Yes or no to non-sugar sweeteners : The Tribune India

Yes or no to non-sugar sweeteners

Yes or no to non-sugar sweeteners

The World Health Organisation has released new guidelines on non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), recommending against their use to control body weight or reduce the risk of non-communicable diseases. The recommendation does not apply to diabetics and personal hygiene products containing NSS. Endocrinologist Dr R Muralidharan explains the facts and myths about NSS.

What are non-sugar sweeteners?

Commonly called non-nutritive sweeteners or artificial sweeteners, these are low or no-calorie alternatives to the common table sugar (sucrose). Many times sweeter, these are high intensity sweeteners as they can mimic the taste of sugar at much less quantities and convey a sweet taste to the brain more strongly. Saccharin, aspartame, sucralose and steviol glycosides are commonly available.

How are they zero or low calorie?

Most of these NSSs do not get absorbed in the digestive system and pass through the body with little modification.

Is there a difference between chemical and plant-based NSSs?

Other than the source, there is no difference. The chemical structures and the intensity of sweetness vary. The closeness in taste to sucrose and stability at higher temperatures (for adding to hot beverages and sugar-free sweets) are the qualities that dictate our choice. There is no evidence that plant-based sweeteners are not harmful or less harmful.

What research says

There have been many studies exploring whether NSSs increase body weight after long-term use and raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Studies in rats with saccharin showed an increase in appetite. People using NSSs may develop a false sense of security and overeat. Avoid giving aspartame to children and pregnant women.

Some studies also have shown that NSSs adversely affect the balance of the normal beneficial gut bacteria, leading to adverse metabolic effects and weight gain.

Options for health & fitness

Eat a balanced diet and exercise. Avoid more absorbable carbohydrates like white rice. Opt for high-fibre foods, whole cereals, legumes, fruits and green vegetables. Avoid use of refined flour, carbonated drinks, concentrated fruit juices, foods with trans fat, processed and fast food.

Exotic diet plans, like low or no carbohydrate diets, work in the short term but cause rebound weight gain.

Even for diabetics, restrict the use of NSSs. The craving for sweets can be satisfied by having fruits.

Are jaggery and honey better?

There’s a marginal difference in the calorie value and glycemic index (GI) of jaggery, shakkar (powdered jaggery), desi khand (brown sugar) and honey.

Brown sugar is derived by adding molasses to white sugar. Jaggery, though a good source of minerals, should be avoided by diabetics. Honey has a low GI as it has more fructose (natural fruit sugar) and 15 per cent water. Still, use in moderation. Diabetics should eat dates, too, in moderation.

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