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Sugar Or Artificial Sweeteners:  What Is Better For Health?

The debate between whether it is better to consume products with sugar or based on artificial sweeteners are still present in society.

According to the WHO, the consumption of sugars should not exceed 10% of the total caloric intake due to its harmful effects on health. However, for many it is difficult to eliminate it from the diet, since it somehow generates addiction and a feeling of pleasure. The idea is to reduce your consumption little by little and opt for other types of sweeteners that are much healthier and that fulfill the same function. 

Seven tablespoons of sugar, that is the maximum amount that we should consume per day, according to nutritionists, to avoid health problems. If we consider that a single can of some of the most popular sodas or soft drinks already contains more sugar than that amount, we can see that it is not easy to stay within those limits. 

That is why many people are looking for a way to replace this sweetener. One of the most popular options is artificial sweeteners, which provide a sweet taste with little or no calories. 

Designed to trick our brain into believing that it is actually consuming sugar, artificial sweeteners are chemicals that mimic its taste but prevent the health problems it causes.

In this article HEALTHY and FITNESS will compare these two products and see which of the two ends up being better for our health.

Sugar: What Is It And What Effect Does It Have On Our Body?

Sugar is a natural product that when consumed gives us a great contribution of energy in the form of calories. In fact, it is the fuel for our cells and we find it in countless foods for daily consumption. Not only in pastries or soft drinks, fruit, for example, also has high amounts of sugar.

The only nutritional contribution it makes is in the form of carbohydrates, which are used by our body for energy. That is where the problem comes precisely, because being a pure carbohydrate, can have negative consequences for health.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an adult of normal weight should consume no more than 25 grams of sugar per day (which would be about 7 tablespoons) between all meals. It may seem like a lot, but the truth is that considering that many foods carry it naturally, a large part of the population far exceeds this limit.

When we give it more sugar than it needs, our body does not know what to do with this excess, since evolutionarily we are not yet adapted to the diets that we take in the first world. To prevent the free circulation of sugar, what the body does is transform it into fat, which will begin to accumulate in the tissues.

That's when problems appear. This constant accumulation of fat derived from an excessive consumption of sugar causes overweight, hypertension, diabetes, and is also responsible for different cardiovascular diseases, since the blood vessels and the heart itself are also surrounded by fat that makes it difficult for them to function.

And not only that, but the sugar itself also causes irritation in the gastric mucosa, which can end up leading to the appearance of ulcers. In addition, it alters our intestinal microbiota when it circulates through the digestive system.

As we can see, excessive consumption of sugar is responsible for many health problems, both physically and systemically.

The magnitude of the problem

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, with nearly 18 million deaths a year. Diabetes is the fourth. Liver and kidney disease are in the top 10. Obesity is a very important risk factor for many different types of cancer, the second leading cause of death in the world.

Taking into account that the excessive consumption of sugar is directly or indirectly responsible for many of these disorders, it is clear that health authorities must warn of the serious consequences that sugar can have on health.

Technically, it would be enough to reduce the amount of sugar in food, although that does not interest either the food industry or our brain, which, no matter how much we are aware of the risk we run, we continue to ask us to give it "something sweet."

Sugar gives us an immediate sensation of pleasure, so its effects are addictive to our brain. We have gotten used to it since we find it in all kinds of daily consumer products.

However, since we are aware of the damage that it has on our body when it is consumed in an excessive way, the food industry has been investing a lot of money in bringing to the market products that dispense with artificial sweeteners.

Faced with these conflicts of interest, the industry came up with a new idea to remove the sugar from the products and add other substances that mimic their taste but do not cause problems. Thus the concept of artificial sweeteners came up.

What are Sweeteners? 

Sweeteners are alternatives to white sugar used for the same purpose to sweeten foods. There are two different sweetening alternatives to sugar; natural sweetener and artificial sweetener. 

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic substances that mimic the taste of sugar but are healthier as they do not give us any caloric. Some such as saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame K, and aspartame are intensely sweet in small doses. 

Some sweeteners can be made from natural substances and are considered "healthier" as those are of natural origin, which has less caloric and has a higher nutritional contribution compared to refined sugars. For example, stevia is made from the leaves of a plant is a natural sweetener. 

Artificial Sweeteners: Are They Safe or Unsafe?

Artificial sweeteners are chemicals that sweeten just like sugar but differ from it in one keyway: they have no calories.

Although sugar was a great source of calories, artificial sweeteners do not give us any caloric intake (or very little), so their consumption should not lead to the complications of sugar, since they do not transform into fat and, therefore, there is no accumulation of these in the tissues and organs.

There are many different types of sweeteners. Some such as saccharin, sucralose, acesulfame K and aspartame are intensely sweet in small doses; which makes them interesting from an industrial point of view for use in "light" soft drinks and sugar-free chewing gums. Others like sorbitol and xylitol are more similar to "real" sugar, making them very good candidates for use in baking.

Since their use began, these artificial sweeteners have been in the spotlight, and the lack of information has made it difficult to understand the reality behind these substances.

Some are concerned that sweeteners may alter our taste in food, making us find naturally sweet foods like fruits less attractive, and prefer to eat foods that are more sugary. 

Starting from the basis that everything in excess is bad, below we will give some key aspects to better understand what these artificial sweeteners are like so that later we can decide whether it is better to consume these products or that of "normal" sugar.

1. It Is Chemical Does Not Mean That It Is "Bad"

The trend and fashion that everything must be natural to be good for the body have made artificial sweeteners win many detractors. But why interpret something chemical as "unhealthy"? Ibuprofen is as unnatural as an artificial sweetener and yet we all take it when we feel bad.

