How artificial are the artificial sweeteners?
We know them by brand names: Canderel, Splenda, Xylitol, Stevia. They are sitting directly next to sugar on the supermarket selves and makes us feel guilty when we are buying sugar. Is it right?
Artificial sweeteners are recommended when we want to reduce sugar/calories in our diet. So they look perfect solution as sugar replacement.
Let's see what are the calorie content of sweeteners compared to sugar:
We do not need to panic looking at the calorie content per 100 g as you can see the artificial sweeteners much more sweeter than sugar, so we need just a small (in some cases tiny) amount to get the same sweetness. It does not mean that we have the same taste though, but definitely less calorie.
So it looks they are perfect for sugar substituted and they should be part of a healthy diet. However...
However it’s not all about calories.
The main question how our body reacts to these artificial sweeteners. And the truth is that our body can’t figure out how to metabolize these sweeteners.
This is the point, this is the reason why they contain less calorie or no calorie at all. They are go through our digestive system without being adsorbed and can cause problems in digestion. We do not know enough about the long term effect of these artificial non-nutritive sweeteners to judge how they interfere our metabolism and blood sugar level.
All start with the sweet taste in our mouth, the sweet receptors in our body send a signal to the brain that energy-dense food is coming - as normally sweet taste means sugar. So our brain produces the right response and prepare to regulate blood sugar level. Only in case of sweeteners there is no calorie accompanied with the sweet taste so our body's alarm reaction to deal with sugar in our blood is not necessary. We do not know how our body will re-program itself if this false alarm happens from time to time. There is a risk, that artificial sweeteners mess up our body's blood sugar regulator system.
Even their safety has been studied and tested for a long time we cannot be sure.
My big dilemma is really sugar vs. stevia.
Stevia derives from a plant, so yes, it has a natural origin, but it is so highly processed that we cannot say this is a natural product. It is worth to check the labels on "Stevia products" because not all of the is pure Stevia, most of them a mix of artificial sweeteners.
However it is still probably the most "natural" among the non-natural sweeteners.
Do we need artificial sweeteners in our weight loss or healthy diet?
The answer is not so obvious. One one side they really help us to reduce empty calories in our diet. Sugar - does not matter if we talk about raw sugar, brown sugar, or it comes in form of Maple syrup- does not have any nutritional value, they just deliver the calories and the sweet taste, what we love. My opinion on this is that again there are not short cuts. Only moderation and balance can help here.
So I personally still use Stevia, but just a small amount and rarely. Where I use it: a tiny amount in my coffee in the morning, and salad dressings occasionally. In other cases I use honey, sugar or Maple syrup or agave nectar. In cakes or smoothies I like to use simply mashed banana to get a sweet taste.
I believe the key is to get used to less sweet taste and to reduce the sugar in our diet.