By Apollo 24/7, Published on- 01 October 2020
Artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes have been the subject of intense debate among researchers, physicians, manufacturers, and consumers. In the diabetes community, sugar substitutes have been both maligned and praised for the role they play in offering people an alternative choice to unhealthy refined sugar.
Are such substitutes safe and healthy? To date, both the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) have approved several sugar substitutes for human consumption. Let us begin by understanding what sugar substitutes are and the different types commercially available in the market.
“Sugar substitutes” or artificial sweeteners are an alternative to regular table sugar (sucrose) and used to sweeten food or drinks without adding too many calories or raising blood sugar levels. These are especially used by people affected by diabetes. Hence, the American Heart Association (AHA) has labeled these sweeteners under the category of non-nutritive sweeteners.
Nutritive sweeteners, on the other hand, contain some calories but half of the amount present in sugar. Some examples of nutritive sweeteners are agave, fructose, high fructose corn syrup, and honey. These sweeteners are not recommended for diabetic and obese patients.
Sugar alcohol or polyols are also considered nutritive sweeteners and can be found in products that are labelled ‘reduced sugar’ or ‘sugar free’. They are natural sugar substitutes derived from plants.
As stated earlier, the FDA has approved the use of eight sugar substitutes or non-nutritive sweeteners in food.
Sugar substitutes like artificial sweeteners, natural sweeteners, and sugar alcohols (polyols) are recommended for people with diabetes, obesity, and tooth decay. It is also used to enhance the taste and flavor of foods. Some of the benefits of using sugar substitutes are listed below:
A sufficient amount of calories is needed by the body every day for proper functioning and growth, especially by growing children. If low-calorie foods are consumed every day, their bodies may lack the calories needed for their growth. The same applies to adults where inadequate calories may disturb the sustenance of the body. Seeking the advice of a dietitian or nutritionist for a balanced diet that meets the calorie requirements is recommended.
Sugar substitutes are regulated and approved by the FDA for sale as food additives after review and observation for long-term safety. However, sometimes the FDA approves sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) based on the scientific evidence and data. Besides this, the FDA also fixes the value of an “acceptable daily intake” (ADI) for each sugar substitute at very conservative levels. ADI is the maximum amount that is considered safe for a human to consume per day throughout a lifetime.
While sugar substitutes are especially helpful to manage conditions like diabetes, the consumption of excessive amounts can still raise blood sugar and add calories to the body. Moreover, processed foods containing sugar substitutes may not provide the same health benefits as a whole food (cereals, fruits, nuts or vegetables) or natural starchy food. While it is a personal choice about which of the sugar substitutes one can opt for, it is advisable to seek the expert opinion of a doctor.
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