Artificial Sweeteners and Other Sugar Substitutes

When cutting back on sugar, artificial sweeteners are NOT the answer for a number of reasons. Consumption of artificial sweeteners is actually associated with weight and fat gain, as well as with an increased risk of diabetes. Artificial sweeteners stimulate appetite, increasing food intake. They trick the body into increasing insulin levels to handle the anticipated blood sugar elevation, which favors fat storage. And artificial sweeteners have also been reported to slow the metabolic rate (by decreasing core temperature), which reduces energy expenditure making it more difficult to control weight.

Research published this month (9/17/14) in the journal Nature, provided insight into how artificial sweeteners may promote obesity-associated metabolic changes, including challenges related to blood sugar control. Through a series of experiments, the research team headed by Eran Elinav, MD, PhD, was able to demonstrate that ingestion of the artificial sweeteners aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin changed the gut bacteria in mice and some humans in a way that favored blood sugar elevation and weight gain.

Sugar substitutes include any sweetener used instead of regular table sugar (sucrose). These include artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, as well as “natural” sweeteners (like agave, honey, maple syrup) and “novel” sweeteners. (like stevia extract–Pure Via, Truvia). Artificial sweeteners include acesulfame potassium (Sunett), aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet), saccharin (Sugar Twin, Sweet’N Low), and sucralose (Splenda). These artificial sweeteners are considered non-caloric, because they are not digested and absorbed and thus do not provide calories. Sugar alcohols, which include erythritol, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbital, and xylitol, do provide some calories, just less than table sugar (about 1.5 to 3 calories per gram compared to about 4 calories per gram for table sugar). And while these sugar alcohols do not cause tooth decay like sugar does, they can cause bloating and diarrhea when used in large amounts.

Your body will adjust over time to less intense sweetness, as you gradually cut back on sugar and other sweeteners. You might also consider growing stevia, which looks like mint.  The leaves are intensely sweet and they can be used to sweeten beverages without adding calories. It is helpful to begin thinking of using a very small amount of natural sweeteners like agave, honey, maple syrup, or even table sugar as a seasoning rather than as a main ingredient.

Here’s a lower-sugar version of the Blueberry Crisp to enjoy!

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