A sweetener is simply a sugar substitute that provides a sweetness like that of sugar. Sweeteners contain lower calories, or no calories at all, compared to sugar. They are found in everyday products that include drinks, ready meals, desserts, chewing gum, and even toothpaste.
Sweeteners have been touted as healthier alternatives to sugar in terms of limiting caloric intake, thereby impacting overall metabolism especially as related to weight gain. Questions have always been asked about the real health impacts of sweeteners. For starters, sweeteners may help manage weight gain in the short term. That’s because they are often low in calories compared to sugar.
Sweeteners also do not raise the levels of sugar in the blood. From an oral health perspective, sweeteners may help lower the risks of tooth decay and dental cavities as well. But the WHO has recently cautioned on the use of sweeteners to control body weight and reduce the risk of metabolic conditions. This is all based on research data, which suggests that the use of sweeteners does not confer any long-term benefit in reducing body fat in adults or children.
Actually, the results of all the research reviewed suggest that long-term use of sweeteners may increase the risks of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and overall mortality in adults.
What does this all mean then to those who have always thought they are on the healthier side with sweeteners? There is a need to relook at other ways of reducing sugar intake, rather than wholly relying on alternate sweeteners.
Increasing the intake of foods with naturally occurring sugars is one such measure for those with a sweet tooth. Think of fruits and unsweetened beverages. You could also consider reducing the sweetness of your diet altogether. It is worthwhile remembering that sweeteners have no real nutritional value.
In matters of weight control
You need to review your overall lifestyle habits rather than focus on sugar intake alone. The total amounts of calories you consume daily contribute significantly to your prevailing weight. Simply eating healthily, and limiting your portions is one good measure. Think mostly of plant-based foods, whole grains, non-processed foods, and lean animal proteins. Wash all this down with water rather than soft (and sweetened!) drinks, or alcohol.
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Don’t forget the good old advice about maintaining yourself physically active. Any level of physical activity is better than none at all. Burning excess calories will help maintain a decent weight.
You will also be strengthening your muscles and bones, and accruing cardiovascular benefits. Your risks of heart disease and associated metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes will become lower.
Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynaecologist and Fertility Specialist. [email protected]