Top 10 Q & A about Sugar and Sugar Substitutes

by Jessie Funchion, MS, RD, LDN

1) What’s considered added vs. natural sugar? Added = white or brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, honey, agave, molasses or syrup and products made with these foods. Natural = sugars found in fruit (fructose) and dairy (lactose)

2) How much added sugar are we consuming? The average American consumes 20 tablespoons of added sugar a day. YIKES! About half that is coming from Sugar Sweetened Beverages (SSBs).

3) How much added sugar should we consume? Depends who you ask. The American Heart Association recommends a limit of 6 teaspoons for women, or 100 calories a day and 9 teaspoons for men or 150 calories a day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans of 2015 recommends 10% of total calories or less while the World Health Organization is the most stringent at 5% of total calories or less. One thing we can all agree on – less is better!

4) Do we NEED sugar? No. We do need blood glucose, which comes from complex carbohydrates in our diet. But we could survive without any dietary sugar!

5) Does sugar cause obesity? No one food alone causes obesity. Consumption of sugary foods and drinks correlates with a higher calorie diet overall, which contributes to weight gain.

6) Does sugar cause health issues? Sugar consumption is correlated with weight gain, and weight gain is a risk factor for many diseases. So, it certainly may increase risk for disease. Interestingly, separate from weight, sugar consumption is also associated with the following diseases: high blood lipids and insulin resistance, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome and visceral adiposity. Even in those with a healthy BMI, sugar consumption can increase risk of these diseases.

7) What sugar substitutes are available? Aspartame (Equal), Acesulfame-K (Sweet One), Neotame, Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low), Sucralose (Splenda), Stevia (Truvia), Sugar alcohols (end with -ol, like xylitol or sorbitol)

8) What does the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics say? From the AND’s Position Paper: “It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive sweeteners and nonnutritive sweeteners (NNS) when consumed within an eating plan that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Dietary Reference Intakes, as well as individual health goals and personal preference. A preference for sweet taste is innate and sweeteners can increase the pleasure of eating.”

9) Do sugar substitutes cause cancer? Currently, the research points to no. From the National Cancer Institute: “Researchers have conducted studies on the safety of sugar substitutes saccharin cyclamate, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, sucralose and neotame and found no evidence that they cause cancer in humans. 
All of these artificial sweeteners, except for cyclamate, have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for sale in the United States.”

10) Are there any valid concerns with sugar substitutes? Yes, a growing body of research points to sugar substitutes leading to health issues in animal studies. Some of these issues include: increased food consumption, lower post-prandial thermogenesis, increased weight gain, greater percent body fat, decreased glucose tolerance, greater fasting glucose and hyperinsulinemia.

So, while they may be SAFE for consumption, they may not exactly be healthful.

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