Warning: Although sweet, this article may leave a bitter aftertaste.
Broadly speaking, sweeteners are categorized into Nutritive – those that provide calories – and Non-Nutritive Sweeteners– those that are low in calories or contain no calories at all. The latter truly does sound like a dream – it’s all we’ve ever wanted: sweetness without the detrimental health side-effects!
Let’s hone in on Non-Nutritive Sweeteners (NNS):
NNS can be further subdivided according to ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ types.
Artificial NNS include those that contain chemicals such as aspartame, saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame-K, cyclamate and neotame.
Artificial NNS were designed to limit calorie intake, assist in keeping the cm’s off, and improve in blood sugar levels. Since then, artificial NNS have found their way into almost every diet soda, coffee sweetener and ‘sugar-free’ treat.
Despite being considered safe by Food and Drug Administrative (FDA) in the US, recent findings have linked regular intake of artificial NNS to weight gain, raised ‘hunger’ hormone levels, and increased risk for chronic diseases such as heart disease risk and diabetes. Additionally, they’re able to ‘wreak havoc on your gut’ by potentially upsetting gut flora balance.
Let’s focus on some Natural NNS
Natural NNS such as Xylitol, Erythritol and Sorbitol are popular low-calories stand-ins for refined sugar. They belong to a chemical group called ‘sugar alcohols’. They are low-digestible carbohydrates as our bodies are only able to absorb them partially. Currently, there is not much data to support concern over ‘sugar alcohol’ consumption in humans. However, incomplete absorption thereof may cause gut complications (i.e. diarrhea, flatulence and bloating) in some individuals – especially in those with IBS or SIBO (Small Intestine Bowel Overgrowth).
Stevia – a zero-calorie shrub-derived sweetener – has been a contentious topic in the health arena: it has been questioned for its potential negative impact on fertility. However, this has only been noted in animal studies when using unpurified, crude extracts of stevia. Well-characterized, high-quality stevia approved for food and beverage use is deemed safe. Evidence-to-date shows that it does not: increase blood pressure, cause cancer, disrupt the gut flora, result in negative gut-related symptoms, or increase appetite. It provides a suitable alternative to carbohydrates and refined sugar in the diet, and as a result, may assist in weight management and blood sugar control.
Recently, Monkfruit Extract has become the ‘talk of the town’. Monkfruit, or luo han guo, is a fruit from Southeast Asia. It contains compounds, named magrosides, which are 250 times sweeter than table sugar! Current evidence suggests magrosides have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-cancer and antibacterial effects; and – as shown in animal studies – the potential to decrease blood sugar levels.
Sweeteners: the “sweet-yay”and the “unsweet-no”
Take home message…
Disclaimer: As with anything sweet, ALL sweeteners should be consumed in moderation
At TASH 360, we believe in personalized care. Visit our nutritionist, Steph Rouillard, to help you make the right lifestyle choices and to get your gut right and your internal antioxidant system in tip-top condition!