Let’s talk about artificial sweeteners

Lollipop

We get so many questions about artificial sweeteners, so are they a worthwhile swap, or not?

The focus on sugar in public health has led food manufacturers to reduce calories through non-calorific sweeteners, keeping the same sweet taste but allegedly negating the harms of too much sugar. Some of this has been in direct response to the sugar tax introduced in the UK in 2018 and already in place in over 35 countries.

The whole area of artificial sweeteners is quite controversial. To the industry, they are potentially a good way out of the damage that sugar is known to do.

As a consumer, it feels like we can potentially “have our cake and eat it too” – be able to enjoy the sweetness that we crave without a downside. There are so many artificial sweeteners out there these days, so sometimes it can be hard to tell what your food contains unless you look deeper into the ingredients list.

Names of popular artificial sweeteners:

  • – Suraclose (Splenda)
  • – Aspartame
  • – Saccharin
  • – Cyclamate
  • – Acesulfame potassium (Acesulfame-K)

Some products are even made from a combination of two artificial sweeteners.

What are sugar alcohols?

Sugar alcohols are a type of carbohydrate whose structure resembles both sugars and alcohol.

Sugar alcohols are often used as lower calorie sweeteners in sugar-free chewing gum and sweets, as food additives in processed foods, and in toothpaste, certain medications, and laxatives.

Common types of sugar alcohols include xylitol, erythritol, sorbitol, maltitol and mannitol.

What foods contain artificial sweeteners?

There are so many different food and drink types that contain sweeteners. Also, of these are food items that are labelled ‘sugar-free’. The sugar is then replaced with artificial sweeteners, including those listed above.

When considered as a straight swap, for example, switching a diet cola for a full sugar version, this would seem to make sense. Overall, you have a net reduction in calories, a saving of 97 calories for each substitution made. Similarly, switching a sweetener for 3 sugars in a cup of tea will save 46 calories.

Is this too good to be true?

But this is not quite as good as it seems. The catch is that artificial sweeteners still do not reduce appetite and hence the drivers of overeating are maintained. This makes it harder to lose weight if that is your goal, and the small upside in calories saved can be quickly wiped out if accompanied, or followed, by a binge.

This is probably why studies into sweetener consumption show either zero-to-modest reduction in weight and a higher incidence of obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular events.

From a dental health perspective, diet soda is still a problem as the drink itself is corrosive to tooth enamel, irrespective of the fact that it doesn’t contain sugar.

Many “tooth friendly” products contain acidic flavouring that can erode your teeth. You need to be careful about the exposure time. If you are sucking a sugar free lollipop for several minutes your teeth are again…bathed in acid!

Sweetener

Where do you normally find artificial sweeteners?

  • – ‘Sugar-free’ or ‘diet’ foods and drinks
  • – Fizzy drinks
  • – Fruit juices
  • – Baked goods
  • – Sweets and hard candies
  • – James, jellies and yogurts
  • – Chewing gum

Are there any natural sweeteners out there?

Natural sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are often promoted as healthier options than sugar or other sugar substitutes. However, even these “natural sweeteners” often go through processing and refining. The crucial part is the body still processes them as sugar so use sparingly!

Natural sweeteners that the FDA recognises as generally safe include:

  • – Honey
  • – Nectar
  • – Molasses
  • – Maple syrup

Should I eat artificial sweeteners?

We advise to use them as a way of weening you off sugar and during the transition stages of cutting down on the sweetness in your diet. They should eb avolid in under 6-year-olds as we don’t know the effect they have on growing bodies. Remember to check labels and ingredients on food packaging, as this can help you to make informed choices.

We want you to be able to access your full palate, not just the sweet range. Completing our 14-day kick sugar challenge will help you do that. Find out more about our #KickSugar challenge here.

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