Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes often get a bad rap, but are they really as bad as they are made out to be? The results of a recent study suggests that maybe they aren’t; good news for all of us with sweet tooths. In the study three sweeteners were used to determine the effects on food intake, satiety, and glucose and insulin levels.
Researchers used sucrose, stevia and aspartame in the study. Stevia, a plant used as a natural sugar substitute, has come into popularity fairly recently in the United States, but has been used for centuries in South and Central America. The US Food and Drug Administration placed stevia on their Generally Recognized as Safe list. Any concern about the safety of stevia consumption comes from the eating and drinking excessive amounts, not from casual use.
Aspartame is a slightly different story altogether. According to our favorite nutrition expert Mary Hartley, aspartame is more controversial because it has been found to create a small risk of cancer in laboratory animals. However, she also said that “it is important to know that carcinogens are everywhere and many are much more potent than aspartame.”
For the study, researchers had participants eat a “preload” of crackers and cream cheese sweetened with aspartame, stevia or sucrose before lunch and dinner. By having participants eat this “preload” the researchers were able to determine their effect on the participants eating habits. After meals, the participants were asked to record their food intake and satiety. Their glucose and insulin levels were also tested.
It was discovered that participants who consumed the aspartame or stevia ate less food at meal times than their counterparts who had sucrose, but reported feeling just as full. Those who had eaten the stevia preloads had lower glucose and insulin levels than the participants who had eaten aspartame or sucrose. Both glucose and insulin levels were lower in those who had eaten the cream cheese with aspartame than those who had consumed the sucrose.
So what does that all mean? If you want to lose weight without giving up the sweeter things in life, this research supports substituting sugar with low-calorie sweeteners. However, it might be better to get rid of sweetened foods and drinks altogether. “I think it’s better to drink unsweetened beverages such as water, seltzer water, and seltzer mixed with some fruit juice,” Hartley said.
Even if you can’t, or simply don’t want, to give up your sweeteners, there are still health benefits to reducing sugar consumption. “Excess sugar consumption carries the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, gout, tooth decay and other health problems,” Hartley said. “Reducing sugar consumption, with or without increasing artificial sweeteners, would reduce that risk.” So it’s good news for all of us with a sweet tooth. We’ll just try to cut down the use of the sugar bowl and reach for something naturally sweet instead.