Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice - by Nutritionista
Okay, really, this post is about one thing: SWEETNESS. What’s the best (read: healthiest) way to sweeten food and drink? I used to be a straight up Splenda addict. You couldn’t convince me there was anything wrong with that stuff. It has zero calories and tastes fine, what’s not to love?!
SPLENDA IN FACT ISN’T SPLENDID
Well, turns out, a lot of things. Splenda, and all other artificial sweeteners, are made with… drumroll please… CHEMICALS. They’re made from different chemicals, but chemicals just the same. NutraSweet and Equal are made from aspartame and Splenda is made from sucralose. It’s true that some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners are safe in small amounts, but why would you want to consume them when there are better options? Why risk it? Not to mention, artificial sweeteners have been linked pretty extensively to weight gain.
WHAT LIES BENEATH THE SWEET
Most of the other popular sweetening agents are composed of a combination of glucose and fructose (honey, agave, HFCS, etc.). Fructose is the main component in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and presents a few problems. It’s been shown to induce obesity in mice, doesn’t provide the same level of satiety as glucose (meaning you’ll eat more of it), and raises blood triglyceride levels (markers for heart disease) higher than glucose. That’s why I pass on stuff with HFCS, though other seemingly natural sweeteners contain some fructose as well.
GO AU NATURAL
It turns out that in the end, most of the non-artificial (caloric) sweetening options are all about the same in terms of effects on the body. I’m on the fence about Stevia, so I just stick to the stuff that’s as least processed as possible: regular sugar, honey, maple syrup, etc. (though all are processed to some extent). Sure, you might be getting a few extra calories, but you also know it’s not going to do anything weird to your body.
As far as I can tell, the least processed sweetening agent you can use is simply fruit or fruit juice. You can use 100% fruit juice to sweeten tea or other drinks or real fruit/fruit preserves to sweeten things like oatmeal and yogurt. Another thing I think we all need to do is get used to the way things taste when they’re not so saccharin sweet. Gradually cut back on sweeteners of all kinds and you won’t need things to have that sharp, sugary taste. Appreciate food for what it really tastes like! Plus, so many foods are naturally sweet (nuts, fruit, even veggies) that it’s easy to satisfy the craving without ever touching the sugar jar.
ETA: One of Mary’s readers pointed out that so-called “natural” sweeteners (even fruit) also contain fructose and linked to a Slate article questioning why HFCS has been so vilified. Its chemical composition is similar to other more natural sweeteners, so why do I stay away from it? Well, I’m just more comfortable with non-processed stuff. Period. If I start making exceptions to that rule, it gets complicated. And, like I said in another comment, using fruit to sweeten stuff means I’m getting the vitamins and nutrients from it (along with some fiber, if I’m using the real stuff!). I much prefer that to the empty calories of HFCS or regular sugar. But, like everything, it’s a personal preference and you should do what you feel comfortable with.