the sweet life: the lowdown on sugar + artificial sweeteners
You see it everywhere: SUGAR. It’s in food, it’s in drinks, it’s in chewing gum, it’s pretty much everywhere. There are tons of books/articles/documentaries preaching how terrible sugar is for you, yet it’s virtually impossible to be able to resist it or avoid it, am I right?! We’ve all become sadly addicted whether we know it or not.
Over the past year I have become much more aware of real and fake sugar, so as a little nod to our health my husband and I slowly got rid of it in our morning coffees. I’m all about living life and not restricting too many foods, but honestly, I don’t miss the sugar in my java. I actually prefer just milk or half-and-half now! That was one hurdle I was pretty proud of.
Fake sugars have started bugging me out lately. Maybe it’s the healthy documentaries I’ve been watching, but I’m suddenly Little Miss I-bet-that-gives-you-cancer for everything that doesn’t come across as naturally sourced. So while I’m providing you with info on all the sweetness that’s out there, my personal opinion is to cut as much as you can out of your daily diet.
Anyway, while it can be very difficult to cut sugars altogether, it’s helpful to understand what all there is out there. From agave nectar to sugar alcohols, I’ve got you covered! Read on for the breakdown of each sugary option:
Sugars + Sweeteners With Calories
Sucrose (table sugar): 16 calories per teaspoon. This is your basic sugar that you know and love. It’s found naturally in fruit and is always added to pastries, cakes, jams, salad dressings, and the more unexpected sources out there. Sucrose does give you that “sugar high” but doesn’t actually help you health-wise. The American Heart Association recommends that women consume no more than 25 grams of added sugar and men consume no more than 37.5 grams of added sugar each day. It’s really interesting to try and track your sugar consumption throughout the day–some things are sneaky when it comes to sugar! In this day and age it’s sadly kind of hard to maintain the 25-37.5 grams of sugar or less. I dare you to try…
Agave nectar: 20 calories per teaspoon. This form of sweetness (that hails from the agave cactus…a source shared with TEQUILA!) is much more concentrated than regular sugar, about 1.4 times more sweet. It’s all the rage to have agave nectar in cocktails and other “healthy” food items, but be cautious–it’s still sugar.
High fructose corn syrup: 17 calories per teaspoon. This form of sweetener is very similar to sugar and has just as many calories. It’s found in so many foods, so be mindful of the food item when you see HFCS as one of the main ingredients. It’s best to limit consumption of this sugary substitute.
Honey: 21 calories per teaspoon. Honey’s actually pretty cool because it contains some antioxidants and a tiny bit of vitamins and minerals. It’s also supposed to be better for your blood sugar levels, aka won’t spike them and make you a crazy person for like 10 minutes, to later inevitably feel that crash. It’s particularly tasty in oatmeals, yogurts, and teas.
Sugar alcohols: 10 calories per teaspoon. I’m including this one because it’s found in the protein bars I just bought from Costco. Sugar alcohols are often in sugar-free candies and gums because they don’t cause tooth decay (score!). But major warning: too much of these sugar alcohols can cause bloating and diarrhea!
Calorie-Free Sugars + Sweeteners
Aspartame: This type of sweetener is most famous for being in Diet Coke, but you can commonly refer to it as Equal or NutraSweet. It’s kind of like the devil of sweeteners–it has been linked to weight gain and cancer. I’d say to avoid this one at all costs.
Rebiana (Pure Via, Truvia): This sweetener is from that trendy stevia plant that’s all the rage on TV commercials and in magazine articles. It’s apparently the most natural option out there but sadly there haven’t been any really substantial studies on it’s safety. Tread lightly. Also, in my own personal opinion, it made my coffee smell a little like fish. That’s nasty.
Saccharin (Sweet-n-Low): Seriously, who consumes this stuff anymore?! This sweetener has been publicly linked to cancer and is suggested that you proceed with caution. I also find it pretty foul tasting, but that’s just me. There’s nothing worse than watery office coffee with milk and a Sweet-n-Low, does anyone else agree?
Sucralose (Splenda): This sweetener doesn’t have any terrifying hype surrounding it, but there have definitely been studies involving it. Again, I wouldn’t down this stuff by the barrel, but it seems relatively safe to consume on the reg. This form of sweetener can stand up to high temperatures, so it is possible to bake with!
So what kind of sugar-fiend are you: real sugar or sugar substitute? Some research lately has suggested that a diet with calorie-free sugar substitutes may actually contribute to weight gain; to learn more about this theory, check out this great article by Harvard Health Publications.
Have a sweet Thursday!
photo credit: Sugar Futures and Options Trading