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When following a weight loss program, most people find that resisting sweet temptations is one of the most difficult things to adjust to and often opt for ‘diet’ products as a low calorie option to satisfy the sweet craving as well as stay on track with their progress.

So how can something that tastes so sweet be so low in energy?  Well the reason is that it is artificially sweetened.

Artificial sweeteners are designed to be sugar substitutes as a low calorie alternative to sugar.  The marketing line being that if you eat less energy these products are less ‘fattening’.  Sugar substitutes are found in diet sodas, yoghurt, sugar free lollies, gum and sweeteners. The additives they contain mimic the flavour of sugar but with virtually no useful energy and as they are many times sweeter than table sugar, smaller amounts are needed to create the same level of sweetness.

There are five main sugar substitutes that are approved for consumer use: saccharin, neotame, acesulfame potassium, aspartame, and sucralose. Of the five, sucralose and aspartame are the most controversial due to their associated health risks.

Sucralose – This relatively new additive is marketed under the name Splenda®. Sucralose is basically denatured sucrose (table sugar). Its preparation involves chlorinating sucrose, chemically changing the structure of the  molecules.

Aspartame – This additive is sold under the names Equal® or NutraSweet® and is present in many food and beverages marketed as low fat or low sugar and is reported as having many associated health risks.

So if you are trying to lose weight and want to avoid the health risks associated with artificial sweeteners then what options do you have?  Thankfully there are now more natural sweeteners available on the market that are easily accessible from either your local supermarket or health food store.

Stevia – Stevia is derived from a herb in the chrysanthemum family which grows wild as a small shrub in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. Steviol glycosides are the compounds in its leaves, that account for its incredible sweetness and whilst sweeter than cane sugar does not affect blood sugar levels so is an ideal choice for someone who is trying to watch their weight.

Natvia – Natvia is a natural sweetener made from Reb A stevia, and Erythritol.  Reb A is the purest and sweetest parts of the stevia plant, and erythritol naturally occurs as nectar in fruits, such as melons and grapes.  Natvia is 100% fructose free, has 95% fewer calories than sugar, contains no aspartame, or saccharin and it’s great for baking and cooking.

Xylitol – Known as a sugar alcohol or polyol, it is a natural carbohydrate found in fibrous fruit and vegetables. Produced in the body during normal metabolism, it is commercially extracted from birch tree bark or corn cobs and can be used to sweeten tea and coffee or used in baking.

Coconut Sugar – Is drawn from the sap of the coconut palm tree buds and is similar in taste and colour to brown sugar, with a slight caramel flavour..  Coconut sugar has a lower glycemic index rating (35) thus helping to stabilize glucose levels. As it is  loaded with minerals, such as potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron, and B vitamins it provides more than just sweetness.  Coconut sugar can be used as a substitute for white sugar in baking or dessert recipes or anything else you’d use sugar for!

Agave Nectar – Agave nectar is produced from the Blue Agaves that thrive in the volcanic soils of Southern Mexico. Agaves are large, spikey plants that resemble cactus or yuccas.  With a taste and texture similar to honey Agave syrup is increasing in popularity as a healthy sweet alternative.

The carbohydrate in agave nectar has a low glycemic index, which provides sweetness without the unpleasant “sugar rush” and unhealthful blood sugar spike caused by many other sugars.

As with everything in life, the key is moderation.  You are able to still enjoy sweet foods as an occasional treat and as long as you exercise caution with your portion size then you can be confident to stay on track with your health and fitness goals.

Other top tips include:-

  • Check your food labels at home and remove or reduce everything that has aspartame listed
  • Use natural sweeteners like agave nectar, xylitol or raw honey
  • Avoid products that are labelled “low calorie,” “diet,” “sugar free,” or “no sugar added” since they all likely contain sugar additives.