There’s a lot of debate going on about non-nutritive sweeteners like stevia, aspartame, sucralose (Splenda), and monk-fruit about whether they’re better than sugar.
So let’s take a look at why scientists are trying to find alternatives for sugar in the first place.
Sugar can be found in different molecular formations. We typically talk about “fructose” or “sucrose” when we talk about sugar.
Sucrose is what we know as “table sugar.”
Fructose is the type of sugar found in fruits, or you may have heard of a little thing called high fructose corn syrup.
There are others, but these are the two most commonly found in our diets.
Both sucrose and fructose, when consumed, cause our blood glucose (sugar) to increase.
Then, insulin is secreted, which tells our body to get the glucose out of our blood and into cells.
This is a normal process.
But there is a high prevalence of insulin resistance in our society.
This means that when blood sugar levels increase and our body releases insulin, our body just doesn’t respond well and therefore the glucose isn’t moved from our blood sugar to the cells to be put to use. Blood sugar then becomes chronically elevated, which can lead to diseases like type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
On top of all this, sugars have calories.
So, scientists began looking for alternative ways to make our foods sweet without causing our blood sugar to increase AND without adding any extra calories to our diet.
And they found ways!
Aspartame, monk fruit, stevia, and sucralose (splenda) are the most common ones we see in our foods today.
These are considered “non-nutritive sweeteners” because they don’t have a calorie value associated with their consumption.
And as it turns out, they also don’t cause blood glucose levels to rise like sugar does.
Which is why switching to diet soda or using stevia in your morning coffee can often help individuals lose weight and better manage blood sugar levels.
However, while stevia and monk fruit are considered natural sources, aspartame and sucralose are deemed “artificial sweeteners” because they aren’t found in nature, but rather modified in a lab.
(Let it be noted that the stevia and monk fruit sweeteners also need to be processed in a lab before they can become the form you’re using in your kitchen.)
Meta-analyses of non-nutritive sweeteners show that all we’ve talked about here do indeed accomplish the task of avoiding the blood sugar spike associated with sugar consumption.
So scientists win…. Somewhat?
They have essentially found a band-aid. If you already have an error in your insulin system, switching to non-nutritive sweeteners alone will not fix it, but it’s a good step!
For individuals with pre-diabetes or those who just want to cut calories, switching to non-nutritive sweeteners can be a great first step.
BUT ONE CAVEAT!
Almost all studies note that “future studies are warranted to assess the health implications of frequent and chronic non-nutritive sweetener consumption and further study the underlying biological mechanisms.”
The truth is, nobody knows how these artificial sweeteners are going to affect our bodies long-term when using them day after day.
If you ABSOLUTELY NEED a little bit of sweetener in your morning coffee and you want to avoid the added calories and blood sugar increase, it’s best to go with stevia or monk fruit.
Use these sweeteners as a stepping stone to eliminating the constant need for sweet foods.
Do you have any questions about other types of sweeteners?
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