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Sugar vs. Artificial Sweeteners: Which Is Healthier?

Sugar vs. Artificial Sweeteners: Which Is Healthier?

I was at the grocery store recently, looking for a healthy drink that my kids could have at home or on the go, and I found something called Capri Sun Roarin’ Waters in the boxed juice aisle. I knew that traditional Capri Sun juice contained a great deal of sugar, so I’ve always tried to avoid giving those to my kids, but according to the packaging on this Capri Sun variant, this contained no artificial colors, flavors or preservatives.

But then, I looked at the ingredient list on the back of the box and noticed that the drink contained sugar, stevia leaf extract and natural flavor!

To me, these are questionable ingredients to put in a drink marketed toward kids, so I did a bit of research to find out if these were a good healthy drink alternative for my children. Here’s what I discovered:

Sugar vs. Sweeteners

Whether we’re talking about candy, donuts, juice, sodas or all of the above, it’s easy to see that people love their sweets. The problem with these indulgent treats, however, is the large quantity of sugar they contain and the harmful effects they have on our health and the health of our families.

Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to several health-related issues including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, cancer cell formation and even learning and memory problems.

In an attempt to curb excess sugar consumption, many people have turned to food and drink products that contain artificial sweeteners. These sugar replacements offer all of the sweetness you would get from traditional sugar-filled treats with the benefit of consuming fewer to zero calories. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) even considers many artificial sweeteners to be generally recognized as safe.

So should we all just switch to artificial sweeteners?

Not so fast. Studies have shown that there is a link between the daily consumption of artificial sweeteners and the development of metabolic syndrome, a set of health conditions that include high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels and abnormal cholesterol levels. The combination of these conditions has been shown to increase the risk of diabetes, heart disease and strokes.

One Harvard Medical School report explains that artificial sweeteners affect the body and brain in complex ways. According to the report, artificial sweeteners may fool the brain by preventing people from associating sweetness with the amount of calories they’re actually consuming.

Because of this, there are concerns that people who consume food and beverages containing artificial sweeteners may ultimately try to regain those “missing calories” or overcompensate for their “healthy” food choices. (Example: Ordering a diet soda and then rewarding oneself with a cheeseburger.)

Should we just cut all sugar and artificial sweeteners from our diet then?

The truth is, avoiding all sugar may not be a practical solution to becoming healthy. Many of the foods in our daily diets contain not only sugar, but are also filled with excess fat, cholesterol and sodium, all of which contribute to a variety of health issues.

As far as artificial sweeteners are concerned, negative health effects were revealed through studies of daily consumption, but there are countless other studies that claim occasional consumption of sugar substitutes could help with weight control and even prevent diabetes.

With that said, it’s important to watch out for the following misleading marketing terms on your food and beverage packaging:

  • Low – If a product is low in a particular ingredient, it does not necessarily mean that it’s healthy for you. Foods and drinks that are labeled “low in fat” may have just as many calories per serving, and they may even contain more sugar.
  • Reduced – The term “reduced” does not mean that a product is beneficial for your health either. If the salad dressing you normally buy has 550mg of sodium per serving (1 tablespoon), and you decide to purchase a “reduced-sodium” version with 25% less sodium (412mg), you’re still consuming about one-sixth of your daily recommended sodium intake (2300mg). If you add more than one tablespoon of the dressing to your salad, you’ll likely exceed that daily recommendation in no time.
  • Free – Many “sugar-free” drinks and foods aren’t necessarily carb free or calorie free, and usually replace sugar with a sugar substitute. As I mentioned earlier, these artificial sweeteners may have negative health effects for you and your family.

Overall, achieving a healthy diet involves more than just restricting sugar or any other ingredient; it requires a lifestyle change that includes the consumption of food and drinks in moderation as well as regular exercise. It also requires making dietary choices like opting to drink water instead of sugary (or artificially sweetened) juices or sodas, and eating fruits, vegetables and lean meats instead of sugar-filled foods, whenever possible.

