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Sugar or its alternatives?

There often comes a time in the day when you just need something sweet. The array of sugars found on supermarket shelves has grown significantly in recent years, leaving us perplexed as to what product is best to add to our coffee or sprinkle on our porridge. There is a growing demand for healthier options but are natural sugars any better for your health than table sugar or artificial sweeteners?

Table sugar: This processed or refined sugar is obtained from cane sugar and is what you would commonly add to your tea or coffee. This sugar (sucrose) cannot be directly used by the human body and must first be metabolized with the help of insulin to convert it into energy. Therefore, diets high in sugar have been associated with diabetes due to its effect on insulin. Due to the refining process, this sugar has no nutritional value and is high in calories.

Artificial sweeteners: There are many different types of artificial sweeteners to look out for, many of which are marketed as low-calorie alternatives to sucrose. Aspartame is extremely sweet and often used in diet drinks and low-calorie products. Other common artificial sweeteners include high-fructose corn syrup, Splenda (sucralose) and Sugar Twin (Saccharin). I’m afraid just because they are low-calorie it doesn’t mean they are a magic bullet for weight loss. The health concerns associated with artificial sweeteners range from cancer to weight gain. The debate is ongoing as to the validity of research claims on both sides of the argument for and against their use. Probably the key point is that they are not natural and therefore the body does not know how to metabolize them.

Natural sweeteners: These include fruit, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar and molasses. These may possess benefits over sucrose as they are found in foods already packed full of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients beneficial to health. However, these are still calorific and consuming large quantities of these sugars may still cause health problems.

A relatively new product to the western market is a plant sugar called Stevia. This South American herb is 400 times sweeter than sucrose, is low in calories and does not affect diabetics. It has been used in Japan for years and is now growing in popularity in Europe and is widely available in supermarkets.

If you can’t resist adding spoonful’s of sugar to your tea or coffee or you are aiming to lose weight try and replace it with a natural sugar that has a lower glycemic index and will therefore have less of an impact on your blood sugar levels such as Stevia. If you are looking to improve the quality of your diet, reduce all sources of sugar from your diet and use natural sweeteners such as fruit sparingly.

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