ARE NON-SUGAR SWEETENERS REALLY A HEALTHIER OPTION?

Okay, you’re sweet enough already, we get that. But if you really want to cut down on the sugar in your diet, what should you know about the alternatives?

Going “sugar free” has become standard when we’re trying to clean up our diets, and there has been growing global awareness of the dangers of sugar in western diets for some years now.

So if we’re not eating sugar, but we still want to enjoy a sweet taste, what’s the best alternative? Are so-called “natural” sweeteners okay?

With consumer preferences prompting food manufacturers to change their products, often removing sugar, we have a lot of non-sugar options these days. It’s a good trend, but it’s worth checking what’s going into foods instead of sugar, and to arm yourself with information about these sugar substitutes.

There are two main things food manufacturers do to maintain sweetness without sugar. The first is the use of so-called “natural” sugars: things like honey, maple syrup, rice malt syrup, fruit juice and coconut sugar. This means food marketers can claim “no refined sugar” or “naturally sweetened” on a product’s packaging.

Although technically true, this can be misleading. All of the above ingredients are classified as “free sugars” by the World Health Organization, which recommends we limit our daily intake to less than six teaspoons. Eating something sweetened with one of these “natural” sugars is no better than eating something containing ordinary white cane sugar.

The other thing manufacturers are doing more often is using artificial, or “non-nutritive”, sweeteners. These have no calorific value, but they do taste really sweet. They also have a bit of a bad reputation, although there are some natural ones, such as stevia, that are more accepted and are being widely used.

The research around non-nutritive sweeteners is interesting. The traditional ones – aspartame, sucralose etc – are some of the most-studied food additives around. For a long time there’s been no strong evidence they are harmful, but recently there has been the suggestion of a link between non-nutritive sweeteners and an increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. They have also been linked with larger waist circumference and obesity.

It’s been suggested that sweeteners may have an effect on the bacteria in our gut, altering it in such a way that we’re more inclined to gain weight – the opposite of what we’d hope for when choosing a food or drink with no sugar.

Exposure to non-nutritive sweeteners early in life – and even in the womb – has been linked with poor cardio-metabolic health later in life. As with the previously mentioned research, however, more investigation is needed.

It seems for now that non-nutritive sweeteners may not be the great sugar-free solution we’ve wanted. So what’s the answer if we want a sweet taste with less sugar?

Experts say we don’t need to worry about natural sugars – so-called “intrinsic” sugars – in things like fruit and dairy, which are bound up in the cell walls of those foods, and are not a concern. Also, they come as part of whole foods that have other good things going for them, like vitamins, minerals and fiber.

A little bit of added sugar is okay, too – between five and six teaspoons of added (or free) sugar a day. Remember that includes white sugar, brown sugar, syrup, honey, fruit juice and all of those so-called “natural” sugars such as coconut sugar and rice malt syrup.

Six teaspoons is really not much – one can of sugary soda would put you well over that limit. So we are better off aiming, if we can, for as little sweet-tasting food and drink as possible, no matter how it’s sweetened (excluding whole fruit).

Sweet things tend to make us crave more sweet things, so the less we have, the more we can re-train our palates to accept a less sweet taste. By gradually cutting out sweeteners – sugar or otherwise – over time we will reduce the cravings and condition ourselves to a new diet.

With drinks, transitioning from a sugar-sweetened drink to a sugar-free drink is useful, but don’t stop there. Try and get to a point where sweet things really are just an occasional treat.

Niki Bezzant is a New Zealand-based food writer, editor and commentator. She is the founding editor (now editor-at-large) of Healthy Food Guide magazine, and is currently president of Food Writers New Zealand and a proud ambassador for the Garden to Table program which helps children learn how to grow, cook and share food. She is a member of the Council of Directors for the True Health Initiative, a global coalition of health professionals dedicated to sharing a science-based message of what we know for sure about lifestyle and health. 

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At Altered Images Gym in Bromsgrove we promote a healthy diet and lifestyle and run successful weight-loss programmes. If you would like to know more please visit our website or call us on 01527 874395.

Can’t lose that stubborn fat? Unlock your fat burning potential now

Did you know that there is another major factor to weight loss other than exercise and nutrition but equally important?

