Sugar has been painted as one of the ultimate bad guys among foods. A high-calorie food source, very bad for you, something you must avoid at all costs. A real pity because everybody loves the taste of sugar. If only there was something that had all that sweet taste and none of the calories. Artificial sweeteners are the supposed solution to this problem. All the good with none of the bad. The question though – are sweeteners healthier than sugar?
I would seriously argue it may not be the case for a few reasons. Read on to find out why.
What are sweeteners?
Sweeteners are anything used to add sweetness to another food or drink. They come in two types – natural sweeteners and artificial sweeteners. When I refer to sweeteners in this article you can assume I’m referring to the artificial variety unless stated otherwise.
The difference between natural and artificial sweeteners
Natural sweeteners are things like sugars, fruit juices, honey, and syrups. Any food that stimulates your sweetness receptors on your tongue really. They’re derived from natural sources. They are high-carb, high-sugar, high-energy, and high-calorie food items.
To achieve their finished state some require more processing than others. Standard white sugar is about the most processed and raw honey is the least. Because of this fact, some natural sweeteners are healthier to consume and contain more nutritional goodness than others.
Artificial sweeteners are man-made products. They are designed for one thing and one thing only. That is to effectively stimulate the sweetness receptor on your tongue and create that sweet flavor sensation as efficiently as possible.
Also referred to as ‘intense sweeteners’ such is their effectiveness. If you look into them a little you will find terms such as ‘synthetic’ and ‘chemicals’ being used. Most have no nutritional value whatsoever, making them zero-calorie.
You should get an idea by now I think. A synthetically engineered product that creates the sweetness sensation without the ‘downside’ of calorie intake.
Are artificial sweeteners in many of our food products?
Think of any soft drink, as in soda/dilute juice. The vast majority now contain some form of artificial sweetener. I honestly find it harder and harder to find any that don’t. I’m in Ireland but I’d assume the rest of the world to be in a similar situation or rapidly moving toward it. Regular Coke/Pepsi is among the remaining few that don’t contain sweeteners.
In terms of food products, there is definitely a shift toward more use of sweeteners. It’s nowhere near as bad as it is with the drink market though.
The best way to know for sure if a food item contains artificial sweeteners or not is to check the ingredient label. Also, Anything labeled low-calorie is almost a given to contain them.
What is the purpose of sweeteners?
The purpose of an artificial sweetener is to re-create the sweet sensation on your tongue without the calories that normally go with that. That’s the major selling point for companies using artificial sweeteners in their products.
The meaning of effective sweetness
Think of it as how much of something it takes to produce a particular strength of sweetness.
For example, let’s say it takes $1 worth of sugar to produce a sweetness rating of 10 in 2 liters of water.
Well, it’ll take 20 cents worth of sweetener A, or 10 cents worth of sweetener B to produce the same sweetness rating of 10 in 2 liters of water.
In other words, 10 cents worth of sweetener B has the same effective sweetness as $1 worth of sugar
Why are large companies using artificial sweeteners more and more?
This question is the starting point of answering the original question – are sweeteners healthier than sugar?
On the face of it, you may see the use of sweeteners as companies trying to provide a healthier alternative to sugar. Indeed that’s exactly how it has been marketed and sold to you, me, and everyone else.
It would be naive though to believe this as the only reason. I believe the main reason, particularly for the drink companies, is money. They will of course never advertise this fact, why would they? Using sweeteners instead of sugar saves them MASSIVE amounts of money and here’s why.
For most sweet drinks sugar was always the largest ingredient (after water) at around 8 -12%. Imagine as a company if you could half the cost of your main ingredient. That’s a lot of extra profit potential and most would jump at this chance.
Pound-for-pound sweeteners are in fact much more expensive than sugar. However, in terms of effective sweetness, they are way cheaper than sugar, a fraction of the cost in fact.
Stevia is one of the more expensive sweeteners available now but is still less than 40% of the cost of sugar.
