Added sugar sabotages healthy diet
In nature, sweet foods are usually nourishing and safe to eat. Bitter or sour foods are more likely to contain toxic substances. So, it's logical that we evolved to appreciate sweetness.
To stay alive, the sugar glucose must circulate constantly in our blood with its concentration carefully regulated. The brain can't function without it.
Question: If sugar is important for the body, why should we limit it in our diet?
Answer: Sugar added to foods provides concentrated calories with little or no additional nutrients, and frequent consumption contributes to tooth decay. Many components naturally present in foods can provide glucose in the body.
Q: How much sugar is too much?
A: The Institute of Medicine recommends that a 2,000-calorie diet contain no more than 25 teaspoons (about half a cup) of added sugars.
"Added sugars" include the sugar you add to foods and the sugar added to processed foods such as sodas, candy, jams, etc. One 12-ounce soda contains 7 to 8 teaspoons of sugar. Drink three cans of soda and you are just about over the limit.
Q: Are noncaloric alternative sweeteners a reasonable option to sugar?
A: The currently approved alternative sweeteners have been studied extensively for safety in the amounts commonly used in foods.
Substituting these sweeteners for sugar helps to reduce the risk of tooth decay and allows the diet to include calories from more whole foods with essential nutrients (vitamins, minerals, etc.).
The oldest artificial sweetener on the market is saccharin, marketed as Sweet'n Low, Sweet Twin and Sugar Twin. It was discovered in 1878 and found to be 300 times as sweet as sugar.
Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal, etc.) was discovered in 1965 and approved for use in 1981 after 16 years of studies on its safety. Its use is limited by the fact that exposure to heat causes breakdown of the molecule and loss of its sweetness. It is about 180 times as sweet as sugar.
Acesulfame-K (Sunett and Sweet One) was approved for use in 1988. It is commonly used in combination with other sweeteners to provide a taste similar to sugar. It is about 200 times as sweet as sugar.
Sucralose (Splenda), on the market since 1998, is 600 times as sweet as sugar. Its popularity has grown rapidly.
If you have an insatiable sweet tooth, these sweeteners can be a reasonable and safe alternative to sugar. Like everything else, they should be used in moderation as part of an overall balanced diet.
, Ph.D., C.N.S. and Joannie Dobbs
, Ph.D., C.N.S. are
nutritionists in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences, College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources, UH-Manoa. Dr. Dobbs also works with the University Health Services and prepares the nutritional analyses marked with an asterisk in this section. See also: Health Events