 

Getting quality sleep is as important as exercise when it come to fat loss. If you have standby lights on in your bedroom, watch TV in bed or use mobile devices before bed, the chances are you won’t be getting your restorative sleep required for fat loss. Any lights, particularly the white light omitted from mobile phones, trigger day time (stress) hormones and suppress the night time (relaxation) hormones such as serotonin. Not only will this ruin your potential to recover properly but also deprives you from efficient fat burning throughout the night and the following day.

fat loss with quality sleep

 

With this in mind here are some practical tips to increase your quality of sleep;

A) Make your bedroom as dark as possible. Since light penetrates your eye lids, something as small as a red standby light can be me mistaken by your body as a sunrise and signal the release of your day-time hormones which will hinder how well you rest and recover during your sleep. Use blackout blinds and turn off or cover up any standby lights. Consider using a sleeping mask to ensure no light disturbing your sleep.

B) No caffeine after 2pm. Caffeine will jack up your adrenals and interfere with your circadian rhythm.

C) Dim the lights an hour before bed to help encourage your body to start winding down.

D) Don’t use mobile phones or any device with a light up screen before bed.

E) Help your body wind down by reading, stretching or mediating.

What Wine Can I Drink?

Michel-Chapoutier

When I talk to people about their weekly Food Diary (such a simple, yet immensely powerful tool we use for Weight Loss Success) we inevitably get onto the delicate subject of alcohol.

After looking into this topic in more depth over the last 3 or 4 years I now feel far more confident in passing on what I have learnt and also sharing my own experience of being able to enjoy a glass of wine regularly whilst still managing to lose body fat, shed pounds and ultimately control my weight effectively.

Understanding how wine is made has also helped, thanks in large part to Antony Davis of the Mentzendorff Wine House, who hosts regular, highly informative wine tasting events at Altered Images.

The simple key is the Residual Sugar (RS) level of the wine which means that a wine you feel has a deep, rich flavour may have reached that “finish” by the use of added sugar, as opposed to the longer but natural preparation process to achieve a smoother finish and taste.

As some general advice, if you find a wine with an RS level of 10 or below, there is no reason why you can’t enjoy a glass of that wine every evening with your dinner and still stay on track with weight loss.  I know this is absolutely true as I have followed this same system myself where I changed my breakfast routine, eliminated high-sugar content carbs (white rice, white pasta, white bread) in favour of lower- sugar content ones (lentils and pulses) yet still  had a glass of Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc with dinner.

My first two grape varieties (Pinot Noir & Sauvignon Blanc) were used as more of a generalisation at the start of my understanding of sugar levels, however what I have learned subsequently is that when wine is made properly – and not rushed to the supermarket – it tends to be aged correctly; the inherent flavours are allowed to ‘finish’ so they taste smooth, full, fruity even ‘cheeky’ but all done naturally without the ‘air-brushing effect’ sugar often has on wine. This widens the number of grape vaieties you can enjoy as long as you apply the sub 10 RS rule.

Typically a number of non-supermarket wines (made more traditionally following the Lunar or Biodynamic approach to producing) tend to be a little more expensive. For instance varieties like Chapoutier’s entry level wines are in the region of £8-£9 per bottle and have featured in our most recent wine tasting events and these are low sugar and eminently drinkable!

What this demonstrates is perhaps not surprising. If you look at many French people, they don’t tend to be particularly overweight yet they still enjoy wine on a daily basis, so perhaps the key is what wine they are drinking, rather than the fact they are drinking wine at all?

My personal opinion is a resounding YES and I’m sure many of you will be pleased even relieved to hear that!

If you choose the right wine with a lower Residual Sugar content (ie under 10) you can enjoy your wine AND still remain healthy and lose weight.

PS – For anyone interested to learn more about Lunar Wine Production or Biodynamic Viticulture (to give it it’s proper name) and which wine producers use this method,  Google and Wikipedia are a great source of information and you will see Chapoutier mentioned and indeed Chapoutier have a very good website with information about Bio wines.

If you enjoyed reading this article you may also like to read our previous post on how running can be fun.