Is good or bad to reconsider

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Status: 02/22/2021 5:44 p.m.

When looking for sweet, low-calorie alternatives to table sugar, there are various substitutes. What are the advantages and disadvantages of sugar substitutes and sweeteners?

The dangers of consuming too much sugar are well known. More and more people are therefore looking for alternatives. But the variety of sweeteners is now confusing.

Normal household sugar alone has many names: beet sugar, cane sugar, raw sugar, sucrose or sucrose. From a chemical point of view, all of this means more or less the same thing: namely a substance made up of the two basic sweet building blocks glucose (grape sugar) and fructose (fruit sugar).

Glucose is the molecule that circulates in our veins as blood sugar and gives our cells energy. Like fructose, it is found in fruits and other plants.

Agave syrup, maple syrup, honey, pear herb or apple sweetness may sound like healthy sweetener alternatives - but ultimately consist mainly of sugar. You just bring more minerals with you. Compared to the high sugar content, the vitamin content of these rather expensive sweeteners is negligible. After all, they score points in terms of taste.

"Normal" sugars end in -ose

In finished products, sweeteners often have strange names. Basically, all types of sugar are hidden behind all substances that end in -ose: lactose (milk sugar), maltose (malt sugar), isoglucose and Co. Liquid sugar is usually called syrup, corn syrup or glucose-fructose syrup, for example. In the body, all of these compounds are broken down into the basic building blocks glucose and fructose.

Sugar substitutes: There are two groups

Few calories and no impact on blood sugar: this is what sugar substitute products promise. There are basically two groups of these: Sugar substitutesandSweeteners in the narrow sense. All of these substitutes have E numbers, because they are among the food additives that must be tested for harmless health in the EU before they are approved and must be of benefit to the consumer.

Sugar substitutes: The sweet substances on -it

Sugar substitutes include

  • Xylitol (E 967)
  • Erythritol (E 968)
  • Sorbitol (E 420)
  • Mannitol (E 421)
  • Isomalt (E 953)
  • Maltitol (E 965)
  • Lactitol (E 966).

They have a completely different structure than "real sugar"; from a chemical point of view, they are so-called sugar alcohols.

Advantages: Sugar alcohols are metabolized without insulin, so they do not cause a relevant increase in blood sugar. They have significantly fewer calories than sugar and are not cariogenic, so they do not promote tooth decay. According to the law, products that are sweetened with sugar alcohol can be described as "sugar-free". Xylitol and maltitol have the same sweetening power as table sugar, the other sugar substitutes are about half as sweet.

Disadvantage: If you consume more than 20 to 30 g per day, sugar substitutes can cause diarrhea. Products with sugar alcohols must therefore have the note "may have a laxative effect if consumed in excess". Flatulence and diarrhea can occur with quantities of 10 to 20 g at a time. Intolerance is more common, and people with irritable bowel syndrome are sensitive to even the smallest amounts.

Three important sugar substitutes: xylitol, erythritol and sorbitol

Stevia, Xylitol or Erythritol? Nutrition Doc Anne Fleck advises against using a lot of sugar substitutes.

The sugar alcohol Xylitol Besides its sweetness, it doesn't have a noticeable aftertaste. The white powder resembles common sugar in appearance and consistency. It's been in many sugar-free chewing gum for a long time as it appears to protect against tooth decay. Xylitol is as sweet as sugar, but only contains around 50 percent of the calories. The starting materials are remnants of birch wood ("birch sugar"), other types of wood, corn on the cob or straw. The industry extracts the sweetener from this in a complex process. Because of its laxative effect, products that contain more than ten percent of xylitol must be labeled accordingly. A few grams of xylitol can be fatal for dogs.

Cheeses and fruits like grapes, pears and melons contain natural ingredients Erythritol. In industry, sugar alcohol is usually obtained from corn through fermentation. With only 20 kcal per 100 g, erythritol is a calorie dwarf, looks and consistency hardly differs from conventional sugar, but is only half as sweet. According to studies, it is less likely to cause diarrhea and gas than other sugar alcohols. However, the sweetening power is only half as strong as that of sugar.

