I was going to make this a singular post with a quick cheat sheet detailing the pros and cons of all the sweetening choices out there, but too much information and confusion exists. Instead, we’ll be embarking on a multi-post journey to explore your sweetening options. Agave nectar is the “healthy” sweetener of the moment…but should it be? Is honey better than sugar? Is aspartame or sucralose bad for you? What about crystalline fructose – it sounds natural? Can I consume stevia safely? What about the other hidden sweeteners such as Acesulfamine K and erythritol? Is high-fructose corn syrup really that bad?
Regardless of the answers to these questions, one fact is irrefutable. We eat too much sugar. In 2009, the American Heart Association reported the average American consumes 22.2 teaspoons of sugar per day. That amounts to an extra 355 calories – which over 10 days adds up to more than a pound of weight. This 22.2-teaspoon figure has nothing to do with natural sugars found in fruits and milk that offer a whole nutritional package. Those 22.2 teaspoons come from corn syrup, cane sugar, molasses, honey, brown rice syrup and the like. It is the sugar you add to your coffee and baked goods and the sugar that manufacturers put in just about everything – from soups to breads to spaghetti sauce.
The attention to sugar is nothing new. Tons of diet books and diet gurus emphasize cutting out sugar altogether – Sugar Busters, Sugar Solution, No-Flour/No-Sugar Diet, Suzanne Somers and Jorge Cruise to name just a few. Sugar is toxic, Robert Lustig of the University of California at San Francisco School of Medicine says, and the only fix is to banish it all. Banning entire food groups, however, is not realistic. We live in a society with sugar. We have to make peace with that sugar and learn to manage our intake and relationship with it. Never taking a bite of the sweet stuff not only makes you no fun, it is also unrealistic for most people for the long run.
When it comes down to it – the amount and type of sugar you ingest can have significant health implications. Too sweet of a diet causes cravings, weight gain and insulin irregularities – all of which affect your health. Even no-calorie sweeteners mess with your body’s normal processes and affects your ability to naturally regulate food intake.
As I sip a Coke-Zero, I don’t suggest you ban all sugar or sugar substitutes. I don’t want you to give up all the foods you love. I say, get educated so when you do read food labels and make choices, they are the best ones for you.