What to choose: sugar or a sweetener?

There's no doubt that overusing sugar and products containing sugar may lead to health problems and overweight in quite fast pace. For many years researches have tried to find an alternative for the popular saccharose, which would have its advantages (sweet flavour), but the consumption of which would not result in negative consequences.

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Sugar like a drug

For some time people have been interested in artificial and natural substances called “sweeteners”, from which the most popular are: aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sodium saccharin, sucralose and lately also xylitol and stevia. Unfortunately, there are potential threats connected with their intake, which can be even worse than those caused by sugar...
There is a lot of contradictory information, which creates chaos, therefore, it's hard to draw any unambigous conclusions. In this article I will try to answer the question concerning the dillema what to use to make sweet taste of drinks, and I will also relate to few popular theories about health consequences of using sugar and other sweeteners...

Sugar: kills or strengthens?

There are many opinions about the necessity of sugar for our bodies so that they function correctly, it is also mentioned that it gives energy, improves the work of brain, etc... It is true, that the nervous system needs constant supply of some doses of glucose, but it doesn't mean that it will work better if we use more sugar. In reality, a daily brain's demand for glucose can be totally fulfilled by eating a bowl full of oat flakes with fruits for breakfast, and not eating any other carbs in the remaining part of the day! And, in case of necessity, the body is able to produce additional portion of sugar from the non-sugar sources in the process called glucogenesis. Similar situation happens in case of physical activity. A sweet chocolate bar may give us more energy during a long-lasting effort, such as a marathon run, but a walk in a park or a half an hour run are not the indications to eat additional doses of carbohydrates, especially in a refined form!

The fact is, that refined sugars hidden under the names such as: saccharose, glucose-fructose syrup, as well as glucose and - thought as dietetic - fructose, are not wanted ingredients in our diets. Regular consumption of these compounds may lead to the disorder of the insulin-glucose and lipid ratio, as well as the dysfunction of hunger mechanisms. As a result, we are more craving for food, we eat more and want to intake products of low quality, and we are also tempted by some culinary delicasies much easier. The effect is not only increase of the body fat leading to overweight and obesity, but also higher risk of the following diseases: atherosklerosis, diabetes, gout, or some forms of cancer!

It's good to remember about all of that, not only at the moment when you put a tea spoon in a sugar bowl, but also when you eat sweets and sweetened drinks, jams, fruit mousses or even buying the "instant" type dishes, breakfast products and many other food products, with hidden sugar... The list of real benefits caused by resigning from any sources of refined sugar from diet is very long.

(In)secure alternative?

Sweeteners are often advertised as better alternatives than sugar. Most of them practically don't contain any calories and, when they are composed in the right way, drinks sweetened with them have specific flavour. On the other hand, there are many negative opinions about sweeteners, especially about aspartame, which supposedly increases the possibility of neurological disorder and is a strong carcinogen. At least such information can be found in different articles, internet blogs, forums and some vlogs, or even on TV...

Should we be afraid of sweeteners?

Despite large number of gossips concerning the supposed harmfulness of popular alternatives of sugar, there are no reasons to panic. Sweeteners, which are available on the market, have been tested in many ways when it comes to their influence on the human health. The most stigmatized, synthetic sweetening substance is, at the same time, the best checked one. The European Union has good opinion on aspartame, too. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has proven this sweetener to be safe. This opinion was based on many scientific researches led by different research centres all over the world.

Which one is best?

The choice of the best sweetener is difficult, it is not that obvious which parameters to choose when assessing it. A lot of attention has been drawn to compounds included in stevia, which is used to add sweet flavour to food, also produced in the industrial scale. Steviosides, which are present in stevia, probably have positive influence on the body and make the insulin-glucose dependency work better, they may also have other interesting properties. You can buy stevia in the shops with healthy food, at some auctions and even at the supermarkets!

Enough is enough

It would be a mistake to think that sweeteners can be used without any limits. You should find moderation in everything, also in sweetening food, even with calories-free, and supposedly safe, substances. For example, it is considered that not more than 40 mg per one kilogram of body mass is a safe dose of aspartame, i.e. for a man weighing 70 kg it is 2800 mg. Is it much? It depends. Similar amount of this substance can be found in four litres of a popular drink like cola. As you can see, it is very easy to cross that safe limit if you don't stay moderate. Of course, it will not cause cancer at once, but it will be very risky.

Conclusions

There's no doubt that sweeteners, such as aspartame, acesulfame potassium, or even the natural sweetening compounds such as stevia, are a better and safer alternative than the popular sugar. However, it does not mean that they can be intaken in unlimited amount. In reality, the best option is to use no sugar at all.