How many times have you heard the following conversation?
A: “Can I have a packet of diet sugar please?”
B: “Are you crazy? Try brown sugar instead because it’s natural. Don’t use artificial sweeteners as I’ve heard they diminish concentration levels.”
There seems to be no end to the debate on low-calorie sweeteners, mainly because most people don’t seem to have even basic information about them. Artificial sweeteners are chemical or natural compounds that offer the sweetness of sugar without as many calories, because the substitute is often much sweeter than sugar. They are often use as a part of a weight loss plan, as a mean to control weight gain or for medical purposes, such as in diabetes.
Ruquiya Al-Usmani, a consultant in nutrition and head of the nutrition and dietetics department at Dr. Baksh Hospital in Jeddah told Saudi Gazette that artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA (Food and Drugs Administration) in the US can be used. However, that doesn’t mean that by using it one can lose weight or control the glycemic index in the case of diabetes.
One also has to be careful about other ingredients used in a certain food item like ‘sugar-free cookies’, which also use flour and butter so there are added carbs and fat in the cookie that can cause both weight gain and high levels of sugar. Be careful of what you eat, read labels correctly and exercise portion control, Al-Usmani advises.
Low-calorie sweeteners approved by the FDA include erythritol, sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol, isomalt, lactitol, hydrogenated starch hydrolysates and tagatose.
These work by producing a lower glycemic response and have a lower caloric content than sucrose and other carbohydrates. Sugar alcohol contains, on average, approximately two calories per gram.
“Also, be cautious with sugar alcohols that can increase the glucose level in blood; for some people, using sugar alcohol can cause gastric discomfort and consuming large quantities can cause diarrhea, especially in children,” added Al-Usmani.
The FDA has approved the following low-calorie sweeteners for use:
Saccharin, Aspartame, Neotame, Acesulfame Potassium and Sucralose.
What’s the difference between white and brown sugar
“Nutritionally, brown sugar and white sugar are not much different,” explained Al-Usmani. Brown sugar sold at grocery stores is actually white granulated sugar with added molasses as well as minute amounts of mineral content. The difference between brown sugar and white sugar is widely regarded as insignificant and the claim that brown sugar is healthier is often just clever marketing.
The molasses give brown sugar small levels of minerals, most notably Calcium, Phosphorous, Iron and Magnesium, which may be perceived as providing a hardly-discernible health advantage.
Are artificial sweeteners safe to use?
Al-Usmani remarked that artificial sweeteners are often the subject of debates in the media and on the Internet, which claim that these sweeteners cause a variety of health problems including cancer.
According to the National Cancer Institute in the US, however, there is no scientific evidence that any of artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA cause cancer. Moreover, numerous studies confirm that artificial sweeteners are safe for use by the general population.
Most often, the villain has been sweeteners that contain Aspartame, and this does carry a cautionary note with it. The use of Aspartame isn’t safe for people who have the hereditary disease
Phenyl ketonuria (PKU). Also known as ‘hyperphenylalaninemia’, the disease results in an inability to process a a certain amino acid called phenylalanine. It is an autosomal recessive gene meaning it has to be passed to a child from both parents in order for it to occur. Aspartame contains phenylalanine.
Can people use Sucrose if they have diabetes?
Al-Usmani stated that even though sucrose restriction cannot be justified on the basis of its glycemic effect, it is still good advice to suggest that the person with diabetes be careful in their consumption of foods containing large amounts of sucrose. If sucrose is included in the food it should be substituted for another carbohydrate source or, if added, it should be covered adequately with insulin or other glucose-lowering medication. Food containing Sucrose should be eaten in the context of a healthy diet and care needs to be taken to avoid excess energy intake.
For all food additives, including nonnutritive sweeteners, the FDA determines an acceptable daily intake (ADI). All FDA-approved non-nutritive sweeteners, when consumed within the established daily intake, can be used by persons with diabetes including pregnant women. - SG