Tea and coffee are part of western culture, especially in the work place. It offers us a break from the monotony of the office and makes the day a bit more bearable. Then why do a great number of us worry when we head into the kitchen after a boring meeting? Sugar. All the extra calories we could be avoiding if we just stayed away from that little pot of sugar.
So we turn to Artificial Sweeteners.
We’ve been led to believe that sugar is bad.. but is it? Dr Geoff takes a closer look at the facts about artificial sweeteners:
Every spoonful of sugar added to a cup of tea or coffee contains 20 calories and a can of regular cola about 140 calories. Sugar provides about 10% of our calories and considerably more in people with a particularly sweet tooth. This means that replacing all of the sugar in our diets with calorie-free artificial sweeteners could cut average calorie intakes by over 200 calories per day. It sounds good so far but there’s something that doesn’t add up. Rates of obesity have trebled in the last twenty five years despite the massive growth in sales of diet drinks and other foods sweetened with artificial sweeteners.
Do you remember your parents telling you not to eat sweets before a meal because it will spoil your appetite? Do you repeat this to your children? Generations of parents are not wrong. Sugar depresses the appetite whereas calorie-free sweeteners do not. So if you don’t have sugar the tendency is to replace it by other food (most likely foods with higher calories than sugar!)
Dietary surveys have shown that people with high sugar diets tend to be leaner than people with high fat diets. In practice most high fat diets tend to be low in carbohydrate (including sugar) and low fat diets tend to be high in carbohydrate (including sugar); this is called the sugar-fat seesaw. This means that when sweeteners are used to replace sugar then the lost sugar (carbohydrate) calories are likely to be replaced by a mix of foods including some extra fat so that the proportion of fat in the diet increases which is no help in curbing obesity and weight gain. Sweeteners may be more useful in allowing people on calorie-controlled diets to still enjoy sweet food and drinks. Simply replacing the sugar in your tea with sweeteners or replacing soft drinks with diet versions is unlikely by itself to do much for your weight control.
In the past, sugar has been blamed for causing heart disease and diabetes but this is almost certainly incorrect. Sugar does promote tooth decay and so sweeteners may help in this respect along with regular use of fluoridated toothpaste.
To Sum Up
Artificial sweeteners are not the easy answer to preventing obesity and losing weight. Although they may help some people stick to a calorie-controlled diet, if they are just used to replace sugary drinks and foods they may actually increase fat intake which is bad for weight control and general health. Sweeteners may help to reduce dental disease and raise the nutritional quality of the diet but only if they actually reduce sugar intake especially sweets and sugary drinks between meals. Some studies suggest that artificially sweetened drinks are simply added on to the usual diet and that they cause people, especially children, to develop a “sweet tooth”. The best solution is to gradually reduce the amount of added sugar in the diet by taking the time to get used to less sweet drinks and foods which in the long run you may come to prefer and to get natural sweetness from fruits and vegetables.
Want to know about the first artificial sweetener? Look out for our next post!