The Skinny on Sugar and Sweeteners – Part 1

20 Jun

I’ve been wondering for a while which is better for our bodies: sugar or sugar substitutes (or neither).  And if sugar substitutes are ok to consume, is one better than another?  The reason I’m wondering this is because I like sweets.  Sure, I could give up sweets completely – if I really wanted to.  But I don’t want to.  Call me stubborn.  Or stupid, whichever you prefer.  :)

source: thinkstockphotos.com

Part of my mind thinks sugar is “pure” or more natural, so it would be healthier (as long as my diet doesn’t consist of mostly sugar-filled items).  But sugar comes with calories and calories result in weight gain.  Sugar substitutes allow me to have my cake (pun intended!) and eat it, too – without the added calories.  So which is better?  Or is either one a good choice?

I did a little digging and thought you might like to know what I learned.

Oh, Sugar!

There are two kinds of sugar: naturally-occurring and refined.  Naturally-occurring sugars are those found in things such as apples and bananas.  For example, an apple contains 13 grams of sugar.  Naturally-occurring sugars are the best kinds of sugars to consume, but even still – you don’t want to go overboard eating them.  Refined sugars are those food items that contain added sugar such as cupcakes, cookies, and ice cream.

Some researchers believe that cancer tumors can feed (grow) on sugar, but there are also studies that show sugar does not contribute to cancer.  We do know that excessive sugar intake is a major contributor to diabetes and can lead to a host of other health issues, not the least of which is weight gain.  And being overweight can bring a whole family of health problems.  So it’s important to control your sugar intake.

Sugar, in and of itself, is not bad.  Sugar consumed in large quantities on a daily basis is bad.  Eating refined sugar foods instead of fruits, vegetables, protein and grains is bad.  Moderate amounts of sugar, as part of a diet that consists of numerous other healthy choices, is not bad.

When we think of sugar, we tend to think of food items that contain added sugar: ice cream, cakes, cookies, brownies, and candy are just a few examples.  It’s important to remember, though, that carbohydrates turn into sugar as our body processes them, so we need to watch our carbohydrate intake, as well.

Sugar is one source of energy for our bodies and, in my non-expert opinion, should not be completely eliminated from our diets.  However, our sugar intake should be balanced with other healthy food choices.

Sugar Substitutes

Sugar substitutes are anything that you use in place of regular sugar (e.g., artificial sweeteners, stevia, agave nectar, honey).  Artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, Equal and NutraSweet are some of the most common sugar substitutes.

There are new sweeteners being marketed that claim to be healthier or better for us than the sweeteners made of aspartame or saccharin.  These newer alternatives are sometimes touted as  “natural” sweeteners but are often refined and processed; while some artificial sweeteners are actually pulled from naturally occurring substances such as sucralose which comes from sugar, itself.

Concerns about the safety of artificial sweeteners have been floating around for decades.  In the 1970s, studies linked bladder cancer to the consumption of saccharin in laboratory rats.  The FDA subsequently required all foods containing saccharin to carry a warning.  Since then, numerous studies have been conducted proving that saccharin did not cause cancer in humans, therefore, saccharin was removed from the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens in the year 2000.

In the United States, artificial sweeteners are regulated by the FDA meaning that the FDA has to review and approve the sweetener before it can be sold.  The FDA also has established acceptable daily intake guidelines for each sweetener.  This daily guideline is approximately 100 times less than the smallest amount that could cause health concerns so there is a significant margin of safety.  The guidelines for three of the most common artificial sweeteners are:

  • Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal): 50 milligrams per kilogram of weight, or the equivalent of 18 to 19 cans of diet soda. (a kilogram is equal to about 2.2 pounds)
  • Saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low, Sugar Twin): 5 milligrams per kilogram of weight, or the equivalent of 9 to 12 packets of the sweetener.
  • Sucralose (Splenda): 5 milligrams per kilogram of weight, or the equivalent of 6 cans of diet soda.

Is one artificial sweetener better than another?  Do any of them pose proven health risks?  Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of The Skinny on Sugar and Sweeteners.

♥ Rachel

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7 Responses to “The Skinny on Sugar and Sweeteners – Part 1”

  1. Cancer Warrior June 20, 2012 at 5:10 am #

    Sounds like the Savvy Sister is finally getting to you:)

    • rachturner June 20, 2012 at 11:05 am #

      It’s the strangest thing – I have no idea what her voice sounds like, but I can “hear” her in my head when I’m making food choices. :)

  2. The Savvy Sister June 20, 2012 at 6:43 am #

    LOL CW!
    This post is a great “awareness raiser” for people to take stock in what they are eating, Rachel! Thanks for posting.
    When the FDA regurgitates, don’t forget, it’s big business sticking it’s finger down their throat.
    I could comment about how any amount of white refined sugar is unhealthy…but I won’t :)

    • rachturner June 20, 2012 at 11:07 am #

      Just trying to educate myself and share what I learn. I can’t say that I trust the FDA’s rulings on things – just because they say something is safe doesn’t mean that it actually is safe. I would believe independent research over their findings any day.

  3. mainelyhopeful June 20, 2012 at 7:40 am #

    Tomorrow!? But, I’m doing groceries today!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. I’m Quitting « Blessings in Disguise - October 30, 2012

    […] talked about the negative effects of artificial sweeteners before, and even acknowledged I need to give up diet soda, but I never really, truly cared to. Yet, each […]

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