If you’ve ever stood at a drink station staring at your sweetener options, wondering which is best, you’re not alone.
On the one hand, the artificial sweeteners won’t add calories and sugar to your drink, but is the full-calorie hard stuff the better choice?
While there is no hard and fast right or wrong answer, we’re here to help you have a better understanding of what you’re choosing.
Why Do We Crave Sugar?
The best solution is always to steer clear of both sugar and sugar substitutes, but that isn’t always possible, especially because most humans have been consuming sweet tastes for most of their lives.
The very first food most infants consume, breast milk or formula, is sweet to the taste and causes the association that sweet equals safety.
Even those in previous centuries, who often struggled to survive when they could not get enough calories, used sweetness as an indicator that a food was safe to eat (if a food was bitter, it was more likely to be harmful).
And while humans no longer have to forage for their food, the modern diet is filled with unnecessary sugars, even in savory foods like tomato sauce and salad dressing.
Know Where Your Sugar is Coming From
The average American consumes 22 teaspoons of sugar every day. (Compare this to Canadians, who take in an average of 14 teaspoons of sugar daily!)
This amount of sugar wreaks havoc on your cholesterol levels and puts you at a higher risk of heart disease, stiff joints, wrinkles, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, kidney problems, bone fractures and vision loss.
In fact, those who consumed 25 percent or more of their calories each day in the form of sugar more than doubled their risk of dying from heart disease over a 15-year span.
With that said, anywhere you can reduce the amount of sugar you’re taking in can help your health.
According to a survey from the International Food Information Council, about 75 percent of American adults are trying to consume less sugar—and artificial sweeteners can be a great way to do that. But at what cost?
What’s Wrong with Artificial Sweeteners?
Many people associate artificial sweeteners with cancer or are worried they will cause weird hair growth—but the reality is that sweeteners have been studied quite a bit.
In fact, there have been more than 100 studies done on sucralose (more commonly referred to as Splenda) alone.
The biggest issue with sugar substitutes is that they may trick you into eating more than you would otherwise.
Artificial sweeteners don’t make your brain feel satisfied, or like you have eaten a sweet drink or sugary snack, so you are more likely to go look for something that will register in your brain’s satiety center.
Sugar substitutes can also make you feel like you “deserve more calories” elsewhere because you have a calorie-free drink, which causes you to actually take in more calories than you might with a sugary drink.
And, if you’re planning to use artificial sweeteners to lose weight, you may want to reconsider.
Research shows that drinking diet sodas regularly actually leads to a larger waist! So, it’s best to practice moderation.
Moderation is Key with Sugar Substitutes
If you are making a decision between regular or diet soda, it’s usually best to go with a sugar-free option—but keep it in moderation.
A 12-ounce can of regular soda contains 135 calories and 10 teaspoons of sugar on average.
If you’re a regular soda drinker who takes in a can a day, that comes out to 32 pounds of sugar and 49,000 calories a year. That can tack on an extra 16 pounds of weight!
When it comes to sugar, it’s easy to get tricked into consuming more than you even know.
Sugars and syrups are often added to the most unsuspecting foods, such as ketchup, crackers, salad dressings, fruit cups and peanut butter.
The best thing you can do it learn how to read the ingredients list. If you notice the label includes high-fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, fructose, glucose, lactose, sucrose or molasses, that means it has sugar added in.
What are the Daily Sugar Recommendations?
If you do choose to avoid artificial sweeteners and opt for the real deal, there are recommendations that can keep you from overconsuming.
According to The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, no more than 10 percent of your daily calories should come from added sugars.
For someone who takes in about 1,6000 calories each day, that’s about 10 teaspoons daily.
The American Heart Association has a recommendation that is even lower at six teaspoons for women and nine teaspoons for men.
How to Curb Your Sugar Cravings
Although it may be impossible to completely get rid of sugar cravings, there are things you can do to help yourself consume less sugar and sugar substitute.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the way to reduce your sugar cravings is to eat fewer sweet things.
When you consume foods or drinks that are sweetened by either sugar or artificial sweeteners, your body becomes accustomed to a certain level of sweetness that you then desire constantly.
Minimize your dependence by cutting back on sweeteners of any kind and opting for something more nutrient dense, such as oatmeal, when your sweet tooth strikes.
If you are hooked on sugary drinks like soda or sweet tea, the ultimate goal is to transition to water; however, switching from full-sugar to diet drinks may be a good way to help you make the move.
If you are concerned about your daily sugar intake or have questions about your diet, you may benefit from talking with a medical professional.
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Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.