Sugar substitute – benefit or harm


It would seem that it could be easier to buy instead of traditional jam (with added sugar, of course) jam with a beautiful and proud inscription “without sugar”? It seems to us that since the composition does not contain the same granulated sugar, then we have a product that is at least harmless to the figure and the body as a whole. But, as it turned out, this barrel also contains a fly in the ointment, and it is called a sugar substitute.

Sugar substitute, the harm of which is not so obvious, is a popular product on the table of those who care about their figure. It seems that it is completely harmless and even useful. It tastes sweet, uplifting and not high in calories like ordinary sugar. However, not all so simple. How is the harm of a sugar substitute manifested? When absorbed, the taste buds give a signal. When the sweetness enters the body, a sharp and intense production of insulin begins. In this case, the sugar level drops, and carbohydrates for the stomach are not supplied.

What is sugar

If we recall the basic course of school chemistry, then the substance sucrose is called sugar. It has a sweetish taste and, at the same time, is perfectly soluble in water (at any temperature). These properties allow sucrose to be useful on almost all fronts – it is eaten as a mono-ingredient, and as one of the constituent dishes.


If you dig a little deeper, you can recall that depending on the chemical structure, sugar is divided into several groups: monosaccharides, disaccharides, polysaccharides.


These are the basic elements of absolutely any kind of sugar. Their distinctive feature is that, entering the body, they break down into elements, which in turn do not decompose and remain unchanged. The well-known monosaccharides are glucose and fructose (fructose is a glucose isomer).


As the name suggests, it is something that is formed by combining two monosaccharides. For example, sucrose (it contains monosaccharides – one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule), maltose (two glucose molecules) or lactose (one glucose molecule and one galactose molecule).


These are high molecular weight carbohydrates that consist of a huge amount of monosaccharides. For example, starch or fiber.

Sugar is a high-calorie carbohydrate (380-400 kcal per 100 g), which is easily absorbed by the body. At the same time, sugar in one form or another (natural, added, hidden) exists in almost any food product that grows in the garden or is waiting in the wings on the supermarket shelf.

What are sugar substitutes

The question “What is a sugar substitute” and “Is a sugar substitute harmful” appears in a person at about the same time. Usually, people come to a sugar substitute in two cases: either you are on a diet and keep a strict calorie record, or due to certain health problems, the specialist recommended that you reduce your sugar intake, or even eliminate it altogether.

Then a sweetener comes into view. You don’t need to have any deep knowledge that to understand that a sweetener is something that can take the place of sugar in the diet. At the same time, it is not easy to borrow – no one is interested in exchanging an awl for soap, but in the end to get a more “perfect” product. Its properties should be as similar to sugar as possible (sweetish taste, high solubility in water), but at the same time, it should have a number of distinctive positive properties for the body (for example, it is believed that a sugar substitute does not have a negative effect on carbohydrate metabolism).

A product with similar properties was discovered in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century. Saccharin, to which Konstantin Fahlberg drew attention, is much sweeter than sugar (this was especially useful during the First World War). And when, several decades later, scientists informed the whole world that sugar was a white death with a sweetish taste, other sugar alternatives were poured into the hands of consumers.

Differences between sugar and its substitutes

When deciding which sugar substitute to choose, you need to understand that the main purpose of alternative sugar is to give a person the longed-for feeling of sweetness in the mouth, but get it without the participation of glucose. This is the main difference between sugar and its substitutes: while maintaining the taste properties of sugar, its substitute does not contain glucose molecules in its composition.

In addition, the “rivals” for a place of honor in the human diet are distinguished by the degree of sweetness. Compared to the most common sugar, substitutes have a much richer sweet taste (depending on the type of sweetener, they are several tens, and sometimes hundreds of times sweeter than sugar), which can significantly reduce their amount in a cup of your favorite coffee, and, accordingly, the calorie content of the dish (some types of substitute have zero calorie content).

Types of sweeteners

But sugar substitutes differ from each other not only in energy value, but also, in principle, in origin (some types are produced in a laboratory, while others are natural). And because of this, they affect the human body in different ways.

Natural sugar substitutes

  • sorbitolSorbitol can be called a record holder in its use – it is actively introduced into the food industry (chewing gums, semi-finished meat products, soft drinks), and in the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries. Initially, people suffering from diabetes were not even faced with the question “which sugar substitute to choose” – of course, sorbitol! But a little later it turned out that the remedy was not as universal as it seemed at first glance. Firstly, sorbitol is quite high in calories, and secondly, it does not have strong sweet properties (it is almost 40% less sweet than sugar). In addition, if the dose is exceeded in 40-50g, it can cause a feeling of nausea.

    The calorie content of sorbitol is 3,54 kcal / g.

  • KsilitThis natural sweetener is extracted from corn cobs, sugarcane stalks, and birch wood. Many people are campaigning for this type of sugar substitute because it has a low glycemic index and its effect on blood sugar levels is minimal, but there are also disadvantages. If the daily norm is exceeded by 40-50g, it can provoke an upset stomach.

    The calorie content of xylitol is 2,43 kcal / g.

  • Agave SyrupThe syrup is a bit like honey, although it is less thick and sweeter than the beekeeping product. Agave syrup has a low glycemic index and an impressive ability to sweeten foods (and, any – because the product is perfectly soluble in water) – it is almost twice as sweet as sugar. But this sweetener is advised to use no more than 1-2 times a week, and people suffering from diseases of the gallbladder and liver – and completely refuse.

    The calorie content of agave syrup is -3,1 kcal / g.

