Artificial Sweeteners and Natural Sweeteners: What You Need to Know

Are artificial sweeteners safe? How do natural sweeteners compare? Get the facts on different sweeteners and make informed choices for your health.

For many people, a life without sweet food is a life without joy. While a bit of sweetness can lift your spirits and tickle your taste buds, a lot of added sugar could do the opposite. Researchers, scientists, and sugar fans are always looking for healthier substitutes.

When it comes to natural and artificial sweeteners, it can be hard to navigate the pros and cons of each option. Should you replace added sugars with artificial substitutes or switch to naturally sweet foods instead?

Let's take a closer look at how sweeteners work and which choice is the best for you.

Why Added and Refined Sugars May Not Be Good for You  

Why do people love sugar so much? The answer is simple – survival.

When humans had to chase prey and run away from predators, energy was in high demand. You were weak and potentially dead if your body didn't have enough energy. People were ready to eat anything even slightly sweet because it gave them a chance to survive.

Sugar contains calories that your body turns into energy. This allows you to run faster and stay awake longer. However, added sugar doesn't contain any nutrients. This pure energy source may have been great for people in the past. Today, it doesn't serve much of a purpose.  

Eating added and refined sugars in large quantities put a strain on your body. It has to struggle to convert them into energy and flush remnants out of the system. When this happens consistently, you could face a variety of health issues.  

Added Sugars

Added sugar is the sugar you add to your food while cooking or baking. Common examples include:

  • Brown sugar
  • Corn syrup
  • Fructose
  • Glucose
  • Malt syrup
  • Maple syrup

According to the CDC, people older than two should keep their added sugar consumption lower than 10% of their daily calorie intake. Children younger than 24 months shouldn't have any added sugar at all.

Refined Sugars

Refined sugars are sugars that undergo the refinement processes. To make refined sugar, you have to process natural products such as cane, sugar beets, or corn to isolate the sugar from them.

As a result, you get a nutrient-free, calorie-packed sweet product you can use for eating or cooking. Refined sugars are always added sugars. You can find them on store shelves under a variety of brands.

Over the past years, much research has been done to show that consuming too much added sugar can negatively affect your health. It can lead to various consequences, including cardiovascular problems, diabetes, cancer, obesity, tooth decay, etc.

People are trying to reduce their added sugar intake and switch to artificial sweeteners to avoid these issues. But are these sweeteners harmless?

Related: Kombucha Ingredients: What You Need To Know

Pros and Cons of Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are chemical-based sugar substitutes. They make your food and drinks sweet without providing many calories. While this may sound like the perfect solution to the added sugar problem, it may not always be.

Sugar substitutes have a long and rich history. In fact, they've been around since 1879. Over the years, much research has been done to identify their pros and cons.

Benefits of Artificial Sweeteners

The benefits of using artificial sweeteners are impressive. They include:

  • Weight loss – if you are craving sweets but don't want the calories that come with them, a synthetic sweetener can help you kill two birds with one stone.
  • Healthier teeth – unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners don't hurt your teeth, cause cavities or contribute to plaque formation.
  • Diabetes – people with diabetes can't process glucose from sugar properly. While artificial sweeteners have some calories, too, your body metabolizes them slower than sugar. This keeps blood sugar levels closer to normal.

Artificial sweeteners can be a better choice for many people than added sugar. However, they also come with a few side effects.

Disadvantages of Artificial Sweeteners

When the popularity of artificial sweeteners started rising, so did the number of studies that evaluated their safety. While many artificial sweeteners are FDA-approved, they may not always be the best sugar substitute.

Heart Problems

A recent 2022 study demonstrated that artificial sweeteners could increase the risk of cardiovascular disease when consumed regularly. This is especially true for aspartame, acesulfame potassium, and sucralose.

Cancer Risks

Another study showed that consuming artificial sweeteners may increase the risk of developing certain cancers, including breast cancer and obesity-related cancer. The study looked at such popular artificial sweeteners as aspartame (E951), acesulfame-K (E950), and sucralose (E955).  

Weight Gain

An unexpected side effect of continuous artificial sweetener consumption is weight gain. Researchers are yet to find scientific proof that connects these chemicals to obesity. So far, only animal studies have demonstrated the connection between artificial sweeteners and overeating.

However, the psychological impact exists. When people start using artificial sweeteners, they mistakenly believe they can't gain weight. This causes them to consume more unhealthy food, such as baked goods. This eventually contributes to extra pounds. 

So, what if added sugars aren't good for you while artificial sweeteners lead to unpleasant consequences? Should you forget about sugar? Or maybe turn to natural sweeteners?

Related: Is Kombucha a Good Antioxidant?

Natural Sweeteners as a Sugar Alternative

The word "natural" has a positive connotation and often leads us to believe that something is healthy. When it comes to natural sweeteners, it's not always the case.

Unlike refined sugars and artificial sweeteners, natural sugars contain some vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.Natural sweeteners can be organic. They don't have as many adverse consequences as synthetic sugars do, but they may still disrupt your gut health.

These sugar alternatives come from natural sources but can still be refined and processed. Some of them may be healthier than artificial sweeteners, but this doesn't mean they should be consumed regularly.

It's worth noting that natural sweeteners are also added sugars. That's why it's essential to keep an eye on the amount you consume. Since natural sweeteners are often thousands of times sweeter than sugars, it's easy to overdo it.

While it may be a better sugar alternative, some people can't eat natural sweeteners because they cause:

  • Aftertaste – some people report an unpleasant taste that lingers in their mouth after eating food with natural sweeteners. You may need to try several sweeteners before determining which one works best for you.
  • Gastrointestinal problems – some people may experience gas and bloating after eating sweeteners. This is a common side effect of eating artificial sweeteners as well. Sometimes, all you need to do is give your body some time to adjust to sugar substitutes.

Remember that sweeteners can cause you to eat more food simply because it tastes so good when sweetened. That said, you no longer need to chase prey or run away from hungry tigers, so even if it's natural, overdoing sugar is rarely a good idea and these natural alternatives can still affect the normal working of your digestive system.

Naturally-Sweet Foods

There are alternatives if you are craving sweet stuff but don't like sugar for its high-calorie content, don't want artificial sweeteners for their side effects, or can't eat natural sweeteners because of stomach problems—naturally-sweet foods.

Here are a few options you can try:

  • Sweet corn
  • Carrots
  • Strawberries
  • Kombucha
  • Melon
  • Grapes

If you have any conditions, such as diabetes, cardiovascular problems, or obesity, you can talk to your doctor about replacing sugar with naturally sweet food.

Your doctor and dietician can design a suitable diet plan to help you eat sweet foods while minimizing negative consequences.

Enter Naturally-Sweetened Kombucha

Kombucha is a naturally-sweetened drink with a wide variety of beneficial properties. If you have a sweet tooth but want to limit your sugar intake, kombucha can come to the rescue. Besides satisfying sugar cravings, it can improve digestion, boost your immune system, eliminate toxins, and much more.

At Brew Dr, we work hard to create the tastiest kombucha drinks to help you enjoy your life while reaping significant health benefits. Discover your favorite naturally-sweetened drink today!

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