The health market is flooded with different kinds of sweeteners all claiming to be better for you than the next. Many dieters rely on artificial sweeteners to enhance flavor while keeping calories low, but which ones are the better choice? Remember, not all sweeteners are created equal (no pun intended).
Most people think of sweeteners as zero calories, however, according to the FDA Definition of Nutrient Content Claims, any food that is 5 calories or less per labeled serving can be listed as zero calories. Artificial sweeteners are chemically manufactured compounds that do not exist in nature. They are so much sweeter than natural sugar which often requires them to be diluted, most commonly with dextrose or maltodextrin (both sugars derived from starch that yield calories). If you’re tracking your calories, this is something you will want to keep in mind.
Does swapping sugar for sweetener help you lose weight? In theory, it can, because you’re decreasing your caloric intake but there are other factors to take in to consideration. Some studies have shown that consuming artificial sweeteners may trigger hunger and actually lead you to gain weight. Here’s the theory on why: sugar is a form of energy for our body. When we are consuming something sweetened with artificial sweetener, it tricks our brain. Our brain is expecting fuel for our body when in reality that’s not what it’s getting. As a result, our brain gets the message that we need fuel which can trigger hunger leading us to eat.
Another detail to factor in is that sugars and sweeteners have different glycemic indexes. The glycemic index measures how quickly a food item causes blood sugar to rise. Blood sugar spikes caused by foods with a high glycemic index can create a burst of energy followed by a crash, leaving us feeling fatigued and hungry. Foods lower on the glycemic index provide a slower, more stable rate of energy to the body. I’ve included a list of sugar and sweeteners with their glycemic index that you can find here.
So in summary, when choosing between sugars and sweeteners, you need to first evaluate your goals and approaches (meal planning, calorie tracking, intuitive eating, etc.). Using a sugar or sweetener that has a high GI (glycemic index) value may be okay if you are someone who eats more frequently. Eating frequent meals will help to avoid hunger pangs created by the rapid spikes and drops of your blood sugar. If you are someone who eats less frequently with more time in between meals it may be beneficial for you to choose a sugar or sweetener that has a lower GI value because it will provide a more stable blood glucose level, prolonging feelings of hunger. As with everything, moderation is key!
For an in-depth comparison on different types of sweeteners, check out this great article from Popsugar.com.