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Sugar Substitutes Are Out (but In Everything)

On May 15, the World Health Organization warned the that the use of sugar substitutes are not effective to control body weight or to reduce the risk of diseases such as diabetes. They could even be dangerous. The warning applies to both artificial sweeteners (such as sucralose, saccharine, advantame, cyclamates, aspartame, neotame, and acesulfame potassium) as well as natural extracts such as monkfruit and stevia.

The WHO recommendation is based on an extensive review of almost 200 studies. And while it stops short of saying non sugar substitutes (NSS) are harmful, it does “suggest that there may be potential undesirable effects from long-term use of NSS, such as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults”.

Indeed, In January, Harvard University published a study showing a higher risk of stroke in people consuming Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), and more heart disease risk with acesulfame potassium (Sunnett, Sweet One) and sucralose (Splenda). And last year and important study showed that sugar substitutes changed the composition of the gut microbiome and caused larger peaks in blood glucose, particularly for saccharine and sucralose.

So is it better to just eat sugar? Well not really. The dangers of sugar are well established – which led to the inclusion of “added sugars” on the Nutrition Facts panel. But I have noticed a troubling trend. Since food manufacturers are now required to list “added sugars” on the label, they are trying to “make their numbers look good” by adding non sugar substitutes.

Michelle Obama recently made a splash launching a new beverage for kids called Plezi, unfortunately (in my opinion) sweetened with stevia and monkfruit. Even more insidious, sucralose (an artificial sweetener despite it’s friendly-sounding name) is showing up in unexpected products such as baked beans and pickles! I have also noticed non sugar substitutes in bread.

So what should you do? Just say NO to sugar AND sweeteners!! The WHO advises succinctly: “People should reduce the sweetness of the diet altogether, starting early in life, to improve their health.” Don’t assume that “no added sugar” is the same as “no added sweetener”. Look closely at labels for non-sugar substitutes. They are extremely sweet and therefore required in very small quantities. For that reason, they are often “buried” at the bottom of the ingredient list.

A bit of good news, is that, as this article expains, the less sweet food you eat, the sweeter foods will seem. In other words, you can train your tastebuds to enjoy a lower level of sweetness so less sweetner is needed!

To cut down on your personal sugar consumption, try to avoid sweet drinks altogether. For beverages, drink water, coffee, black, green or herbal tea, or infusions like barley tea, chicory, or hibiscus. If you want a fizzy treat, start with carbonated water and add a bit of fruit or vinegar. You might also enjoy no-alcohol beer.

For products like pickles, which are consumed in relatively small amounts, I think it is better to just go for the small amount of sugar. For main dishes and desserts, learn to enjoy food flavors without a lot of added sugar. Halve the sugar in recipes, and if possible sweeten your foods with whole (not juice) fruits and vegetables. When eating out, enjoy small or half-portions of sugary foods (it’s the first bite that tastes the best anyway!). And remember, honey, demerara and coconut sugar are still sugar, no matter how natural they sound!

Rest assured that none of the Yumbini products contain added sugar or non sugar substitutes. The mild sweetness in our Cowboy BBQ Pinto Beans and Rice comes entirely from dried apples.

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