FILMS AND PROGRAMS , books and articles are being made ABOUT THE HARM OF EXCESSIVE CONSUMPTION OF SUGAR , and governments are fighting the “white death” at the legislative level. Great Britain plans to introduce a “sugar tax”, which will mainly affect sugary carbonated drinks; in Spanish Catalonia, a similar initiative recently came into force – and each can of cola now costs a few euro cents more. The World Health Organization recommends that no more than 10% of all calories per day be allocated in the diet for refined sugar – and ideally 5% in general. Such close attention to sugar and its harm has led to the fact that we are looking for more and more new components to replace it – we figure out what they are.
The point of a sugar substitute is to give food the same sweet taste, but be healthier. We have already said that the “fast carbohydrates” of fruits are practically indistinguishable from regular sugar; both fructose and sucrose undergo the same transformations in the body, increase blood glucose levels and lead to the release of insulin. The quality of sugar in fresh berries is almost the same as in a piece of cake, but the amount is much lower – and therefore the berries are healthier (and they also contain fiber, water and vitamins).
Natural alternatives such as honey, maple syrup or dates are often used for making desserts “sugar-free”. Let’s immediately dispel one of the myths associated with honey: its beneficial properties do not depend much on the method of processing, so raw honey that has not been heated, pasteurized, purified and filtered is not at all the most useful. Of course, such products are somewhat better than refined sugar – at least with minimal processing and the fact that they contain some trace elements (calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6) and, in the case of dried fruits, fiber.
The problem is that all of the above alternatives are very high in calories and have a high glycemic index. Experts say that no-baked cakes or homemade sweets made with dates and honey are best treated as traditional desserts – that is, treated as special occasions. Unfortunately, because of the belief that everything is natural and sugar-free, people often eat too many of these foods.
Sweet plants and alcohols
True substitutes for sugar can be called substances that do not turn into glucose in the body and do not cause such reactions as it does – for example, an increase in insulin levels. Such substances can be natural or synthetic, obtained as a result of chemical reactions in laboratories.
One natural sweetener is stevia, which is virtually calorie-free and sourced from the plant of the same name in South America. Stevia is hundreds of times sweeter than refined sugar and is especially recommended for people with diabetes and children. In the studies conducted , stevia improved some parameters of carbohydrate metabolism and the condition of the liver and kidneys in rats with diabetes mellitus. Nevertheless, it is undesirable to combine stevia with certain medications , so it is better to consult with your doctor in advance if you are thinking of switching to it. Some people like to brew stevia leaves with tea, but it is much easier to find it in the form of tablets, powder or liquid; however, this substitute has a characteristic flavor that may not be to everyone’s liking – or, for example, suitable for baking, but not for coffee.
Sugar alcohols, such as xylitol or sorbitol, are familiar to everyone from advertisements for sugar-free gum – and unlike them, these sweeteners do not cause tooth decay. Xylitol and sorbitol are found naturally in extremely small quantities in many fruits and some plants, such as xylitol in the wood and corncobs from which it is extracted . Sorbitol is found in apples and pears, and in industrial quantities it is obtained from corn starch. Xylitol has a very low glycemic index, has fewer calories than sugar, and has been reported to increase bone mineral density and collagen production – good for preventing osteoporosis and maintaining skin elasticity. Side effects of sorbitol or xylitol can be nausea and diarrhea – but this requires a very large dose, such as chewing forty gum sticks at a time.
Synthetic sweeteners are produced by chemical reactions; they are much sweeter than sugar and are very low in calories. They are usually sold in powder, granule, or tablet form. There are many such sweeteners – for example, six are registered by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) . Not all sweeteners may be available in different countries due to different market regulation and approval filing models. Aspartame is one of the most studied nutritional supplements, registered in many countries for about fifty years. It is up to two hundred times sweeter than sugar, contains practically no calories, does not smell, dissolves well in water, but collapses when heated – that is, it cannot be used in baked goods and hot drinks. In one study, participants were given snacks containing sugar, stevia, or aspartame before lunch and dinner , and people did not compensate for the low calorie sweeteners by eating more food. That is, in the end, participants in the stevia and aspartame groups received fewer calories – and in the aspartame group, they also reported a more pleasant taste of food.
Sucralose, another type of synthetic sweetener, is made, oddly enough, from sugar – but it’s as much as six hundred times sweeter and has no calories. Sucralose retains its qualities during heat treatment, but its main advantage is its taste, which, in comparison with the same stevia and aspartame, is most similar to ordinary sugar. True, there are now on the market substitutes made from several components at once, and they may taste more pleasant than pure sucralose. Another popular sweetener, saccharin, was first discovered more than two hundred years ago and spread during the First and Second World Wars, when there was a shortage of sugar. It is also incredibly sweet and completely non-calorie.
Nutritionists and proponents of everything “natural” are often suspicious of synthetic sugar substitutes, citing unfavorable research results. For example, aspartame has been shown to be carcinogenic in rats when animals receive it throughout their lives, beginning before birth. Sucralose can be a trigger for migraines , although many different factors and foods can trigger migraine attacks, including chocolate and red wine. In this case, the same Management on sanitary inspection behind quality of foodstuff and medicines based on no data from individual studies, and their totality – and the safety of sucralose, aspartame and other sweeteners approved by the FDA confirmed by no less than a hundred studies for each.
One way or another, when making a choice in favor of one of the sugar substitutes, it is worth discussing this with your doctor or dietitian. In the case of natural sweeteners, do not forget that most of them are high in calories and control over their use is as necessary as in the case of refined sugar. There are much healthier foods in terms of sugar and other nutrients, such as a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. Synthetic sweeteners, on the other hand, are not high in calories, but to avoid side effects, it’s best to stick to the recommended dosage for each.