Sugar substitutes are labeled as sugar-free or diet in many foods and drinks or are sold in packets but are they beneficial for health? Here’s their impact.
Almost everyone likes a sugary snack but if you often have foods and drinks with lots of added sugar, the empty calories can add up where added sugar can play a part in weight gain and it also may raise your risk of serious health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Some people use products called sugar substitutes, also known as artificial sweeteners, as they taste sweet like sugar but have fewer calories.
Are sugar-free products beneficial for health? Here’s the impact of artificial sweeteners on body (Photo by Twitter/pimentotoast)
TYPES OF ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
Sugar substitutes are in many kinds of foods and drinks labeled sugar-free or diet and that includes soft drinks, candy and baked goods where as some sugar substitutes also are sold on their own in packets or other containers and these can be added to foods or drinks at home. In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Sandeep Sonawane, Consultant – Internal Medicine at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Navi Mumbai, explained types of artificial sweeteners and revealed:
- Sugar alcohols like sorbitol, xylitol, lactitol, mannitol, erythritol and maltitol are slightly less calories than table sugar. The sweetness of sugar alcohols varies from 25-100% as sweet as sugar.
- Synthetic sweeteners like Saccharin, Aspartame and Sucralose have zero calories and are sweeter than sugar in taste. They are available in tablets and powder form and can be used to sweeten your food items.
- Natural sweeteners such as Stevia are sugar substitutes that can be extracted as such from plants. It has zero glycemic index and contains zero calories
BENEFITS LINKED TO SUGAR SUBSITITUTES
Talking about the health benefits linked to sugar substitutes, he shared, “Sugar substitutes could lower your risk of getting tooth decay and cavities. Sugar substitutes also don’t raise the level of sugar in the blood helps in controlling sugar levels in diabetic patient. For overweight or obese people, sugar substitutes also help manage weight in the short term.”
Bringing her expertise to the same, Dr Richa Chaturvedi, Senior Consultant – Endocrinology at Indraprastha Apollo Hospitals in New Delhi, said, “Sugar-free products are those that are sweetened with artificial sweeteners instead of sugar. These artificial sweeteners provide a sweet taste without the added calories and carbohydrates found in sugar. While sugar-free products may be beneficial for certain individuals in specific circumstances, it is important to consider both the advantages and potential drawbacks.”
According to her, benefits of sugar-free products include –
- Weight management: Artificial sweeteners have little to no caloric value, which can be beneficial for individuals trying to manage their weight or reduce their calorie intake.
- Blood sugar control: Since artificial sweeteners do not significantly affect blood sugar levels, sugar-free products can be suitable for people with diabetes or those who need to monitor their blood glucose levels.
- Dental health: Sugar is a known contributor to tooth decay. By consuming sugar-free products, individuals can reduce their sugar intake, which can help improve dental health.
DRAWBACKS OR HEALTH CONCERNS LINKED TO SUGAR SUBSITITUTES
Highlighting some health concerns linked to sugar substitutes, Dr Sandeep Sonawane said, “Artificial sweeteners are not recommended for children below 2 years. Eating high quantities of certain sugar alcohols can cause bloating, loose stools or diarrhea. Artificial -sweetened beverages are linked with an increased risk of developing type 2 diabetes. High intake of such beverages has been associated with weight gain, possibly due to lower satiety and increased blood sugar and insulin levels, leading to insulin resistance.”
He cautioned, “Although diet soda reduces caloric intake the carbonated drinks can still cause teeth erosion and decay due to carbonic acid in these beverages. The human brain responds to sweetness with signals to eat more. By providing a sweet taste without any calories, however, sugar free beverages may cause us to crave more sweet foods and drinks, which can add up to excess calories. Some artificial sweeteners are also potential carcinogenic and discouraged for long time consumption.”
She listed the drawbacks of sugar-free products as –
- Taste preferences: Artificial sweeteners often have a different taste profile than sugar, and some people may find them less appealing. Additionally, some artificial sweeteners can leave an aftertaste.
- Potential for overconsumption: The absence of calories in sugar-free products may lead some individuals to believe that they can consume these products in larger quantities without consequences. However, overconsumption can still lead to weight gain or other health issues.
- Impact on gut health: Some studies suggest that artificial sweeteners can negatively affect the balance of gut bacteria, potentially leading to digestive issues. However, more research is needed to fully understand this relationship.
Dr Sandeep Sonawane concluded, “Artificial sweeteners can be a short-term way to help some people lessen their use of sugar and lose or manage weight. Products made with sugar substitutes also may give you the wrong message about processed foods. A snack labeled low sugar or no sugar may not be the most nutritious choice. Whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, usually have the best mix of nutrients for the body but artificial sweeteners can help some people enjoy sweetness without excess calories and if used in moderation, artificial sweeteners can be part of a healthy diet.