I’m trying to avoid sugar, and recently have been seeing some new replacements (e.g., monk fruit, xylitol and allulose) in different store-bought foods. What are they exactly? Are they even safe?
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A. Bravo for cutting back on your sugar intake! On average, Americans consume way too much of the sweet stuff, especially added sugars. As a result, it has become a major contributing factor to the rise in obesity, diabetes and heart disease.
New products derived from the stevia plant (e.g., Truvia), sugar alcohols like xylitol and erythritol (Xyla and Swerve, respectively), sucralose (Splenda) and monk fruit extract (SPR-Field), are the latest sugar alternatives appearing on supermarket shelves and in foods marketed as healthier, more dietetic options. They’re not only replacing regular sugar, but mainstay artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (Equal), Ace-K (Sweet One) and saccharin (Sweet ’n Low), which have been found to have adverse health effects.
With claims like “all-natural,” “non-GMO” and even “sugarfree,” they’re generally regarded as safe by the Food and Drug Administration, and have a negligible impact on blood sugar and tooth enamel erosion. Plus, they contain fewer calories (or even zero) compared to regular sugar and are 200 to 400 times sweeter, so you don’t have to use as much. But even “natural” sweeteners need to be processed and refined. Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can not only increase cravings, but negatively impact your metabolism and actually lead to weight gain. Furthermore, sugar alcohols, when consumed in excess, can cause gastrointestinal distress. And perhaps most concerning, more research is needed to ensure long-term safety. Recently, the World Health Organization reduced its recommendation for sugar intake to only five percent of your total calories. Like with most sweet things, a little can go a long way.
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