Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that provides energy.
There are several types of sugars; they can be naturally occurring in foods such as fruit (fructose), or they can be added to a variety of foods (white, raw or brown sugar). Sugars are popular in the processed food industry because they contribute to taste, colour, thickness and also acts as a preservative.
Sugar in moderation is not harmful, however too much sugar can contribute to health problems like obesity, diabetes and tooth decay. We’ve all heard of the term ‘empty calories’. These are your refined sugars that provide that quick burst of energy (think lollies), but have no nutritional value to it.
Insert ‘sugar alternatives’
What are they?
Sugar alternatives act as a sugar (in terms of sweetness), but contain little to no energy. Sugar alternatives are then split into two categories; non nutritive sweeteners (artificial/intense sweeteners) and nutritive sweeteners (plant based).
With all these sugar options out there, here is a breakdown of the main ones
Non Nutritive Sweeteners (note; the main artificial sweeteners in Australia are Aspartame and Sucralose)
Acesulfame Potassium (Sunett, Sweet One); soft drinks, gelatine, gum, frozen desserts
This sugar has been around for 22 years without any problems; however, pre market testing on animals showed it ‘might’ contribute to cancer; but further testing showed it was safe if consumed in moderation.
Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet); soft drinks, gum
Aspartame is probably the most controversial sweetener, being accused of causing weight gain and cancer; however, no convincing evidence has appeared. Aspartame in moderation poses no threat.
Neotame (Nutrasweet); soft drinks, frozen desserts, dairy products, fruit juices
The baby of the group, and made by the same producers of aspartame, this artificial sweetener is a lot sweeter than refined sugar, so only a little bit is required to get the same sweet taste.
Saccharin (Sweet n’ Low); soft drinks, lollies
Early studies showed this artificial sweetener caused liver cancer in rats; however, further studies showed it might only cause liver cancer in rats.
Sucralose (Splenda); fruit drinks, syrup
One study showed it negatively impacted the immune system, however, further studies showed no evidence. This is one of the few artificial sugars which is not sensitive to heat, making it good for baking.
Stevia (Truvia, Pure Via); soft drinks
Derived from the stevia plant, this artificial sweetener is the most natural alternative. It’s 300 times sweeter than sugar and doesn’t spike your blood sugar levels.
Sugar Alcohols (Sorbitol, Xylitol, Mannitol); sugar free lollies, desserts
Less sweet and caloric than refined sugar, consumed in large amounts can cause bloating and diarrhea.
This plant based sugar from the agave cactus is quite similar to honey in terms of taste and texture. It’s also sweeter than sugar, so less can be used and it will sport the same amount of energy.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Another controversial sweetener; it is also cheaper to produce so it’s more favourable as a substitute in food products. HFCS has a different chemical arrangement to normal sugar. It requires no chemical enzymes to digest, which means it enters the blood stream a lot quicker than regular sugar, leading to a faster spike in blood sugar levels.
This sugar contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals; however, it does contain more kilojoules.
At the end of the day, just be mindful of which sugar alternative you choose. Do your research and look beyond the marketing that’s out there.
Until next week!