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Do you ever wonder where your calories come from? Most of us know that we’re supposed to be aiming for a certain caloric intake, but how much and where they’re coming from might be beyond our usual thoughts. When it comes to sugar, I’ve started being more cautious of late, trying to limit the amount that’s in my diet. It’s difficult though, many foods are sweetened beyond their raw components, sometimes with natural ingredients, and sometimes with artificial. But sugars are not all created equal when it comes to the glycemic index (the ranking system used to show how much a certain carbohydrate affects blood glucose levels), and limiting sugar consumption can be complicated.  

The Canadian Diabetes Association (CDA) recommends that less than 10% of your diet come from sugar[1]. In a 2000 calorie diet, this means that less than 12 teaspoons of sugar be consumed per day.

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Yet a study of 18 developed countries found that the percentage of daily calories that come from sugar ranged from 13.5%-24.6% in adults (and these studies are generally underreported) [5]. You might be asking, “why should I worry about my sugar consumption or my blood glucose levels?” well, other than the eventual tooth and gum disease, there is the distinct risk of eventual heart disease, arterial plaque build up, insulin resistance, etc. Then, shouldn’t we switch to sweeteners that don’t include glucose and sucrose?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) was created to be a replacement to sucrose, which just made the whole situation more confusing (having an even higher glycemic index than sucrose), and between 1978 and 1998 the foods that used HFCS went from 16%-42% in the United States [5].            

Then came the move to artificial sweeteners. Thought to be a food of the future, hardly being metabolized by the body, and having no affect on blood sugar levels. Saccharin, cyclamate, aspartame, and sucralose are just a few of the names given to these “miracle chemicals”. But the truth has turned out to be enormously different. From cancer in lab animals, to an increase in fat storage, sugar cravings and insulin resistance, these artificial sweeteners seem to be anything but a blessing [7].   

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With all of this information it seems daunting and impossible. Sugar based (and artificial) sweeteners are in everything. What options do we have? We need to educate ourselves, and to read the labels of the items we buy. It’s important to limit the intake of sugar sweetened beverages (drink more water), to eat mostly whole foods, and to try to fill your diet with more healthy fats and vegetables. With the education part, that’s what we’re attempting to do here.

Sources of sweetness are: Simple carbohydrates such as sucrose, glucose, fructose, amino acids like alanine, glycine, and serine which are considered mildly sweet [3]. Sweetness can also come from high intensity sweeteners.  

These high intensity sweeteners are 100 to 25, 000 times sweeter than sucrose and come in two forms: artificial/chemically-synthesized (such as sucralose, alitame, cyclamate, aspartame, neot etc.) and natural/extracted from plant sources (such as Stevia, rebaudiana, Luo Han Guo, and glycyrrhizin from licorice) [3]. 

          In the end, we can only do our best. It’s not impossible to be healthy, but sugar will be difficult to quit. If you care about your health, and would like to put an effort towards improving, it’s not as hard as it seems. Take little steps. Start by decreasing the sugar content in one of your meals per day. Aim towards the goal of reaching and moving beyond the CDA recommendation of less than 10% of caloric intake from sugars. If we improve what we can, and take it day to day, we’ll get there and be healthy. Good luck, we’re rooting for you!

REFERENCES

 

[1] Canadian Diabetes Association: Sugars Position Statement https://www.diabetes.ca/getmedia/9d0baffb-6268-4762-acc7-e52575c40c55/cda-position-on-sugars.pdf.aspx

 

[2] How Healthy is Stevia as a Sugar Substitute?

https://www.yeshealth.com/how-healthy-stevia-sugar-substitute/

 

[3] Sweeteners and Taste Modification https://www.foodprocessing.com/assets/knowledge_centers/WILD_Flavors/assets/sweeteners_and_taste_modification.pdf

 

[4] Effect of Sugar Intake on Biomarkers of Subclinical Inflammation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5986486/

 

[5] High Fructose Corn Syrup Information https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/88/6/1716S/4617107

 

[6] Getting to Know the Glycemic Index

http://www.unlockfood.ca/en/Articles/Carbohydrate-and-Sugar/Getting-to-Know-the-Glycemic-Index.aspx

[7] History of Artificial Sweeteners

https://www.saveur.com/artificial-sweeteners

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