While helping a client with her weight-loss eating plan, I was asked why I wasn’t in favor of the so-called ‘sugar substitutes’. I know that there has been a lot of controversy over their use due to adverse health concerns since their inception back in the 1950’s. Cyclamate (which was banned in 1970), saccharin (which has a shady past regarding cancer in rats), aspartame (which is formed from two amino acids; phenylalanine and aspartic acid), and the alcohol sugars, such as xylitol, maltitol, sucralose, and sorbitol, have all raised questions about whether these substitutes are better for you than sugar itself. Sure, they reduce calories initially, but are they actually better for you than sugar itself? I don’t think so. Several studies have shown that artificial sweeteners have caused weight gain in individuals because the sweet taste initiated an insulin response which would normally cause sugar to be stored as fat. But, because blood sugar does not rise with artificial sugars, there is actually a hypoglycemic effect (low blood sugar), resulting in more food consumed at the next meal, leading to increased caloric consumption. This didn’t seem to fit our weight-loss plan. Stevia and agave nectar, newer players on the sweetener stage, are actually made from plants, and show greater promise for sugar substitutes, although the jury is still out. When planning an eating plan for myself, or anyone else, I work within these parameters: it must taste good, few or no artificial sweeteners or preservatives, come from nature, not processed, and actually taste good. How else is anyone going to succeed with long-term eating behavioral change without meeting those criteria?
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.