That’s some massive saving potential but it’s nothing compared to the other more established sweeteners –
- Sucralose – 15% of the cost of sugar
- Aspartame – 8% of the cost of sugar
- Acesulfame K – 4% of the cost of sugar
- Saccharin – 2% of the cost of sugar
In summary, companies are using more sweeteners now to cut down on their use of sugar and increase their profit margin.
Source for above figures – http://www.sugar-and-sweetener-guide.com/sweetener-prices.html, a very informative site on the topic of sweeteners that I would advise checking out for yourself.
Important question time
Knowing how much money is involved we should ask ourselves some important questions.
If some damaging information came out about artificial sweeteners would it be welcomed by the large companies using them?
Would they gladly stop using them and switch back to the more expensive alternative?
Imagine how much money they would stand to lose out on and how much their profit margin would drop.
This is a massive issue to consider. Where huge amounts of money stand to be made or lost corruption is never far behind.
I personally don’t think these large companies would go down without a fight, it’s just too much money on the line for them.
All this needs to be considered when asking are sweeteners are healthier than sugar.
Are sweeteners good for weight loss?
Sweeteners have virtually no calories in them. In theory, that means you can get as many sweet hits as you like without taking in extra calories. Sounds like a win-win situation.
I doubt however if it’s that simple. Everything your body experiences happens for some reason or another. One thing usually gives the signal for something else to happen and so on and so forth.
For example – you experience a flight or fight situation. Nothing physically needs to touch you for this to happen. It might be something you see, hear, or even just sense. From just that a whole bunch of things happens in your body. Adrenaline starts pumping and you experience a seriously heightened state of awareness. Your body moves to its maximum potential in the blink of an eye as it needs to be ready to fight or run for its life right at that moment.
Now think about something stimulating your sweet taste buds. This will also undoubtedly give your digestive system some kind of signal of what’s coming and what it needs to do. That means sweeteners are constantly putting your digestive system into a particular state for something it never receives.
My common sense tells me the constant use of sweeteners couldn’t be healthy. I don’t particularly need to read a bunch of scientific studies to come to this conclusion either. However, I’d be mightily surprised if there aren’t loads out there already.
Does replacing an unhealthy consumption level of sugar with sweeteners sound sensible? Of course not, what’s you need is to reduce the sugar intake to a healthy level. No pain no gain as they say.
In summary, I would say with some confidence that sweeteners are NOT a good or healthy way to lose weight.
How to reduce sugar intake without sweeteners
How do you reduce your sugar intake without sweeteners? You know the answer, it’s not the answer you want to hear but you know the answer. You need to cut down on how much sugary produce you consume
If you have an unhealthy daily sugar intake then you need to change that. You don’t want to just replace that unhealthy daily sugar intake with sweeteners. You need to take the hit, do the work, and lower the overall amount of sweetness in your diet. It will be tough for the first few weeks or so but after that, it’ll be easy to maintain.
By lowering your sugar intake you will notice something good happen over time. Sweet things will start to taste MUCH sweeter and they will start to taste almost too sweet.
I used to take a spoon of sugar in my tea. A few years ago I decided to give it up for 2 months. At first, it tasted very bland to me. Now though if someone were to put sugar in my tea I simply wouldn’t be able to drink it.
Are sweeteners healthier than sugar? My gut instinct tells me they aren’t healthy in some way or another
For one thing, I just don’t like the taste of them. They taste very unnatural to me. They also taste nothing like the sugar they are replacing. I can tell instantly from taste alone if a drink contains them such is my dislike for them.
Add to this the fact that a lot of money stands to be made for large companies by switching from sugar to sweeteners. That for me is a major reason to be suspicious of them. Ask yourself would they be as prevalent if they were a more expensive ingredient than sugar?
They have been marketed to us as the healthy alternative to sugar. All the taste and next to no calories. Remember though if something seems too good to be true it’s usually because it is!
Share your thoughts
As always, feel free to leave a comment if you have any thoughts, advice, questions, or opinions related to this article.
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Always consult your GP before undertaking any form of weight loss, fitness, or exercise.
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