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Seven tablespoons of sugar. That is the maximum amount that we should consume per day, according to nutritionists, to avoid health problems.
If we take into account that a single can of some of the most popular soft drinks or sodas already contains more sugar than that amount, we can see that it is not easy to stay within those limits.
That’s why many people are looking for a way to replace this sweetener.
One of the most popular options are artificial sweeteners, which provide a sweet taste with little or no calorie.
But are these chemicals really healthier than sugar ?
What are sweeteners?
There are many different types of sweeteners in thousands of different products, including foods and diet drinks.
All aim to fulfill the same function: to sweeten instead of sugar, which means to contribute fewer calories .
Some such as saccharin, sucralose , acesulfame K and aspartame are intensely sweet in small doses, which makes them ideal for use in low-calorie soft drinks and sugar-free gum.
Others, such as sorbitol and xylitol, are more bulky, such as real sugar, so they are useful as a replacement for confectionery products.
Should I consume them?
If you ask an expert, the majority -for your frustration- will tell you that taking them or not should be a “personal choice”.
Undoubtedly, limiting the amount of sugar we consume is a good thing, as it helps reduce the risk of diabetes, obesity and tooth decay.
If we consider, for example, the subject of soft drinks and their highly sugar content, it is clear that having a dietary alternative can make a big difference .
But it is more difficult to determine if exchanging sugar for a sweetener is really healthy in all circumstances.
The truth is that eating products low in sugar and low in calories is no guarantee that you will stay slim and fit. They are not a replacement for a healthy diet.
If they are artificial, does not that make them unhealthy?
Many are synthetic, but some sweeteners can be made from natural substances. For example, stevia is made from the leaves of a plant.
On the other hand, we must clarify that ‘ synthetic ‘ does not mean ‘ unhealthy ‘ .
In many countries there are laws stipulating that food and beverages must be clearly labeled and that they should be clarified on the package if they contain sweeteners (and of what kind) so that consumers can choose when they buy with all the information at their fingertips.
Will switching to sweeteners make me lose weight?
Reducing the calories you get from sugar can help you lose weight.
However, how much weight you lose will depend on your diet in general and how much exercise you do , as well as your genetic makeup and metabolism.
Dr. Stacey Lockyer, of the British Nutrition Foundation, says switching to artificially sweetened foods and drinks could help some dieters.
“There are studies that show both short and long term that people who eat dietary foods eat fewer calories and tend to lose weight .”
“If we talk about drinks, for example, running water is the best thing, but some people may find it difficult to switch from sugary drinks to water,” he says.
“You could consider taking a low-calorie drink if you like the taste.”
Are they a risk?
Artificial sweeteners are tightly regulated and have passed the necessary checksfor use in food.
Manufacturers must provide evidence demonstrating that their sweetener:
- It does not cause any adverse effects, including cancer.
- Does not affect reproduction.
- It is not stored inside the body or metabolized into other potentially harmful products.
- It does not cause allergic reactions.
The European Food Safety Authority establishes an acceptable daily intake of sweeteners, which is the maximum amount that is considered safe to consume every day throughout your life.
And these limits are difficult to overcome .
Using as an example the aspartame sweetener -one of the most questioned in recent years- an “average” adult weighing 70 kg. You could drink up to 14 cans of a sugar-free soft drink or use 40 teaspoons of the sweetener in your tea or coffee every day without exceeding the limit.
For a child who weighs 23 kg., The maximum equivalent is four cans of drink or 13 teaspoons of sweetener.
What about the side effects?
There has been a lot of negative press about artificial sweeteners.
Some studies have claimed that they could make people hungrier and alter blood sugar levels , but there is no convincing evidence of the alleged harm.
Some are concerned that sweeteners may alter our taste for food, making us find less attractive foods naturally sweet like fruits, and that we prefer to eat more sugary foods.
But more studies are needed to prove it.
However, there are some people who can not or should not consume artificial sweeteners.
Children up to the age of three should not eat them. On the other hand, pregnant women can do it.
People born with a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria should avoid aspartame because it can be harmful to them.
For the rest of the population, it is worth noting that consuming many sweeteners can cause flatulence and diarrhea .
Can they help with diabetes?
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate and, because all carbohydrates affect blood glucose levels, reducing sugar intake can help keep blood glucose levels under control.
The NGO Diabetes UK explains: “Since sugar does not provide any nutritional value, apart from carbohydrates and calories, it is said to have ’empty calories.’ Therefore, it is not good to consume it if you are looking to control your weight.”
“But this does not mean that people with diabetes should have a diet totally free of sugar.”