I have always been taught that artificial sweeteners are terrible for health and come with a bunch of risks. That said, since added sugar is essentially awful for good health too, I started wondering which one was the lesser of the two evils. This week, I’ve decided to discus what I’ve found.
Are Artificial Sweeteners Better or Worse than Sugar?
To start, neither artificial sweeteners nor added sugar are particularly good for you. In all, it’s best to keep your consumption of either of them to a reasonable amount.
To start, when I talk about added sugar, I’m talking about white sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, and other forms that aren’t created in a lab. When it all comes down to it – despite all other unique properties they might have – the sweet part of it is sugar and it is treated the same way in the body. I’m including stevia, because while it is typically marketed as “natural”, even though it’s also highly refined. On the other hand, I’m not including sucralose, which comes from sugar, but is altered and is not treated the same way in the body.
The FDA recognizes the following natural sweeteners as being generally safe (other than sugar, brown sugar, etc):
- Maple syrup
- Fruit juices and nectars
Yes, that last one is considered to be a natural sweetener. See why everyone is always telling you that drinking juice is the same as drinking pop or sugar water? This one is still hard for me to accept because I was brought up believing that a glass of orange juice is great for you. Not true though!
Artificial sweeteners are synthetics. They might have had natural origins, but they’re altered. They’re much sweeter than sugar and have developed a terrible reputation.
Should We Stop Judging Sugar Substitutes So Harshly?
Artificial sweeteners are used in just about everything. They make it possible for people with diabetes to eat sweet foods without skyrocketing their blood glucose levels. They also typically come with far fewer calories – if any at all – when compared to using sugar for the same level of sweetness.
Are they the terrible hunger-causing, obesity-promoting, cancer risk-increasing monsters that I’ve been reading about so widely for as long as I can remember? As it turns out, likely not. I firmly believed that they were terrible for a slew of reasons, and it really doesn’t look like I was right about that.
Even the cancer studies were only found in rats and mice, and those were in individuals specifically bred to be predisposed to cancer. Moreover, they were fed astronomical doses of artificial sweeteners to get those results.
In the amounts that we eat, artificial sweeteners help us to dodge calories, insulin responses, and even tooth decay. Moreover, since we’ve been using them for decades, quality research is there. Science isn’t guessing. Most of these substances are well established and simply don’t cause the problems they’ve been accused of causing.
Go Light on Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Alike
My recommendation these days – and I’m neither a doctor nor a nutritionist, by the way, so this isn’t a medical recommendation – and the one I follow myself, is to focus on moderation when consuming either sugar or artificial sweeteners.
If you go light on them, it’s actually more likely that you’ll be better off with artificial sweeteners than with sugar, because sugar is just that bad for you. Mind blowing, right? Oddly, as much as I’m confident about this, I’m still uncomfortable with it. Amazing what years of bias will do to me!