Sweeteners: Making Healthy Choices

Preference for sweet taste is innate and sweeteners can increase the pleasure of eating. Unfortunately, many of us will indulge into too much sugar and do harm than good to our body. So how much sweetener should we consume or which type of sweetener is better for health? For the purpose of this article, sweeteners are divide into caloric and non-caloric.

Caloric Sweeteners

Caloric sweeteners contain carbohydrate and provide energy. Sweeteners usually found in foods include glucose, fructose, galactose, sucrose, maltos, corn-based sweetener and agave nectar. They all provide 4 kcal/g. On the other hand, sugar alcohols or polyols like sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol add sweetness with less energy, averaging 2 kcal/g.

Sugar often refers to sucrose, which is made from sugar cane or sugar beets. Other names used for added sugars include, cane juice, evaporated corn sweetener, fruit juice concentrate, crystal dextrose, glucose, liquid fructose, sugar cane juice, fruit nectar, honey, raw sugar, maltose, maple syrup, and molasses. You can find these under list of ingredients on the food label. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) uses added sugars to refer to sugars and syrups added during processing or preparation. Consumption of added sugar has been linked to health concerns like overweight, obesity, type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, inflammation, and cardiovascular disease.

Added sugars account on average for almost 270 calories, or more than 13 percent of calories per day in the U.S. population. Based on 2000 kcal diet, 32 g (8 tsp added sugar /day) is the USDA recommendation. However, please note that the recommended daily caloric need depends on multiple factors like age, gender, activity level, and medical conditions. Soda/energy/sports drinks, grain based desserts, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, candy, and cold cereals are the top food sources of added sugars in US population based on the National Health and Nutrition Examination survey.

Coffee cup next to sweeteners

Non-caloric Sweeteners

Non-caloric sweeteners are usually referred to as artificial sweeteners. Our enzymes do not recognize these sweeteners and cannot digest them. That means they offer little to no energy when ingested which made them popular among many for consumption. Even though consumption of artificial sweeteners has been a controversial topic among researchers, the available scientific evidence shows that these high-intensity sweeteners have been determined to be safe for the general population. This means that there is reasonable certainty of no harm under the intended conditions of use because the estimated daily intake is not expected to exceed the acceptable daily intake for each sweetener.

Non-caloric sweeteners approved for general use in the U.S. by the Food and Drug Administration include aspartame, saccharin, stevia, and sucralose. Diabetic patients can have a better control of their blood glucose level by switching to non-caloric sweeteners. Although substituting artificial sweeteners for higher energy foods and beverages can decrease energy intake, there is limited evidence of their effectiveness for weight management.

Tips for Making Healthy Choices

Many foods high in calories from added sugars provide few or no essential nutrients or dietary fiber. Therefore, they may contribute to excess calorie intake without contributing to diet quality. You should limit intake of these foods to help achieve healthy eating patterns within calorie limits. You can limit your intake of added sugars by:

  • Drinking water, unsweetened tea or coffee, or other calorie free beverages instead of sodas or other sweetened beverages
  • Choose beverages, such as low fat or fat free milk and 100% fruit juice
  • Choosing fruit as a naturally sweet dessert or sweet snack instead of foods with added sugars
  • Making desserts and snacks, such as cookies, cakes pies, and ice cream, an occasional treat and choosing smaller portions
  • Choosing packaged foods that have less or no added sugars such as plain yogurt, unsweetened applesauce, or frozen fruit with no added sugar or syrup

So during this holiday season let’s cut back on consumption of sweets and practice healthy eating habits.