Sugar substitutes – Good or Bad?

Sugars are more harmful than we think.

A recent study published in the top scientific journal, Circulation, and covered in the Toronto Star, looked at data and estimated the number of deaths from sugar-sweetened beverages. The results were alarming. Sugary beverages are partly responsible for 184,000 deaths worldwide, and 1,600 Canadians annually.

“That’s more than four deaths per day, and higher than most other wealthy industrialized countries”, said Dariush Mozaffarian, a senior author and dean of the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University in Boston.

“We know that sugar-sweetened beverages are cause- and effect- for obesity and diabetes” he went on to say, “There’s no intrinsic health value to it. There’s plenty of replacements. This is an easy problem to fix”.

As alarming as the study was, the outcome is not surprising. We are constantly being bombarded with sugar substitutes, each promising an alternative to the health concerns associated with long term consumption of traditional refined sugars. Sugars have recently been under the spotlight, with a large body of work linking sugar to insulin spikes that disrupt sugar metabolism, eventually causing obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases.

In light of this report, we decided to investigate and compare the most common substitutes for refined sugars.

  1. Aspartame
    Aspartame, commonly used in many diet soft-drinks and energy drinks, is about 200 times sweeter than sugar and is broken down by the body into its two component amino acids—aspartic acid and phenylalanine (and a small amount of the methanol or wood alcohol). It actually contains 4 calories per gram, but since so little is used there are only trace calories per serving. Aspartame is one of the most studied foods, with side-effects or concerns related to neuronal damage from excess aspartic acid and the inefficient breakdown of phenylalanine, particularly in children with an under developed blood-brain-barrier. There are also concerns with methanol, which is highly toxic, and can accumulate in the body over time.

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  2. Sucralose
    Also known as chlorinated sugar, is 600 times sweeter than regular sugar and is marketed as a sugar substitute that can fill in for the real thing in any capacity. Since it can retain its natural sweetness when heated to high temperatures, it is also used for baking and cooking. There is an increasing body of evidence that has highlighted some potential side-effects of long-term sucralose consumption. These include the reduction of intestinal probiotics by as much as 50%, an increase in stomach and intestinal pH, and alterations in glycoprotein levels, a key protein in many metabolic functions.

    Sucralose

  3. Stevia
    A virtually calorie-free sweetener, stevia is also about 200 times sweeter than sugar; having been used for centuries as a natural sweetener, particularly in South America. In the last couple years, Stevia has been getting a lot of attention as the natural sugar substitute of the future, attracting attention from the top beverage companies in the world. Although derived from a plant, it is still considered an artificial sweetener because the granulated form is highly refined and causes a mismatch between the perceived sweetness and expected calories – causing metabolic syndrome, which itself is a precursor of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other health problems.stevia_rebaudiana_extract1
  4. Honey 
    Although honey also consists of the two most common metabolic sugars, it only has about 30% glucose and 40% fructose, less than in refined table sugar, which is about 50% each. The remaining mass of honey is made up of about 20% complex sugars, that allow your body to break it down efficiently over time. This results in less net calorie consumption, as opposed to causing an immediate blood glucose and insulin spike. For this reason, HoneyWater® is considered a premium form of sustainable and clean energy. Honey also contains numerous healthy metabolites such as antioxidants and flavonoids, causing it to be one of the healthiest natural foods that we know of.

honey water

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