Whether you are trying to lose weight, or just live healthy, you should consider sugar as your enemy. As in using it as rarely as possible to sweeten your food and drinks. But there are sugar alternatives you can turn to – the market is full of artificial and natural sweeteners that promise lower calories and better health effects. But these are often not what you think. Sometimes they do more damage than good.
Artificial sugar alternatives
Artificial sweeteners have been around for decades. Perhaps it was their early adoption to blame, but some of them were not tested properly. Acesulfame potassium, for example, was introduced in 1988, with the approval of the FDA. But testing was not as rigorous back then, so it might have missed a few side effects. And it did: acesulfame K has been shown to contain methylene chloride, a carcinogen. And long-term exposure to it can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects, visual disturbances, and cancer in humans.
Aspartame also comes with side effects ranging from diarrhea to brain cancer (well, in the most extreme cases, obviously). Other artificial sugar alternatives were introduced in the past but banned later as new evidence of their negative health effects emerged.
Honey is a great alternative to sugar. It is healthy, it has a variety of uses, and it’s generally considered to be the best choice one can make for health. But it’s really heavy in calories, which makes it a bad choice for some.
Granulated sugar has 16 calories per teaspoon while the same quantity of honey has 22. This is not a major issue since honey is also sweeter – but the idea of eating a healthier sweetener might lead to excess, which can contribute to the growth of fat deposits.
Agave nectar is a great alternative to sugar – as long as you can get it raw and unrefined. Its calorie content is similar to honey’s, and it’s also much sweeter than sugar. Given its high fructose content, it is less likely to cause spikes in blood sugar, which can lead to insulin resistance.
But many commercial varieties are refined and processed to extend their shelf lives. And this processing transforms most of its fructose content into glucose, which makes it just as dangerous for your blood sugar then, well, sugar.
High fructose corn syrup
Used in large quantities by the food industry, high fructose corn syrup is one of the most viable sugar alternatives today. But it is scrutinized by many for its apparent link to obesity. Due to its high fructose content, this alternative can do quite a lot of harm to your body as several studies have shown.
A traditional sweetener in many South American countries, stevia has recently been discovered to be a worthy, zero-calorie alternative to sugar. While neither the leaves of the plant themselves nor their raw extract have been approved to be used by the food industry, its sweetening agent – Rebaudioside A – is generally recognized as safe by the health authorities.
But stevia extract has been shown to affect blood pressure if consumed in large doses. Eating up to 1,000 mg of it is safe, but it may interact with blood pressure medications, which can lead to hypotension in some. It has also been shown to interact with some other medications – antifungals, anti-inflammatories, antimicrobials, anti-cancer drugs, antivirals, appetite suppressants, calcium channel blockers, cholesterol-lowering drugs, drugs that increase urination, fertility agents and others. This means that caution should be exercised when switching to a stevia extract.