Also Sorbitol is one of the sugar alcohols. The white powder is made from wheat or corn starch using enzymes. Although sorbitol only contains around 60 percent of the calories in sugar, it is only half as sweet. Therefore, in the end, you often take more, so that the "save calories" effect is rarely achieved. The food industry also uses sorbitol as a humectant. In nature it occurs in the fruits of the mountain ash, in apples, pears and plums.

Sweeteners in the strict sense

In addition to the sugar substitutes, there are currently ten substances approved in the EU, namely the "artificial" sweeteners and sweeteners based on stevia.

  • Acesulfame K (E 950)
  • Aspartame (E 951)
  • Aspartame acesulfame salt (E 952)
  • Cyclamate (E 952)
  • Saccarin (E 954)
  • Sucralose (E 955)
  • Thaumatin (E 957)
  • Neohesperidin TLC (E 959)
  • Stevia (steviol glycoside) (E 960)
  • Neotame (E961).

advantages: Sweeteners are not cariogenic, do not affect blood sugar and do not lead to the release of insulin. They are not metabolized like food, but excreted again almost unchanged. So they do not provide any relevant calories. Even if sweeteners contain energy (aspartame and thaumatin, for example), their extremely high sweetening power means that so little of them is used that the calories are negligible.

disadvantage: Products with aspartame must bear the label “contains a source of phenylalanine”, because people with the rare hereditary metabolic disease phenylketonuria must adhere to a strict diet and are not allowed to consume these products.

Example stevia - sweetener "from the tropics"

Sweeteners are available for sprinkling or as liquid sweeteners.

Stevia has been approved as a sweetener in the European Union since 2011. It is obtained from the plant of the same name, which grows in tropical and subtropical regions of South America. However, it is not a natural product. The raw material is treated intensively in order to extract the sweetener steviol glycoside from it. Stevia is sweeter than sugar, but it contains almost no calories and has little effect on blood sugar. But: It has a metallic, licorice-like, slightly bitter aftertaste - especially in high doses. It is not so good for baking because of its small volume.

Do the substitutes harm your health?

Some sweeteners in one group have similar properties, but the effects in the body can vary considerably from substance to substance. So far, only a small amount of data has been examined. For this reason, sugar substitute products are still generally regarded as "black boxes" by nutritionists: This means that little is known about the effects the substances can trigger in the human organism, especially in the long term, with regular consumption.

Sugar alternatives are rather unsuitable for losing weight

Current research shows that the body can react differently to different sugar substitutes in terms of hunger and satiety. Overall, however, it seems to be the case that the amount of calories saved through sweeteners is usually compensated for by other foods afterwards: Those who use sweeteners instead of sugar therefore usually do not lose weight.

Indications of changes in the intestinal flora

In animal studies there are always indications that sweeteners change the intestinal flora, but influence the glucose-insulin metabolism and also the brain activity. It is true that conclusions from animal studies to humans are always questionable, but the data for humans is still insufficient. Sweeteners are chemical substances found by chance in the laboratory that tasted sweet. But from an evolutionary point of view, the organism is not used to ingesting these substances.

Better to eat less sweet

The following applies to all approved substitutes: There is currently no evidence of toxicity or health risks when consumed in normal quantities. Nevertheless, the Federal Center for Nutrition comes to the conclusion: "However, it is better to rethink your eating habits as a whole and generally sweeten as little as possible."

Instead of relying on sugar substitutes, it makes more sense to rely on foods with natural sweetness and consume less sweetened products. Because even if sugar substitutes do not cause blood sugar to rise, they apparently fuel the desire for sweets - and thus only make you more sensitive to sweet temptations.

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The Nutritional Docs | 02/22/2021 | 9:00 p.m.