Nutrition 101: Sugar & Artificial Sweeteners

filed under: nutrition · wellness tips

We are a society living off sugar, in the literal and visceral sense. There’s a lot of hype over sugar nowadays from best-selling books, fad diets, detox plans, and even entire aisles in the grocery store devoted to “natural sugars” or “sugar-free” products. In today’s post, let’s explore sugar and alternative sweeteners and get you the facts.

NOTE: In today’s post, we’re talking about added-sugars and alternative sweeteners, not the naturally occurring forms found in fruit, whole grains, and dairy. While I reveal my own personal take on sugar and artificial sweeteners, I hope you’ll use this post as an informative guide on your wellness journey no matter your preference.

Cashew Cream Parfait

what you should know about sugar

+ Sugar is sugar, no matter how it’s marketed, priced or packaged. All sugar offers the same number of calories, although some may be less processed.It seems like every third day a “new” natural sugar emerges as the next best thing. Take for example, the increasingly popular coconut sugar or maple sugar, which are actually just fancy names with a heftier price tag for one ingredient: sugar. Our body can’t tell the difference between raw coconut sugar or processed table sugar, all sugar is metabolized and digested the same. While some more natural forms of sugar may contain minerals, they really aren’t any healthier.

+The World Health Organization recommends only 10% of our daily caloric intake should come from sugar, that’s about 3 tablespoons, while the American Heart Association strongly recommends a lower 5%. On average, Americans are consuming 20 tablespoons a day!!! Again, moderation is key to a healthy balance. Opt for whole fruits (which contain micronutrients and fiber) more often than sugar-laden cakes or cookies to satisfying a sweet need.

+Sugary beverages and foods are not beneficial for your health, period. They offer empty calories or calories void of any nutritional benefit. Too much sugar in the diet creates inflammation in the body causing premature, advanced aging, inhibiting immune system functioning, and raising insulin (the hormone that regulates blood sugars) levels and taxing the body in order to mediate energy spikes.

are artificial sweeteners a healthier choice?

+ The most popular artificial sweeteners include sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal) and saccharin (Sweet’N Low), neotame, and acesulfame-K are found in diet sodas, light yogurts or ice creams, sugar-free chewing gums and candies among other products. They’re oftentimes marketed as diet, sugar-free, calorie-free, low-calorie, skinny or light. Since these sweeteners don’t provide any caloric value (or any nutrients at all) it may sound enticing to have your (sugar-free!) cake and eat it too. But think about this: artifiical sweeteners are man-made, unnatural chemical compounds that our body doesn’t understand or know how to metabolize. Some scientific evidence suggests artificial sweeteners may cause brain cancer or slow down metabolism – and most of these studies have been tested on animals, never humans. Or what about the psychology theory that eating alternative sweeteners  makes you more inclined to a) a whole bag of sugar-free candies, or b) overindulge in something else later.


a dietitian’s top three sugar recommendations

+Eat the real stuff. I bet you’re surprised I’m telling you to eat the real deal sweets. I would much rather enjoy a small bowl of regular sugar-filled ice cream than settle for the subpar sugar-free kind. If you’re gonna go for a sweet treat, you might as well enjoy the real thing. Of course, the key is moderation. Indulge, but don’t go overboard. Oftentimes our sweet cravings can be fulfilled by just a few bites, not the entire banana split.

+Forget what the front of the box says. Food marketers are intentionally trying to get you to buy their products with their fancy packaging, vague health claims, and buzz words. Remember, they’re all marketing gimmicks to get their product into your cart and more often than not it probably works (even for me!). Stick up for your health and look past the front of the package; the only reliable source of information is on the nutrition facts label and ingredient list. Check to see what makes your chosen item sweet – is it artificial sweeteners, whole food ingredients (like dates or raisins), brown sugar, or corn syrup? Where do sweeteners fit into the ingredient list; are they first (the most abundant by weight) or lower down the list? I encourage all of my clients to choose products with either whole food sweeteners (preferred), only one or two forms of sugar, or with sweeteners listed lower down the ingredient list (lesser in abundance).

+Choose what makes you feel good. I’ll be honest, I get sugar cravings a LOT. I have a mean sweet tooth that doesn’t back down. While I’d love to eat a slice of chocolate cake or a glazed donut every day, I know they’re choices that won’t make me feel good either physically or mentally. Opt for fresh fruit desserts, no-bake energy balls, a quarter cup of raw almonds and chocolate chips, or a square of dark chocolate to satisfy a sweet craving in more wholesome, nourishing ways. And when you can’t shut the craving out, eat that damn donut (enjoy it!) and move on with your day! :)


xo Dianna