It’s hard to separate fact from fiction when it comes to sugar. The only widely-known truth is that it tastes good, but is there a better alternative? The answer might surprise you, especially when considering common sugar substitutes. Stevia even plays into this equation, and here, we break it all down for you.
Often a topic of heated debate, sugar substitutes refer to sweeteners made synthetically. They are many times sweeter than sugar, and examples include saccharin and aspartame. The most highly-touted benefit is that artificial sweeteners have no calories, so they seem like the answer to all of sugar’s alleged problems.
It’s true that trading sugar-laden foods and beverages for those with artificial sweeteners may help you lose some weight. Artificial sweeteners may also help those with diabetes reduce their intake of added sugar. But it’s important to remember these substances are chemicals, and they have been linked to a potential risk of cancer. So when asking if they’re better than real sugar, the answer is this: it depends.
When speaking about food, sugar can be found in two forms. Added sugar is put into foods during processing to make them taste sweet. This is the sugar we’re all advised to eat less of.
Natural sugar, on the other hand, is a part of foods like fruit and milk. Contrary to what you may believe, this sugar is part of a package of nutrients the body needs, such as vitamins and minerals. The fiber in apples, for instance, helps the body absorb sugar at a slower rate. This means you won’t experience the blood sugar spikes that baked goods commonly give.
Many people think natural sweeteners, like maple syrup and honey, are healthier than sugar. While it’s true those options contain more nutrients, they exist in very small amounts. This means they likely won’t have any measurable impact on your health.
In addition, all sugar sources are processed the same inside the body. That’s right – the same. The body cannot tell if you’re eating agave nectar or brown sugar. It only sees sugar molecules that have negative impacts on health when eaten in extreme quantities.
Some Sugar Is Fine
It’s also commonly believed that sugar should be entirely eliminated from your diet. The truth is that you don’t need sugar for nutritional purposes, but occasionally enjoying some is fine. Less is better, and as with most things in life, moderation is key.
If you’re overdoing it with sugar, know that cutting back is easier than you might think. Start by slicing your favorite treats in half. For instance, have half a bowl of ice cream instead of a full bowl. Also, keep in mind that fruits and vegetables – which have naturally occurring sugars – should comprise the bulk of your diet, and they can help satisfy a sweet craving.
The Facts of Stevia
This sweetener comes from a shrub in South America. It is considered natural, although each packet is mixed with a “carrier” agent to help bulk it up, so many people prefer it to artificial sweeteners. But it’s important to note this option is extremely sweet, with leaves being up to 300 times more intense than sugar.
Benefits include the following:
- Has been linked to decreased blood sugar levels
- May help manage blood fat levels
- May support healthy weight management
- Might improve heart disease risk factors
- Is calorie- and carb-free
Enjoy in Moderation
This phrase seems to be a theme where sugar and artificial sweeteners are concerned, but it’s true. Stevia is a healthier option than substitutes like sucralose and saccharin. But it still needs to be enjoyed in moderation.
The FDA just granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status to this sweetener in 2008. That means we don’t fully understand yet how it impacts the body. We recommend that if you’re consuming large amounts of zero-calorie sweeteners to reduce your sugar intake, you should simply cut back on sugar in general, instead.
The Bottom Line
Ultimately, naturally-occurring sugars are the healthiest options for you, so feel free to add more fruits and vegetables to your day. Next on the health scale is stevia, which provides a strong alternative to white sugar but shouldn’t be consumed in quantity. Artificial sweeteners lag behind because they aren’t designed to be regularly ingested.
Although white sugar provides no nutritional value to the body, it can have a place in the foods you eat. Enjoying a balanced diet will allow you to enjoy a donut or two over the weekend. Just remember that for optimal health, all sugars should be kept to a minimum. For more tips about diet and other aging issues, keep up with Aging Healthy Today!