What are your thoughts on sugar and artificial sweeteners in foods and beverages? Please feel free to share them in the comment section below!

Scientific American: Is Sugar Really Toxic? Sifting through the Evidence
American Heart Association: Non-Nutritive Sweeteners (Artificial Sweeteners)
PMC: Artificial Sweeteners: A systematic review of metabolic effects in youth
FDA: High-Intensity Sweeteners
Mayo Clinic: Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes
CapriSun®: http://parents.caprisun.com/juice-drinks

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Amy Hepfner
Amy Hepfner(@amylmh)
6 years ago

When it comes to the health implications of sugar, most of what you hear about is naturally-occurring versus added sugars. Glucose is a so-called “simple” sugar naturally found in all foods that have carbohydrate. Starch (e.g., in potatoes, pasta) is many glucose molecules linked together. Another simple sugar, fructose is often called “fruit sugar” because it’s the main type of natural sugar in fruits (and honey). A natural “complex” sugar that’s about half glucose, half fructose (two “simple sugars”); it’s extracted from sugar cane and sugar-beet plants and refined to make “table sugar.” Corn syrup is virtually all glucose; it’s made by extracting and breaking down starch from corn into separate glucose molecules. High fructose corn syrup it’s made by converting some of corn syrup’s glucose into fructose. High-fructose corn syrup is high in fructose only in relation to plain corn syrup; chemically, it’s very similar to sucrose: about 50/50 glucose and fructose. Some “healthier” choices: Granulated Coconut Sugar is low on the glycemic index. Date sugar delivers all the nutrients in dates, including potassium and calcium—and is similar in… Read more »

TK - Admin
TK - Admin(@teresa-kulupka)
6 years ago
Reply to  Amy Hepfner

great information, it’s all about being educated on the different choices.

Jody Stafford
Jody Stafford(@mytegal)
6 years ago
Reply to  Amy Hepfner

Great information

Karen Codrington
Karen Codrington(@karen-codrington)
6 years ago

I try to avoid all artificial anything!

6 years ago

We grow stevia. It is a good alternative to excessive sugar.

Anne Whitmore
Anne Whitmore(@goodcleanfun)
6 years ago

I love this conversation! When I was pregnant with my youngest daughter, I had gestational diabetes and it was a massive wakeup call to the amount of sugar in my diet and the foods that I didn’t even think about containing sugars.

You make a great point that reducing obvious sugar choices might make you feel like you can ‘cheat’ in other areas… I *might* have done this with ice cream =)

For me, the big change started with education. Learning more about what was in the food I was eating, discovering simple changes that I could make and feeling like a healthier diet was manageable and not overwhelming.

Anne Whitmore

Karin Keranen
Karin Keranen(@karink)
6 years ago

We like to use organic raw cane sugar.

Hope Beach
Hope Beach(@hbeach)
6 years ago

I’ve been using organic cane sugar plus pure maple syrup. I avoid all sweeteners anyways but look at ingredients to make sure nothing has high fructose or any fructose sugar in it.

sarah Brown
sarah Brown(@bobbinseed)
5 years ago

What about Sugar in the Raw? is it healthier?

5 years ago

I try to avoid artificial sweeteners as I suffer with migraines and there seems to be a correlation between them and aspartame in particular.

Kelly McKinney
Kelly McKinney
4 years ago

The best thing to do (surprised it was not mentioned) is to avoid sugar/artificial sweeteners and stick with natural sweetners. I did this and lost 19 pounds and have never felt healthier –

Gingi Freeman
Gingi Freeman(@domesticgeekgirl)
4 years ago

Whenever I opt for artificial sweeteners, I only go with stevia… it’s the safest from the research I have done…

3 years ago

Try honey as a substitute, great in coffee on cereals or anything you want to sweeten. Honey is also a great anti bacterial amongst other things.