The number of sweeteners available today is staggering. We see high fructose corn syrup, sorbitol, dextrose, xylitol, and sugar in our packaged foods along with white, blue, pink, brown and now green packets to spruce up that iced tea in restaurants. If you are keeping up with the trends, agave nectar and stevia are all the rage. But have you ever stopped to wonder what all the sweeteners really are? Regardless of where you ended up on the flowchart or what you think of your choice, understanding what the sweetener is and where it comes from is the first step.
Sugar substitutes linked to obesity
The artificial sweeteners that are widely seen as a way to combat obesity and diabetes could, in part, be contributing to the global epidemic of these conditions.
Sugar substitutes such as saccharin might aggravate these metabolic disorders by acting on bacteria in the human gut, according to a study published by Nature this week (J. Suez et al. Nature http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature13793; 2014). Smaller studies have previously purported to show an association between the use of artificial sweeteners and the occurrence of metabolic disorders. This is the first work to suggest that sweeteners might be exacerbating metabolic disease, and that this might happen through the gut microbiome, the diverse community of bacteria in the human intestines. “It’s counter-intuitive — no one expected it because it never occurred to them to look,” says Martin Blaser, a microbiologist at New York University.
The findings could cause a headache for the food industry. According to BCC Research, a market-research company in Wellesley, Massachusetts, the market for artificial sweeteners is booming. And regulatory agencies, which track the safety of food additives, including artificial sweeteners, have not flagged such a link to metabolic disorders. In response to the latest findings, Stephen Pagani, a spokesman for the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, says that, as with all new data, the agency “will decide in due course whether they should be brought to the attention of panel experts for review”.
Sugar Replacement Chart
We all need to drastically reduce our intake of sweeteners. Our advice? Eat less of the sweet stuff, but when you do, go natural and choose minimally processed sweeteners without all the chemicals and potential side effects.
More Info / Further Reading:
• Sweeteners Info: Agave Nectar, Corn Syrup, Equal (aspartame), High Fructose Corn Syrup, Honey, Splenda (sucralose), Stevia, Sugar, Sweet’N Low (saccharin) on Be Food Smart
• “How to Choose a Sweetener” on Be Food Smart
• “Sugar substitutes linked to obesity” by Alison Abbott on Nature
• “Sugar Swap: How to Replace Sugar with Healthier Sugar Alternatives” by Kaitlin W. on Swanson Vitamins Health Blog
• “How Sugar Has Been Changing America” by Tanya Wlodarczyk on Infographic list
• “Artificial Sweeteners – Are they really Safe ?” on Sweet Additions