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Archive for February, 2011

While many tout either the positives or negatives of sugar, non-nutritive sweeteners create equal controversy. How safe are the contents of those pink, yellow, and blue packets consumed daily by millions?

Opponents of artificial sweeteners consider them worse than sugar and refer to them as toxic and dangerous. Some consider them addictive and claim that they cause the body to crave more sugar. Additionally, a few individuals may be sensitive to certain ingredients in those sweeteners. Accusations of a link between the use of cyclamates, a sugar-substitute of the 1960s, and bladder cancer heightened fear of cancer from all artificial sweeteners. According to the National Cancer Institute, evidence fails to link cancer risks to their use.

 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five artificial sweeteners for human consumption.

  • Saccharin, in use for more than 100 years in the United States, is generally regarded as safe (GRAS). Sold as “Sweet and Low”, saccharin is 450 times sweeter than sugar. Moderate consumption appears safe, and more than 100 countries use this sweet substance. While some studies with rats found that saccharin increased appetite and weight gain, other studies failed to confirm increased weight in humans.
  • Aspartame, accidentally invented in the mid 1960s, is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Recognized trade names include Nutrasweet, Equal, and NutraTaste. People with phenylketonuria (PKU), a hereditary disease that can cause irreversible brain damage, must avoid this sweetener because it contains the amino acid phenylalanine.
  • Acesulfame-K, marketed under the trade names Sweet One, Sunette, and Sweet ‘n Safe, is 200 times sweeter than sugar. The “K” represents the chemical symbol for potassium. However, since acesulfame-K passes through the body unchanged, the potassium provides no health benefits.    
  • Sucralose, known by the trade name Splenda, received FDA approved for use in the US in 1998. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar. This unique sweetener, made from sugar derivatives, passes through the body undigested and unabsorbed.
  • Neotame, related chemically to Aspartame, is safe for those with PKU. It is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. FDA approved neotame in 2002. It is not packaged under a brand name.

According to the American Dietetic Association, nonnutritive sweeteners are safe when used within the approved regulations. