Our love for sweet treats including cupcakes and ice cream sundaes are damaging our health
The official advice is that anyone over 11 should get no more than five per cent of their calories from free sugars which are defined as added sugars, honey, syrups, fructose, galactose, maltose, lactose, sucrose and glucose as well as natural sugar in fruit juices and pureed fruit.
But health watchdogs have now added hummus plus pureed vegetables and pulses to their hit list of “free sugars” we should avoid. This has baffled health-conscious consumers, leaving them wondering how to stick to safe limits.
Dietitian Dr Carrie Ruxton, author of the report Sugar Switching: Sorting The Fact From The Fiction, says: “There is no doubt that we are all consuming too much sugar.
“Yet, as many people enjoy sweet foods, they will probably struggle to keep their sugar consumption below six teaspoons a day.”
She suggests: “One way to have your cake, and enjoy eating it too, is to swap sugar for low calorie sweeteners, such as those in the Hermesetas product range.”
Studies demonstrate that consumption of low-calorie sweeteners in place of some sugar in the diet reduced energy intake and body weight
Public health nutritionist Dr Emma Derbyshire agrees: “The simple switch from using table sugars to sweeteners such as mini tablets or granules can have extended benefits and save 10 to 12 grams of sugar in one swap.”
But Dr Ruxton says: “There are a lot of myths surrounding sugar substitutes which are being driven by social media and so-called influencers who haven’t got a clue what they are talking about.”
Here we look at the most common misconceptions about sweeteners and ask the experts for the facts:
MYTH: Low-calorie sweeteners disrupt our metabolism
This is based on the idea that eating something sweet tells our body to expect calories, stimulating digestive activity and insulin release in readiness for the anticipated surge in blood sugar levels.
Britons are eating twice the amount of recommended sugar increasing the risk of obesity
TRUTH: Professor Peter Rogers, an expert in nutrition and behaviour at Bristol University, says this stems from one study in rats which found that when half were given unlimited access to food sweetened with sugar and half had access to food sweetened with saccharin, the animals offered the low-calorie sweetener gained more weight.
Yet when another team of scientists tried to replicate this they found the opposite was true. They also showed the original study was flawed because rats that didn’t like saccharin were excluded, leaving a self-selected group which was also more likely to gain weight.
He adds: “Sweetness and energy content are essentially unrelated.”
MYTH: Low-calorie sweeteners encourage a sweet tooth
Frequent exposure to sweet flavours promotes a preference for them and over-stimulates sugar receptors which encourages cravings. The success of salt reduction in processed foods is sometimes used to support this argument.
TRUTH: Professor Rogers found: “There is little evidence to support these statements.”
He points out that if this theory were correct, swapping drinks made with low-calorie sweeteners for water would reduce our preference for sugary foods.
Yet short-term studies show no difference in energy intakes and long-term studies show people who switch to low-calorie drinks rather than water are more likely to lose weight.
MYTH: Low-calorie sweeteners encourage us to overcompensate for “calories saved”
This is based on the idea that we give ourselves permission to eat or drink more when we choose low-calorie options and end up maintaining or even increasing our calorie intake.
TRUTH: Professor Rogers says there is evidence we eat more when we are told a food is “healthier” but less when we know how many calories it contains and studies also found that knowing whether low-calorie sweeteners were being used made no difference in weight loss.
Professor Rogers says: “Studies demonstrate that consumption of low-calorie sweeteners in place of some sugar in the diet reduced energy intake and body weight.”
One way to combat our high sugar intake is to swap it for a low-calorie sweetener
Many Brits have a sweet tooth
MYTH: Sweeteners have been linked to cancer
The internet is littered with scientific-sounding explanations to claim sweeteners such as aspartame and acesulfame potassium increase the risk of developing some cancers.
TRUTH: NHS Choices says fears over aspartame stem from a now-discredited report from 1996.
Since then the European Food Safety Authority has reviewed all the studies and the US National Cancer Institute has carried out a study in about 500,000 people and both concluded the sweetener was safe.
Similarly, after reviewing all the evidence, EFSA and the US Food and Drug Administration have dismissed scare stories surrounding acesulfame potassium, which is sometimes used with aspartame.
Dr Derbyshire says: “Sweeteners are thoroughly researched and an acceptable daily intake has been set for each one which is one-hundredth of the safe amount.”
Too much sugar can lead to diabetes and heart disease
MYTH: Sweeteners disrupt healthy gut bacteria
Changes in gut bacteria from using low-calorie sweeteners are said to lead to weight gain and other health problems.
TRUTH: While some studies – mainly in animals rather than people – have shown differences in gut bacteria, Dr Ruxton says this is “not proven consistently in humans and there is no evidence of harm”.
Dr Derbyshire adds: “Meta-analysis has shown that when sugar is replaced with low-calorie sweeteners, reductions in body weight are observed.”
MYTH: Sweeteners have an adverse effect on blood sugar levels
A study by Professor Eran Elinav from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel reported differences in glucose tolerance between mice given water with sugar or sweeteners and identified a human association between sweetener consumption and obesity.
Many people enjoy sweet drinks
TRUTH: Meta-analysis which looked at evidence from 29 randomised controlled trials found that consumption of non-nutritive sweeteners “was not found to elevate blood glucose level”.
Dr Emma Derbyshire adds: “Because of the minimal effect on blood sugars the EU has authorised the health claim that low-calorie sweeteners ‘maintain reduction of postprandial glycaemic responses’.
“Sweeteners have a potentially important role in helping people with Type 2 diabetes reduce their sugar intake and improve their glycaemic control.”
For more information or to see Sugar Switching: Sorting The Fact From The Fiction visit hermesetas.co.uk