Blue Cross Blue Shield of Mississippi

Satisfy Your Sweet Tooth

Pebbles Counts, M.S., RDN, L.D

Natural, artificial and novel sweeteners, sugar alcohols, sweetening agents… Whoa! Are you as confused as I am?! I’m sure you've heard of at least one of these before, especially if you are trying to reduce the amount of sugar in your diet. But what exactly are they? And how do they play a role in your daily life? All of these sweeteners are known as “sugar substitutes," which means any sweetener you use in place of regular table sugar, also known as “Sucrose.” So, let’s talk about each one so you can decide what’s best for you and your family.

Natural Sweeteners: These are often less processed than other sugar substitutes and are encouraged as a healthier option when compared to sugar. Examples include fruit juices and nectars, honey, molasses and maple syrup.

Pro: They can be used in a variety of foods and drinks including teas and cocktails, desserts, cereals and for baking.

Con: They are still processed as “sugar” in your body, which can lead to tooth decay, poor nutrition and weight gain if they are consumed in excess.

Artificial Sweeteners: These are known as “synthetic sugar substitutes,” but may be derived from herbs and sugar itself. Food industries widely use these products in baked goods, soft drinks, candy, canned foods and dairy. Examples include Splenda, Sweet N’ Low, Equal, NutraSweet and Sweet One.

Pro: They do not contribute to tooth decay, do not have calories and do not raise blood sugar levels.

Con: They have been scrutinized for decades by critics who claim artificial sweeteners lead to many health problems, although there is no sound scientific evidence to support that claim.

Sugar Alcohols: This is a type of reduced-calorie sweetener found in a variety of foods that are labeled as “sugar-free” or “no sugar added.” Examples include Erythritol, Hydrogenated Starch, Isomalt, Sorbitol and Xylitol.

Pro: A great alternative if you are trying to lose weight since these have fewer calories than other sweeteners. It is also helpful in managing blood glucose levels.

Con: “Sugar-free” foods can often be more expensive. They may also contain more saturated fat than other sweets. Also, they are known to cause gastric symptoms, including gas, bloating, cramping and diarrhea.

Novel Sweeteners: These may contain various types of sweeteners and do not fit into one certain category because of what they are made from and how they are made. Examples include Pure Via and Truvia (Stevia extracts).

Pro: Stevia is a novel sweetener that has become popular in the media recently because of the possibility of being a healthier alternative to sugar.

Con: Research is still being done. As of now, the FDA categorizes novel sweeteners as GRAS or “generally recognized as safe” substances.

Bottom line: Whether you decide to keep using table sugar or find a sugar alternative that you like, moderation is key. Although sugar substitutes can help with weight management, they should only be used when needed. Sugar-free does not mean calorie-free, so be sure to always monitor portions. You will always get the most health benefits from eating whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables, instead of processed foods which may contain sugar alternatives.

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