In addition, it is precisely substances of chemical origin that are most inspected and regulated in the food industry, as they are subject to exhaustive controls in which it is shown that they cannot be toxic for human consumption. 

However, even if you want to try a natural option there is a natural sweetener like stevia, which is made from the leaves of a plant. Stevia is one of the most popular types of sweetener among those who have suppressed the consumption of white sugar from your daily diet. It is considered a good sweetener since it does not negatively influence blood sugar levels and, therefore, it is a good option for people with diabetes.

2. Sweeteners Won't Make You Lose Weight

Many people substitute sugar for these sweeteners in the hope that this change will lead to a reduction in body weight. But it is not that simple.

Metabolism is a very complex system in our body and is based on a balance between what we eat and what we burn. While it is true that switching to consuming drinks and foods with artificial sweeteners can help, it must be borne in mind that although these do not provide calories, your body will continue to ask for the same ones that you gave it before, at least in the beginning.

Therefore, to meet caloric needs, you may not use sugar but instead use other products such as meat or pasta, which can make you gain even more weight than sugar itself. According to some studies consuming artificial sweeteners makes people hungrier.   

The truth is that eating low-sugar, low-calorie products are no guarantee that you will stay slim and fit. They are not a replacement for a healthy diet.

If your only goal is to lose weight, it is more important to focus on doing physical exercise and taking care of other aspects of your diet. For example, if you have to choose between a glass of water and a "light" soda, the better to choose the water.

3. Children Should Not Consume Sweeteners

Children under the age of three should not consume these artificial sweeteners, not because they pose a risk to their health, simply because studies of their safety is conducted in adults. Therefore, we cannot be sure that they do not have any negative consequences on your body.

Despite the fact that many times it has been said otherwise, pregnant women who wish to do so, can consume artificial sweeteners without their health or that of their baby being threatened.

4. Too Much Sweetener Is Also Bad For Your Health

Consuming a lot of sweeteners for long periods of time is not safe for your health. In fact, in the long term, it can cause diarrhea and flatulence. Furthermore, be careful around sugar alcohols, like mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol as they can increase your blood sugar level. Sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea in some people. 

The European Food Safety Authority establishes an acceptable daily intake of sweeteners, which is the maximum amount that is considered safe to consume each day throughout your life.

Aspartame, for example, the European Food Safety Authority ruled that if less than 167 grams of aspartame were consumed per day; it could not have any unwanted effects on the body (in an adult of normal weight). 167 grams is more than 40 tablespoons of sweetener or, put another way, 14 cans of soda. Nobody ever surpasses that limit. Although most likely there is no serious health risk either, and if there is, it will be more to blame for the 14 cans of soda than the aspartame itself.

People who are born with a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria should avoid aspartame because it can be harmful to them. 

5. Sweeteners Do Not Cause Cancer or Make You Sterile

"Diet Coke is carcinogenic." This hoax has been circulating on the Internet almost since its inception. This claim and many others that attempt to link artificial sweeteners with substances that cause cancer, sterility, serious illness, or allergic reactions are not supported by any scientific study.

But, according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, there is no strong scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the United States cause cancer or other serious health problems. Numerous studies confirm that artificial sweeteners are generally safe in limited amounts, even for pregnant women

As we have said before, before going on the market, artificial sweeteners pass countless controls and examinations by both international and national organizations that give their approval to their use in the food industry.

In many countries, there are laws that stipulate that food and beverages must be clearly labeled and that it must be clarified on the packaging if they contain sweeteners (and of what type) so that consumers can choose when they buy with all the information at their fingertips.

The uproar comes because all these organizations establish suitable consumption limits. If they are exceeded, they cannot guarantee that there are no health risks. However, let's look at these limits to see if an alarm really needs to be triggered.

Can Artificial Sweeteners Help With Diabetes 

Sugar is a type of carbohydrate, and because all carbohydrates affect blood glucose levels, reducing sugar intake can help keep blood glucose levels under control.

Some studies have found that replacing sugar-sweetened foods and drinks with those that have been artificially sweetened may not be as beneficial as previously thought. This may be especially true when artificial sweeteners are consumed in large quantities. However, more research is needed.

According to several investigations, saccharin and other artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, modify the intestinal flora and raise blood sugar levels favoring the onset of diabetes. These types of synthetic sweeteners are usually present in soft drinks, gum and gummies, sauces, chocolates and sweets for diabetics, and light products. 

Also, be careful around sugar alcohols, like mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol. These can increase your blood glucose level. 

Some studies have claimed that artificial sweeteners could make people hungrier and alter blood sugar levels, but there is no convincing evidence of the alleged harm. 

Sugar Or Artificial Sweeteners: Which Is The Best Choose?

There is no universal answer, as we have seen that both products can have unintended consequences. We will probably never find a single solution, since when metabolism comes into play, what you gain on one side you lose on the other.

What is obvious is that in our society we consume more sugar than our body needs, so we must be vigilant at both the consumer and the food industry level.

There will be some who find it worthwhile to substitute this sugar for artificial sweeteners to avoid cardiovascular problems and diabetes. Others will choose to consume sugar in a more controlled way in favor of not using such synthetic substances.

Everything is legitimate, as long as a healthy lifestyle based on a varied diet complemented with physical exercise is encouraged. We must bear in mind that absolutely everything, whether "natural" or "chemical, is bad if consumed in excess.

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