Thursday, December 1st, 2022
Now, more than ever, people are looking for new ways to look after their physical health without giving up the things they love. One particularly telling example of this is the increasing popularity of sugar alternatives. This article examines the growing demand for sugar alternatives, their benefits and potential risks, as well as the harmful effects of sugar on the body.
What Is Sugar and How Does It Affect the Body?
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate that comes in many forms, forms which can be both helpful and harmful to the body. Sugar itself is not actually bad for your health. In fact, your cells need sugar for energy.
However, it’s the type and amount of sugar that you consume each day that can make an enormous difference to your health. Natural sugars, such as those found in fruit, grains, dairy, honey, and even maple syrup can be a healthy part of a balanced diet, providing vital nutrients that the body needs to flourish. Natural sugars include fructose, lactose, galactose, and maltose. They naturally occur in whole foods, syrups, and nectars and require no refining or processing.
Conversely, added sugars are those which can get you into trouble, particularly when consumed in excess. These generally take the form of sucrose (white table sugar) or high-fructose corn syrup. Added sugars give processed foods and baked goods, like cookies, candy, and cakes, their flavour and sweetness.
They can also appear in large quantities in some pretty unexpected places, including your favourite condiments. Ketchup and barbecue sauce, for instance, are often laden with added sugars.
And because sugars are often hidden in many of the staples that make up the average diet of most children and adults, diseases associated with high sugar consumption have become ubiquitous around the world.
Indeed, a diet rich in added sugars has been linked to a host of health hazards, ranging from tooth decay to cardiovascular disease to type 2 diabetes to cancer. The reason for this is pretty simple — when you consume excess sugar, you overwhelm your body’s capacity to metabolise it.
The body becomes less sensitive to the hormone, insulin, which is produced by the body to enable the cells to absorb sugar from the blood and convert it to energy. Soon, you’ve developed insulin resistance, which is the catalyst for the development of type 2 diabetes.
At the same time, consistently high levels of sugar in the blood, known as glucose, trigger the body’s immune response, leading to chronic inflammation. This chronic inflammation, over time, dramatically increases your risk for heart attack, stroke, dementia, and certain forms of cancer. For these reasons, sugar can be bad for you in large quantities.
As dangerous as a high-sugar diet may be, that does not mean that you have to choose between your health and the treats you love. In fact, it’s possible to stick to the healthy lifestyle your doctor recommends simply by doing a bit of research, identifying healthier sugar alternatives, and being strategic.
For example, artificial sweeteners can be a great option for providing the flavour you want without spiking your glucose levels or caloric intake. Artificial sweeteners also tend to be many times sweeter than white table sugar, meaning that just a little can go a very long way.
There are, however, some potential downsides. Artificial sweeteners are classified as “non-nutritive additives”. This means that, though they are deemed “generally recognised as safe” by regulatory agencies such as the US Food and Drug Administration, they don’t provide essential nutrients and are not typically considered part of a healthy, balanced diet.
In addition, because they do not occur in nature but are chemical products manufactured in a laboratory, some questions have been raised regarding the safety of artificial sweeteners. The evidence suggests, however, that artificial sweeteners are safe for most humans, including pregnant women, children, the elderly, and the infirm, particularly when consumed in moderation.
Like artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols are a popular sugar substitute that are widely used in processed foods today. However, unlike artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols are typically derived from sugar and can add moisture and texture to foods. They are generally far less sweet than artificial sweeteners, though, and more closely resemble regular table sugar in taste, texture, and chemical composition.
Sugar alcohols have fewer calories than white table sugar and do not produce the blood glucose spikes commonly associated with table sugar. As such, they’re considered a popular option for people who are diabetic or overweight. Indeed, it is often sugar alcohols which give so-called “diet” and “sugar-free” foods and drinks their taste.
Best of all, because sugar alcohols are synthesised from real sugar, they’re also thought to be safe for most people, especially when consumed in moderation. Nevertheless, excessive consumption of sugar alcohols has been linked to gastrointestinal upset in some people.
A new and increasingly popular category of sugar alternatives is “novel sweeteners”. Like sugar alcohols, these sweeteners are derived from natural sources and don’t contribute to weight gain or glucose spikes.
Novel sweeteners are often also referred to as “plant-derived, non-caloric sweeteners”, reflecting their origins and the relatively small amount of processing they undergo. In addition, because novel sweeteners are not highly modified, they retain many of the properties of their origins, resembling other forms of natural sugar in texture and flavour.
This makes them ideal for those who need to control their blood sugar and weight, as well as for those who simply want to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Among the most popular of these plant-derived, novel sweeteners include stevia and monk fruit, which are increasingly being used by food processors and chefs alike as an alternative to refined sugar sweeteners.
In recent years, sugar has become something of a dirty word to consumers looking to cultivate a healthy lifestyle. The reality, though, is that there is nothing intrinsically bad or harmful about sugar. Indeed, our cells need sugar to survive and function properly. What matters, however, are the types and quantities of sugar you consume.
Healthy sugar alternatives can be found in a variety of natural sources, including fruits, grains, dairy, nectars, and natural syrups. On the other hand, though they may not pack the nutritional value of natural sugars derived from whole foods, artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols can provide the flavour you crave without the health risks associated with sugar-related weight gain and excess blood glucose.
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