  Finding the right one for you can be an expensive proposition.   I personally use stevia when I am making tea, lemonade, limeade or sugar-free soda (club soda flavored with lime/lemon).  I’ve tried it in coffee and do not care for the flavor it imparts in the coffee.  In the end I found that brown sugar is the best substitute for granulated white sugar for  me because it’s taste is similar enough and has 4 fewer calories per teaspoon.  Moderation is still the key.

As far as it is possible I steer clear of artificial sugar substitutes.  Not only do I not enjoy their flavor I do not appreciate their affect on the body.  Aspartame, acesulfame-K, sucralose and saccharin give me headaches.  Sucralose (aka, Splenda) causes intestinal discomfort (sometimes diarrhea) and stomach pain for me.  One thing I have learned about how the body functions is that anything consumed that is foreign or considered a chemical ends up being processed on the liver.  The liver takes a major role in normal digestion, but when something is not recognized as food the liver takes the full brunt of processing and removing the ‘invader’ from the body.

Research has also shown that consuming artificial sweeteners  may cause you to crave more sugar.  If you end up consuming more sugar you will negate any weight loss benefits from eating sugar-free sodas, candies or other supplements.  You shouldn’t consider ‘diet’ sodas or candies as some kind of magic bullet either that allows you to consume the mega portion of fries or a giant slice of chocolate cake.  I’d rather have a little bit of a good thing across the board that too much of a bad thing once in a while.

I’ve often thought about how much harder processed and artificial foods make our bodies work.  We have so many options as far as food and somehow though we are well fed we may not be well-nourished.  Though I do appreciate what technological advances have done to make our lives easier sometimes I wonder if we have gone too far away from what we were intended to be, do and eat.




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