In this modern era of manufactured foods, it seems we have become conditioned to expect a sweet taste in almost everything we eat. Even your favorite brand of beef jerky now lists high fructose corn syrup as an ingredient. You may opt for low fat versions of foods, at the suggestion that fat is not good for your diet. The problem is that when the manufacturers remove the fat, the product often loses its desirable flavor or texture. To remedy this, some form of sugar is regularly added to make the product more palatable.
With reports about the rise in obesity and diabetes and a myriad of other health issues pointing at sugar as a major contributor, it is no wonder that manufacturers and consumers alike are searching for sugar substitutes. We are conditioned to expect something sweet to eat at almost every turn, so it seems natural that we want to maintain the same diet but with a healthier sweetening agent.
Unfortunately, many of these substitutes create the very same glycemic response as sugar does inside your body when they are digested. This means they cause insulin spikes and can lead to glucose intolerance. Some of these sweeteners lead to a host of other complications in the digestive system and throughout the body. Specifically, we are talking about commonly available products like aspartame (aka NutraSweet or Equal), sucralose (aka Splenda), saccharin (aka Sweet’N Low), acesulfame potassium (aka Sunett or Sweet One) and neotame.
Some of these products, aspartame in particular, actually creates a stronger insulin reaction in the body than natural sugar does. These products also stimulate a strong hunger reaction in the body, which drives you to eat more food, exactly what you were trying to avoid by choosing a ‘diet’ or ‘lite’ option. This means that consuming diet versions of products that include aspartame may lead to weight gain faster than sugar. Studies show that people who consume diet sodas are susceptible to major sugar-related illnesses as those who consume the full sugar versions of the products. These illnesses include obesity, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Worse yet, aspartame has been linked to causing cancer and other tumors in laboratory animals. One of the oldest substitutes, in terms of availability in mass production and marketing, is saccharin. New research shows that saccharin disrupts the balance of beneficial bacteria in our digestive system, leading to glucose intolerance and other metabolic disorders. In general, these sweeteners should simply be eliminated from your diet.
If you insist on searching for sugar substitutes because you can’t seem to break away from that sweet taste, look for something like pure stevia. Stevia is a naturally sweet product extracted from the leaves of the stevia plant and it does not appear to create any of the negative effects of artificial sweeteners. Be careful to read the label before putting the product into your shopping cart. Some products have stevia on the front of the box yet list dextrose as the primary ingredient on the back. Dextrose is a glucose product often extracted from corn and it has nothing to do with stevia. Similarly, avoid products high in fructose as fructose generates the highest insulin response in your body. This includes products like agave syrup and honey, unless you can find locally grown raw honey and then use it in moderation.
Maybe it is time to change your mind about sugar instead of changing your sugar to a different sugar. Drinking water, tea or coffee instead of soda without sugar added is a good start. Eating full fat plain yogurt with a handful of berries for breakfast is another. Look for every opportunity to remove sugar and its various substitutes from your diet. At first, your taste buds may rebel against you, but soon you will adjust and you may begin to enjoy new tastes in your food that you didn’t know were there. Your body and waistline will let you know you made the right choice.