You might have noticed the increasing number of drinks, yogurts, sweets, drugs, … claiming to be ‘sugar-free’. Yet, when you taste them, they are incredibly sweet – even sweeter than their sugar-loaded equivalent.
Welcome to the magical world of sweeteners! Aspartame, sucralose, saccharin, … They are made artificially and are many times sweeter than common sugar (200 to 600 times sweeter!).
On paper, they sound great:
- They are cheaper than sugar.
- They do not cause decay like sugar does.
- Smaller quantities of sweeteners are required. Consequently products made from them contain less calories.
- They can be used as sugar substitutes for diabetics as they do not cause blood sugar levels to rise drastically.
- There is no evidence that they are harmful to health and have been approved in many countries.
But (there’s always a but!), it’s not that simple.
The Controversy of Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are surrounded by controversy. They have been linked to cancer, headaches, mood swings and many more conditions. But those studies have been denied and sweeteners are still widely approved and used.
Sweeteners derived from sugar alcohol (sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol) don’t seem to be linked with cancer but seem to be linked with intestinal conditions when taken in large quantities.
Herbal sweetener stevia was found to be a mutagen on animals. Further studies by the Wold Health Organisation dismissed the claim.
A Couple of Key Points
Whichever sweetener we’re talking about, there are some simple remarks we can make.
- Let’s take the decay claim. Yes, sweeteners will not rot your teeth. But if you drink loads of fizzy drinks (sugar-free or not), the acid in the drinks will cause decay.
- Diabetics and people watching their weight will be able to ingest those sugar-free products without fear for their sugar blood level and calorie intake. But, they will still be hooked up on sweet tastes. Sweeteners do nothing to make you less sugar-dependent. Quite the opposite actually. There have been some animal studies indicating that artificial sweeteners may cause body weight gain! The body expects calories matching the sweet taste. Those calories do not come. The body is not satisfied. Our appetite increases and we eat more next time there’s food.
What does ‘Sugar-Free’ Make You Think?
In fact, the problem with those ‘sugar-free’ products is that they make you think that you can have as many of them as you want because they are sugar-free. Unfortunately, the best thing for your health is not to stuff yourself with sugar-free products. But to eat a balanced diet and exercise. I know, it’s boring. But it works. The sugar-free shortcut unfortunately is a bit of a dead-end. It will not lead you to a healthy lifestyle. It comforts you in your bad habits and it might even make you sick.