In a world where obesity rates are increasing, many people are looking for ways to make their diets healthy. Decreasing your total sugar intake has been shown to have many positive effects, including weight loss, increased energy, improved blood sugars, and better cholesterol levels.
Sugar has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, liver disorders, and dental cavities.
When sugar is removed from your diet, it often results in weight loss, better blood sugar control, less dental cavities, and improved cholesterol.
No-added-sugar snacks have gained popularity as more people are focusing on eating healthier.
There is conflicting data on the benefits of the sugar substitutes used in no-added-sugar snacks so these foods should be consumed in small amounts.
But what are no-sugar-added snacks replacing sugar with to make their product still taste sweet? Are these no-added-sugar snacks better for you?
What is sugar?
Sugar is a type of carbohydrate that is found in many foods. While many people think of sugar as white table sugar, it also includes fructose, galactose, glucose, lactose, and maltose. Our bodies break down sugar to use for fuel and energy.
Sugar can be found in our diets naturally by eating fruits, dairy products, and grains. Many foods are processed and contain added sugar that is not necessary for our bodies to use for fuel and energy.
Impact of sugar on your health
Excessive sugar intake has been linked to adverse health outcomes such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, liver disorders, dental cavities, and coronary heart disease. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) stated that individuals should not consume more than 10% of their calories from sugar. Since then, they have recommended further decreasing the consumption of sugar to less than 5% of total energy intake due to the negative health effects seen from increased consumption of sugar.
Most individuals in the United States exceed these recommendations, putting them at an increased risk of developing health problems. When sugar intakes were decreased in the diets of individuals, a decrease in weight and dental cavities was noted, along with an increase in energy and improved heart health.
Sugar substitutes in no-added-sugar snacks
There are a variety of sugar substitutes that are used in foods. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States has approved the following high-intensity sugar substitutes to be used in foods:
- Acesulfame potassium (Sweet One, Sunett);
- Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal);
- Neotame (Newtame);
- Sucralose (Splenda);
- Saccharin (Sweet'N Low);
- Luo han guo (Monk Fruit in the Raw);
- Purified stevia leaf extracts (Truvia, PureVia).
Sugar substitutes taste sweet without containing sugar, and they have fewer calories than sugar. Foods and snacks that are labeled “sugar-free,” “keto,” or “low-carb,” usually contain a sugar substitute.
No-added-sugar snacks may taste sweeter than sugary snacks. This is due to the different potencies of artificial sweeteners. Only small amounts of artificial sweetener are required to get the desired sweetness.
Health benefits of sugar substitutes
A focus on decreasing sugar intake in diets has led to an increase in artificial and natural sweeteners replacing sugar in snacks like breakfast cereals, baked products, jams, ice cream, and sauces.
People may switch to no-added-sugar snacks and drinks due to their perceived health benefits. Studies have shown that decreasing your sugar intake can result in weight loss. When sugar or corn syrup is replaced with sugar substitutes, it allows people to eat foods they enjoy while still losing weight. This is due to the lower caloric intake of sugar substitutes.
Sugar substitutes have been shown to not have the same tooth-decaying effects as sugar.
Many people with pre-diabetes or diabetes may switch to no sugar added snacks to help regulate their blood sugar. Our body does not metabolize sugar substitutes as a carbohydrate as it does with sugar, which allows the blood sugar levels to remain more stable.
Negative health effects of sugar substitutes
There has been some controversy over whether sugar substitutes found in no sugar snacks pose any health risks.
Studies have shown that some sugar substitutes that were marketed for weight loss, like those used in diet drinks, actually caused weight gain.
This was further studied in animals. This study also showed weight gain as a result of sugar substitutes. It was determined from this study that the sweet taste of the artificial sweetener caused blood sugars to be stored in the tissues of the body. Since artificial sweeteners don’t increase blood sugar, they caused the blood sugar to drop, which then resulted in an increased caloric intake to stabilize the blood sugar. The increased caloric increase was thought to have caused the weight gain seen in this study.
Animal studies of artificial sweeteners have shown they can cause weight gain, brain tumors, and bladder cancer. Human studies have shown that they can cause some types of cancer. Further research is needed to determine the true extent of these effects in humans.
Choosing no-added-sugar snacks
While sugar substitutes can have a variety of health benefits and assist with weight loss, it is important to make sure that they are not consumed in excess. Studies have shown that the negative health effects from these usually occur when a person consumes too much of them.
Sugar substitutes can help reduce carbohydrate and energy intake, which can result in weight loss and improved blood sugars. However, foods that contain natural sugars like fiber-rich grains, green vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy products also need to be included in a person’s diet plan. No-added-sugar snacks should not be the main source of nutrition for a person to achieve weight loss.
Evidence suggests that long-term use of sugar substitutes could be harmful to some pre-existing conditions. If you have a pre-existing health condition that you think sugar substitutes could help improve, it is important to talk with your healthcare provider about this to determine if these are safe for you to consume.
- Indian Journal of Pharmacology. Artificial sweeteners as a sugar substitute: Are they really safe?
- International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. Natural Sweeteners: The relevance of Food Naturalness for Consumers, Food. Security Aspects, Sustainability and Health Impacts.
- John Hopkins Medicine. Facts About Sugars and Sugar Substitutes.
- World Health Organization. Guidelines: Sugars intake for adults and children.
- Mayo Clinic. Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes.