Facts about sugar and other sweeteners
I think many people, who are thinking that they want to become healthier have heard or read somewhere, that they should start to avoid sugar. Also, there is often said that you can substitute sugar with other sweeteners that “are healthier”. I have read and watched some videos about different sugars and sweeteners. There are many facts that people may not know about using these sweeteners. So, as I’m interested in this topic myself as well, I did some extra research about sugar and sweeteners and wanted to share some information with you as well.
What is sugar exactly?
Sugar is a carbohydrate and its chemical name is sucrose. Sugar occurs naturally in fruits, vegetables and nuts. You may have also heard about glucose and fructose, which are also called monosaccharides. They bond with each other and make complex carbohydrates. All carbs are made of one or more sugar molecules. Once in the body they all break down into three sugars: glucose, fructose (fruit sugar) and galactose (in milk).
All sugar is made from sugar beet or sugar cane plants. There are several processes like cleaning, crystallizing and drying, of which it’s possible to produce different variations of sugars. The colors of sugars are possible through heating, adding pleasurable flavors and by the amount of molasses remaining. So, many people may be fooled about the color of sugar. It doesn’t really matter if you consider its healthiness. It only varies, how it has been processed.
100 grams of sugar contains 387 calories. If you add one teaspoon of sugar into your tea or coffee, it gives you about 16 calories.
Types of natural added sugars
White sugar is refined, which means that all vitamins and minerals are basically removed during cleaning processes. Many sugars are made on the basis of white sugar (sugar syrup, vanilla sugar, powdered sugar).
Unrefined whole cane sugar is often considered healthier than white sugar. It is truly the least processed sugar. The juice is pressed out of sugar cane and it is boiled until brown crystals are left. Thanks to this process, there are some vitamins and minerals left in the sugar. But, overall it’s still sugar!
Raw sugars are for example muscovado and demerara sugars. These sugars aren’t specially processed. From this sugar, the molasses aren’t removed and they are dark brown.
Syrups like agave, date syrup and maple syrup are the kind that people often may think are healthier than sugar itself. This is also not true, because they also don’t really contain any healthy minerals or vitamins. This also includes coconut palm sugar, which is less refined, but also still not the healthier choice. However, from date syrup and coconut palm sugar you can get some amount of potassium. But a reminder, that they are still SUGAR.
Honey is a natural food product and contains 80% of sugars, mainly fructose and glucose. A liquid kind of honey contains more fructose and thicker honey is full of glucose. But also a reminder, that honey doesn’t contain more healthier vitamins or minerals as other syrups or sugars. It has some potassium and magnesium, which is why it may be considered more healthier than other sugars.
I use honey sometimes, if I want to sweeten my tea or porridge. Maybe once in two weeks or so. Also, I prefer honey, when I’m baking, because I use less of it, because it’s sweeter than sugar.
What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are used in foods and drinks, which are usually labelled “diet”, “sugar free” or “zero calorie”. For example diet sodas, zero calorie toppings and energy drinks. They are many times sweeter than natural sugar. For this reason, they are used in way smaller amounts as sugar and that’s why the products can be zero or very low in calories. They may have an aftertaste, which may not be appealing to many people.
Many people think that the sweeteners are a huge health risk and can cause cancer for example. However, there is no evidence that it can be true. There have been several studies around the sweeteners, but it hasn’t been 100% clarified that they are a huge risk and this is why, they are still approved and can be used in food products.
I like to drink sugar free energy drinks and caffeinated zero calorie drinks from time to time. So, I did some research on that. It’s found that, they can be risky for your health, if you consume over 20 cans of these kind of drinks per day. So, it is quite impossible for a normal person to put their health at risk, if they consume them from time to time.
Five artificial sweeteners have been approved, which can be used in food products: saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. There’s also approved one natural low-calorie sweetener, stevia. Consuming the products that contain these sweeteners may affect your taste buds. That’s because, the sweeteners are way more sweeter than regular sugar. Also, there is the risk that, if some people consume these products, which are considered “healthier”, they may feel that then they are “allowed” to eat more calories, because they chose these other foods with zero or low calories.
I have used liquid stevia, while baking or making some curd desserts. The taste is very sweet and you don’t have to use it a lot. For me, it doesn’t have an aftertaste, but I think it depends on the brand as well. It’s good to use it, if you want to cut down on sugar in order to lose some weight, but you still want to feel the sweeter taste. But, I think it’s also possible to just use fruits or berries to sweeten your desserts, if you don’t want to use any other sweetener.
Truth about artificial sweeteners
Some people can be sensitive to sweeteners and may experience symptoms like headaches or upset stomach. Overall, there is no credible information that aspartame or any other artificial sweetener can cause brain tumors or any other illness. So, as far as there is no evidence or proof of their “unhealthiness”, it is totally OK to consume them in moderation. Some studies have also found that aspartame can be effective in relieving pain due to illnesses.
But, to keep in mind that since the products, which are made with artificial sweeteners don’t contain any calories, they may increase your appetite for sugary foods. This could also lead to cravings and possibly to eating more calories later. However, if you don’t mind the taste of the sweeteners and you want to lose some weight, these products could be beneficial to you. If you feel good and satisfied after eating these kinds of foods, then there is nothing wrong with having them.
I think that while you’re trying to lose weight, it’s beneficial to cut down on sugar in your diet. This will help you reach your goal much faster and more efficiently. However, you should consume some sugar in moderation, in order to stop you from craving all the good sweet things. You can try to substitute sugar with some sweeteners and see, if you like the taste. You may “fool” your brain by these. But, if you don’t consume no sugar whatsoever for a longer period of time, your cravings may rise and you might end up overeating, binge eating or a more serious eating disorder. Everything should be in moderation!
But, it’s also possible to bake without sugar and to just use naturally sweet foods like dates! Check out my healthy gingerbread cookie recipe and video here.
I would like to know, what are your thoughts about this topic. Have you tried to cut out sugar completely? How did it affect you? Are you against the artificial sweeteners or don’t mind having products containing those from time to time? Let me know in the comments!
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4. Mayo Clinic:
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6. Harvard Health Publishing:
7. Web MD: