Are sugar substitutes harmful?
Sweeteners are substances that can impart a sweet taste, but do not contain sugar. To sweeteners are both natural fructose and Stevia extract, as well as chemically produced aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, xylitol and other compounds.
Often, sweeteners are advertised as "safe" alternatives to sugar and are added to "diet" foods, since they do not contain calories. However, their zero caloric value does not mean that they are really safe for health and useful for those who want to lose weight.
Fructose: benefit or harm?
Despite the fact that fructose is recommended to diabetics for diabetics and is a completely natural product( it is contained in fruits and regular table sugar consists of 50% of it), modern nutritionists tend to regard fruit sugar as a harmful product.
Scientific research suggests that regular use of fructose leads to a disruption in metabolism and increases resistance to insulin, reducing the body's ability to use carbohydrates as a source of energy, leading to increased blood sugar and the development of obesity( 1).
Why is fruit sugar harmful?
The problem is that in pure form fructose is not found in nature. Eating a sweet fruit, you send to the stomach not only fruit sugar, but also fiber( dietary fiber) that affects the process of assimilation of fructose. In fact, fiber allows you to normalize blood sugar.
In addition, eating three oranges is much more difficult than drinking a glass of orange juice squeezed out of the same oranges. It is necessary to treat even natural juices exclusively as delicacies, which can be used in limited quantities, and not as useful products.
Saccharin was the first sweetener, opened in 1879.For a long time it was considered completely safe, but in the 1960s suspicions were born that it could cause cancer( 2).Currently, saccharin is allowed in food, but food companies prefer not to use it.
Saccharin was replaced by aspartame, which was discovered in 1965.It is found in most diet products, carbonated drinks, chewing gum and even in medicines. It practically does not contain calories, being thus hundreds times sweeter than usual sugar.
Does Aspartame Harm Health?
From the theoretical point of view, aspartame is not able to influence human metabolism, however in the scientific community there is no unequivocal opinion regarding the harmlessness of this sugar substitute for health. Among other things, aspartame is banned for use by people suffering from phenylketonuria.
Despite the fact that aspartame is not a poison or a carcinogen, it is among the few substances that can get directly into the human brain. Critics say that it affects the processes of synthesis of serotonin( a hormone of joy) and can provoke the development of Alzheimer's disease( 2).
Stevia is a safe alternative to sugar?
Extract of the plant Stevia is the last-generation sweetener, widely used in the food industry since the late 1980s. Advertising argues for its "naturalness" and "harmlessness," and the regulatory authorities of most countries in the world tend to support this position.
In turn, the criticism of stevia is based on the fact that despite the absence of direct harm to health, the use of any products containing sugar substitutes affects the human eating habits, reducing control over the consumption of sweet and leading, ultimately, to a set of excess weight.
Sugary substitutes: opinion of dieticians
Most nutritionists agree that sweeteners should be used with caution and only when it is really necessary. The harm of sugar is only partly in the calories - the key is the psychological habit of sweets.
Sweeteners do not get rid of cravings for fast carbohydrates, but only increase it. Feeling sweet, but not getting glucose, the body begins to experience "carbohydrate starvation," which results in an increase in appetite - a person simply "gets" calories by other foods.
Despite the fact that evidence of harm to sugar substitutes for health is stubbornly refuted by food companies, nutritionists tend to believe that the use of stevia and other sweeteners increases appetite and cravings for sweets, ultimately leading to a set of excess weight.
- Effect of Fructose on Body Weight in Controlled Feeding Trials, source
- Artificial sweeteners -do they bear a carcinogenic risk? , source
- Direct and indirect cellular effects of aspartame on the brain, source