There has been tremendous debate over the use of artificial sweeteners and health over the last few years while we as a society battle with overweight and obesity. Humans tend to like sweetness so it is no surprise that many individuals add products to sweeten their snacks, meals and beverages – but what is best for our health?
Often considered to be evil, sugar actually plays a role in many processes of the body. Sugars are broken down into glucose, the simplest form of sugar in the body. Glucose is then used as a fuel source for the brain, as well as the rest of the body, including muscles. The body prefers to use glucose as a fuel source, and while the rest of the body can adapt if there is not enough available, it is the sole source of fuel for our brains.
Although the body does need sugar (carbohydrate) it is important to be aware of the type of carbohydrate that you are eating. The best way to judge carbohydrates is to use the glycemic index. Low glycemic index carbohydrates take longer to be digested and absorbed so provide a trickle of glucose into the bloodstream. On the other hand higher glycemic index carbohydrates are rapidly digested and absorbed causing an influx of carbohydrate into the bloodstream. This sudden influx can cause problems as the body reacts to this by increasing the level of insulin released. The increase in insulin causes the body’s cells to take up the glucose so that levels within the bloodstream decrease. Low glycemic index diets are associated with better blood glucose control and a decreased risk of a number of diseases. Low glycemic index carbohydrates also cause you to feel fuller for longer.
Sugar alone, such as table sugar has little nutrient value. It does provide the body with carbohydrate but it does not contribute any vitamins or minerals to your diet. Although you need to consume carbohydrates, adding sugar to your snacks, meals or beverages is not normally necessary. Aim to limit your intake of sugary foods including; cakes, confectionary, cookies, soft drinks, fruit juice, and energy drinks.
An alternative to the adding sugar to your snacks, meals and beverages is to use an artificial sweetener. Artificial sweeteners are intensely sweet but do not contain the calories that sugar does. This makes them popular with dieters and those worried about consuming real sugar. There has been a vast amount of scepticism of artificial sweeteners with many unfounded rumours of cancer and disease. A simple search on the internet reveals an abundance of stories and articles on artificial sweeteners. It is important to remember that you should not believe everything that you read. Artificial sweeteners are considered to safe for human consumption, and many of the studies which warn of dangers to human health are inadequately conducted.
It is your personal choice on whether you choose to use regular sugar or artificial sweeteners. Remember that sugar does not provide any nutrients, nor does artificial sweetener, but sugar will add calories when artificial sweeteners will not, and sugar tends to be considered a more natural product.
How about a little less sweetness?
If you want to reduce the amount of sugar that you consume, and are not willing to use artificial sweeteners, you could try to reduce the overall sweetness of your snacks, meals and beverages. A little known fact is that our taste buds get used to what we consume. If you start to add one teaspoon of sugar to your coffee it initially tastes sweeter but over time you get used to this and have to add even more to get that sweet taste again. The great news is that this works in reverse. If you start to reduce the amount of sugar or artificial sweetener that you use, your taste buds will start to adapt to this. Eventually you will not need nearly as much sugar for the food or beverage to taste good.
Alternatives to provide sweetness
There may be times that you really feel like a sweet taste. Honey and fruit are good, natural options for sweet tasting foods. Honey can be used as a spread or in drinks to sweeten the food, while fruit is intensely sweet and can be used as a guilt free sweet snack.
Your overall health is important; to live a long and enjoyable life you need good health. You should look to limit the amount of sugar that you consume or may like to use an artificial sweetener. Artificial sweeteners are safe for consumption and may help you to reduce your overall calorie intake. You may also like to work on reducing the amount of sugar and artificial sweetener that you use so that your taste buds get used to less sweetness again.