A sugar substitute can help keep you in your skinny jeans, but it may be harming your health. Here’s the scoop on the best — and worst — sugar substitutes
Remember the ’70s? Disco. Wooden platform sandals. And, everyone’s favorite no-calorie sugar substitute: Sweet N’ Low. Finally, we could wash down our cake with a can of Tab and still fit into our favorite bell-bottom jeans. That is, until researchers found out that our new go-to sugar substitute was linked to cancer and made us rethink those promising pink packets.
The scary news didn’t stop new sugar swaps from hitting the shelves: NutraSweet, Equal and Splenda all promise us zero calories and the same sweet taste as the white stuff. But nutritionists aren’t as keen on these sugar substitutes as we are. Researchers at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. found that lab animals given foods sweetened with an artificial sweetener gained more weight than those who consumed sugar. The reason? Sugar substitutes give a shot of sweet taste with zero calories, which confuses the body. When we taste something sweet without getting the expected calories that come with that flavor, it actually makes us hungrier. So we eat more — and pack on the pounds.
Even natural sugar substitutes, which contain fructose, can wreak havoc on our health if we overindulge. “Very high doses of fructose may have a negative impact on the liver, and high dietary fructose is associated with metabolic syndrome, obesity, heart disease and type II diabetes,” says Robin Foroutan, MS, RD, integrative nutritionist and communications chair for Dietitians in Integrative and Functional Medicine.
But let’s face it: Living life without sugar isn’t feasible. And with all kinds of sneaky sources of sugar (it’s in ketchup, soy milk, tomato sauce and a laundry list of other foods you wouldn’t expect) it’s easy to overdo it. If you take your coffee with a teaspoon or two of the white stuff, you might want to reach for a sugar substitute every now and then. What’s more, most sugar substitutes won’t cause a spike in blood sugar levels, so you can sidestep the low energy and brain fog that usually follows a sweet treat.
Enter this list of the best and worst sugar substitutes out there. We asked dietitians to fill us in on the ones that aren’t doing anything for our health, and the ones that (in moderation) are actually good for us.