Artificial sweetener as sugar substitute: is it good for you? Find here?
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic substitutes and include saccharin, cyclamate, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame and neotame. Stevia is a separate category, described as a “natural” sweetener since it is derived from plant sources.
The other variety of sugar substitutes comprises plant-derived sugar alcohols (they don’t contain alcohol!) like erythritol, mannitol and sorbitol. In addition to sweetness, they add some texture to food. The sweetness of sugar alcohols varies from 25-100 per cent as compared to sugar. Eating high quantities of sugar alcohols can cause bloating, loose stools or diarrhoea. Over a period of time, tolerance usually develops to these effects.
Sugar substitutes are widely used in processed foods, including soft drinks, jams and dairy products. Some, like sucralose, can be used in baking or cooking. It is important to check what kind of sweetener a product contains. A “sugar free” label on a product can be misleading—we then tend to consume excess amounts, considering it to be totally safe, not realising that it could be laden with fat or might contain sugar alcohols. A typical bar of sugar-free chocolate contains about 60 per cent of the calories of a regular slab.
Can sugar substitutes reverse diabetes?
Notwithstanding their commercial popularity, sugar substitutes have always attracted controversy. Other than improvement in dental health, it remains unclear if replacement of dietary sugar with artificially sweetened products can reverse the health consequences (like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease) of sugar over-consumption. In some studies, artificial sweeteners have been shown to increase the risk of diabetes and obesity, although others have not found such evidence. The WHO 2022 report on the health effects of artificial sweeteners observed modest associations between consumption of beverages with artificial sweeteners to cholesterol abnormalities and high blood pressure.
Using artificial sweeteners may provoke a sense of complacency and drive us to eat other high-calorie food more liberally. It is common to see people digging into their brownies and pizzas but taking extra care to order only diet colas. It has been suggested that these intensely sweet substances may alter how our brains respond to signals, making less sweet substances like fruits unappealing to our senses. Some scientists feel that the use of these products may lead us to crave more sweets.
Children should not consume sweeteners over long periods as the risks may be greater. Adults who consume large amounts of sweet beverages can use artificially sweetened beverages temporarily and gradually try to taper the consumption, replacing them with water. Artificial sweetener use can only help if the overall calorie intake is reduced. Those with bowel disorders and who have bariatric procedures should also avoid them completely.
How to control intake of sweeteners
What then should those of us trying to lose weight or control diabetes do? Try and give up sugar completely. If your sweet cravings are persistent, it is safe to consume sweeteners in small amounts. Adding a sweetener to your morning tea or evening coffee or to an occasional low-fat dessert is fine.