  • SteviaThis natural sweetener is nothing more than the juice of a plant that is common in Central and South America. A distinctive feature of this sweetener is very strong sweet properties (stevia extract is a couple of hundred times sweeter than sugar). Despite the natural origin and lack of calories, experts do not recommend exceeding the allowable daily allowance of 2 mg per kg of body weight. In addition, stevioside (the main component of stevia) has a very specific flavor, so it may not be liked by everyone. The calorie content of stevia extract is 1 kcal / g.

Artificial sugar substitutes

  • SaccharinIt is the first synthetic sugar substitute. It was invented back in 1900 and pursued the main goal – to make life easier for people with diabetes during a diet. Saccharin is very sweet (several hundred times sweeter than sugar) – you must agree, very economical. But, as it turned out, this sugar substitute does not tolerate high temperatures well – when it gets very hot, it gives the products a taste of metal and bitterness. In addition, saccharin can cause stomach upset.

    In general, sugar substitutes are not recommended for breastfeeding. However, as during pregnancy. For example, some scientists believe that saccharin has the ability to cross the placenta into fetal tissue. And in many countries of the world (including the USA) this sugar analogue is prohibited at the legislative level.

    The calorie content of saccharin is 0 kcal / g.

  • aspartameThis artificial sugar substitute is as common, if not more common, than saccharin. It can often be found under the trade name “Equal”. Industrialists love aspartame for its sweet properties (it is 200 times sweeter than sugar) and the absence of any aftertaste. And consumers complained about it for its “zero calorie”. However, there is one “but”. Aspartame absolutely does not tolerate exposure to high temperatures. When heated, it not only breaks down, but also releases the highly toxic substance methanol.

    The calorie content of aspartame is 0 kcal / g.

  • Sucrase (sucralose)This synthetic analogue of sugar (trade name “Spenda”) is considered almost the safest among artificial sugar substitutes. The FDA (United States Food and Drug Administration) has repeatedly conducted research on sucrasite for exposure to animals and humans. The department ruled that this sweetener is safe for health and can be used in baking, and for chewing gum, and in juices. The only caveat, the WHO still does not recommend exceeding the recommended rate of 0,7 g / kg of human weight.

    The calorie content of sucrasite is 0 kcal / g.

  • Acesulfame-KThis sweetener can be found in foods called Sunette and Sweet One. Initially (15-20 years ago) it was popular in the USA as a sweetener for lemonades, and then it began to be added to chewing gum, dairy and sour milk products, various desserts. Acesulfame-K (“K” means potassium) is almost 200 times sweeter than everyone else is used to granulated sugar. May leave a slightly bitter aftertaste in high concentrations.

    The possible harm of Acesulfame-K is still debated, but the FDA and EMEA (European Medicines Agency) reject accusations of the carcinogenicity of the sweetener (subject to the consumption standards – 15 mg / kg of human weight per day). However, many experts are convinced that due to the content of ethyl alcohol and aspartic acid in its composition, Acesulfame potassium can negatively affect the state of the cardiovascular system.

    Calorie content of Acesulfame-K is 0 kcal / g.

The benefits and harms of sugar substitutes

Just do not think that the natural origin of the sugar substitute guarantees one hundred percent safety, just as the fact that artificial analogs of sugar are absolutely evil.

For example, one of the positive properties of sorbitol is its ability to improve the microflora of the gastrointestinal tract, and xylitol is able to resist microbes that negatively affect dental health. Of course, this “works” in a safe direction only if the permissible standards are strictly observed.

Despite the fact that the Internet is teeming with information about the negative effects of sugar analogues, and fashionable nutritionists in the glossy press constantly talk about the harmful effects of sugar substitutes in tablets, there is no official confirmation from the ministries of health on this matter. There are results of separate studies (conducted mainly on rodents), which indirectly indicate the unsafeness of synthetic sugar duplicates.

For example, the author of Always Hungry ?, an endocrinologist at Harvard Medical School, David Ludwig, blames sugar substitutes for the fact that after some time, people stop feeling the natural sweetness of natural foods (fruits, berries, vegetables).

York University staff believe that the bacteria that inhabit our gut cannot properly process artificial sweeteners – as a result, the normal functioning of the gastrointestinal tract can be disrupted. And the FDA, despite the widespread availability of stevia, does not consider this sugar analogue “safe”. In particular, laboratory experiments on rodents have shown that in large quantities, it can lead to a decrease in sperm production and to infertility.

And in principle, our body itself gives signals that it does not like substitutes. When they are absorbed, the taste buds give a signal – when sweetness enters the body, a sharp and intense production of insulin begins. In this case, the sugar level drops, and carbohydrates for the stomach are not supplied. As a result, the body remembers this “snag” and the next time produces a lot of insulin, and this causes fatty deposits. Therefore, the harm of sugar substitutes can be significant for those looking to stay slim.

Who needs a sugar substitute and is it possible for a healthy person

There are at least three reasons why a person decides to give up sugar. First, for medical reasons (for example, if diabetes is diagnosed). Secondly, because of the desire to lose weight (everyone knows that the consumption of sweets not only provokes the development of caries, but also leads to an increase in body weight). Thirdly, these are healthy lifestyle beliefs (people who have embarked on the path of a healthy lifestyle know perfectly well how insidious sugar is – take at least the fact that getting rid of sugar addiction is much more difficult than getting rid of a passion for hard drugs).

Some scientists claim that sugar substitutes are harmful for healthy people. Others are sure that the consumption of sugar analogues in acceptable dosages will not bring harm to a person without any health problems. The complexity of the situation lies in the fact that few of us can boast of a mark in the medical record “absolutely healthy”.

Sugar substitutes have a wide range of contraindications: from banal nausea to exacerbation of problems such as diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular diseases and rapid weight gain (yes, a substitute can suppress a person’s ability to evaluate the sweetness of foods – this is how many tablespoons of sweetener are eaten).

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