Western diets features a large helping of sugar, in amounts considered excessive by most of the world. This excess has resulted in numerous health crises, such as rising trends in obesity and diabetes. Its inflammatory and toxic effects on the body are well known, which is why many health-conscious people make an effort to eliminate sugar from their diet wherever possible. However, taste buds accustomed to sweet tastes in food and drink make it difficult to completely cut out sugar. Artificial sweeteners have become popular thanks to the fact they don’t add any calories to the meal. Many people have turned to artificial sweetener substitutes to satisfy their sweet tooth without the guilt.

What is an artificial sweetener?

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes, but may be derived from naturally occurring substances. The sweet taste is highly concentrated so a little goes a long way. A few brands you are probably already familiar with:

  • Equal
  • Sweet N’Low
  • Splenda

The main benefit of artificial sweeteners is that you get the taste without the calories of table sugar. This reduces initial weight gain, and also prevents blood sugar spikes. At first glance, they seem like a harmless indulgence. But are these sweeteners as innocent as they look?

Give me some sugar… or not

There has been a plethora of research done in recent years on the importance of gut health, the “gut” referring to the entire gastrointestinal tract. What we eat affects the most fundamental aspects of our well being because the microbial universe of our gut is constantly inundated with different stimuli. The billions of bacteria that reside in our gut can be disrupted by synthetic substances – such as artificial sweeteners. This disruption can lead to various health ailments, both acute and chronic.

The primary concern with artificial sweeteners is that prolonged use leads to a higher risk of glucose intolerance, a precursor to prediabetes and diabetes. In fact, daily consumption of drinks with artificial sweeteners has been found to create a 35% greater risk of metabolic syndrome and a 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes. It also increases a craving for sweetness, which will ultimately lead to weight gain.

Safe sugar substitutes

With this in mind, it’s wise for the health conscious athlete to be aware of the difference between artificial sweeteners and how they affect your overall health. Choosing a natural sweetener such as fruit juice or honey is best, but if reducing caloric intake is your focus, check out this list (ranked best to worst):

 

ProductCalorie CountYou Should Know
Stevia1 Cal per gramExtracted from stevia plant leaf. Choose organic stevia to avoid additives like dextrose or maltodextrin.
Neotame0 Cal per gramIncluded in foods, not generally available for purchase on its own.
Sugar AlcoholsUp to 2.6 Cal per gramCheck labels for ingredients like sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol. Measure carefully since half the amount will not digest and should be counted as carbs. Overuse may lead to bloating and diarrhea.
Aspartame4 Cal per gramPopular brands are Equal and NutraSweet. Prolonged use linked to several kinds of cancer.

 

If you’re surprised to see calorie amounts listed next to “no calorie” products, it’s because the FDA allows products which contain less than 5 calories per serving to use one of these nutrition claims: “zero calories”, “no calories”, or “calorie free.”

Of course, there are many more choices out there for the nutrition savvy consumer to consider. So the next time you’re craving some sweets, check the labels to see if the sweetening agent is linked to any detrimental side effects. As always, moderation in everything!

 

Using SolidFit as a nutritional resource guide

The SolidFit app contains the nutritional information you need for literally thousands of different food products, searchable by brand and ingredients. It’s very easy to look up the information you need to make the right choices for your diet. If you have any questions, it’s easy to connect with a network of professional coaches and nutritionists through the SolidFit app to learn more. Contact us to get started.



Theresa Condon
Author:
Theresa Condon

Theresa is a storyteller at heart who is also passionate about helping people achieve their athletic goals. She is a former CCS finalist and Div 1 track & field collegiate athlete. Now, she works with runners of all ages to help them get faster and stronger while having fun!