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Sugar Substitutes: Are they really safe?

When you're on a diet, the "no sugar" label on many packaged foods can be tempting. Sometimes, no sugar means not sweetened. And sometimes it means the food has been sweetened artificially.

The question is, are sugar substitutes really a healthy choice?

Not if they are causing you to 1) overeat; 2) consume too many empty calories; or 3) neglect nutrients. And that's not considering that we don't yet know the long-term effects of consuming these artificial sweeteners. Commercially available sugar substitutes have been clinically tested and deemed safe for consumption for most people. They may even be helpful for people on special diets. However, a FDA stamp of safety does not indicate that something is your healthiest option, especially when it comes to nutrition.

There are healthy and unhealthy ways to approach these sweeteners, so consider these points when deciding the best way to incorporate them into your diet:

You'll need to guard against overeating: Substituting artificial sweeteners for sugar is an easy way to cut back on calories and lose weight, right? Not necessarily. Although sugar substitutes may help you maintain your weight after shedding pounds, they generally will not help you lose weight. In fact, some studies show they may do the opposite. Research on sugar substitutes has led some scientists to believe that consuming products that contain artificial sweeteners may actually encourage you to eat more servings than you would if the food or drinks were sweetened with real sugar. Animal studies have revealed behaviours that suggest sugar substitutes may interfere with the body's natural ability to count calories based on a food's sweetness. When this calorie-counting ability is skewed, you may consume excess calories.

Artificial sweeteners may make it easy to overuse them because you might think "no sugar" means "low-calorie." The reality is that many artificially sweetened foods still contain fat and calories. If you're trying to lose weight, don't count on simply substituting fake sugar for the real stuff to help you shed pounds. Instead, focus on controlling calorie intake and exercising regularly.

You may need to work harder to get your nutrients: It's normal to crave sweets. Humans naturally have an appetite for sugary things. But if the foods you typically reach for are candy and cookies, even if they are sugar-free, you're getting mostly empty calories and few, if any, beneficial nutrients. By filling your menu with sugar-free versions of muffins or desserts, you may still be getting too many calories and not enough vital nutrients.

Rather than seeking out sugar-free versions of your favourite indulgences, try replacing a few of them with whole foods that offer much more than a satisfied sweet tooth. Whole fruits and berries are great examples of naturally sweet treats that also provide many of the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to fight off illness and needless aging.

Here are some more sweet whole-food suggestions: Try a bowl of strawberries, Freshly blended fruits sweetened with orange or apple juice, A banana dipped in dark chocolate, rolled in crushed nuts, and then frozen.

You'll have to wait to see if there are any long-term consequences: Because most artificial sweeteners are relatively new to the food scene especially sucralose, the long-term effects of regular consumption are still unknown. Current studies show that consuming these products in moderation won't hurt you. But more time is needed to determine whether there are any problems with these sweeteners when used long term.

Focus less on sweets and more on diversity: It's fine to treat yourself to something sweet from time to time. In fact, denying yourself sweet foods may increase their appeal and cause you to overeat when you finally satisfy the craving.

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