Lauren Dimitrov, Registered Dietitian & Nutrition Expert, talks to many of her clients about their sugar intake. This week, she talks to us about artificial sweeteners and whether or not they are a smart alternative to sugar.
Are you concerned about the amount of sugar in your diet? Artificial sweeteners, also called non-nutritive sweeteners, have been studied for years. Used in moderation, they are known to be safe for consumption. Unlike sugar, and other high calorie sweeteners such as maple syrup or honey, they don’t add calories and can be a helpful alternative for people with diabetes and those trying to lose weight.
Artificial sweeteners, are used in place of sugar to sweeten foods and beverages. They are chemically made or processed, so the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) must approve them before they are marketed and sold to Americans to assure that they are “generally recognized as safe”. The sweeteners aspartame (NutraSweet® or Equal®), acesulfame-K (Sweet One®), saccharin (Sweet′N Low®), neotame, and sucralose (Splenda®) are all FDA approved for use in food. These are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar, so only tiny amounts are needed to equal the sweetening power of sugar.
The FDA has established Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI) levels for the approved artificial sweeteners. ADI is the amount of the high-intensity sweetener that is considered safe to consume each day over the course of a person’s lifetime. The ADI varies by sweetener from about 29 packets per day of Stevia to 4,000 packets per day of Acesulfame potassium.
While artificial sweeteners are marketed for weight management, they should be used only in moderation. Remember, just because a food is sugar-free doesn’t mean it’s free of calories. If you eat too many sugar-free foods, you can still gain weight if they are very calorie-dense. And remember that artificial sweeteners are often used in processed foods, which don’t offer the same health benefits as whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.
Occasionally, artificially sweetened food is fine, just remember that many of these foods are not nutritious choices. Consider trying a little bit of the real stuff in moderation like pure maple syrup or honey (unless you have been advised otherwise, such as with diabetes). You can also sweeten foods with fruit such as bananas and dates, or fruit juice, mix fresh berries into creamy low-fat yogurt or on a waffle, or use spices such as cinnamon or nutmeg to enrich the flavor.
Decrease the amount of sugar you consume gradually. This will help you adjust to the change and stick with it! Make sure you get plenty of rest. Lack of sleep will cause you to crave sugary foods. Also, eat often, every 4-5 hours. This will help to keep your blood sugar level and decrease the likelihood of you reaching for a high-sugar energy boost.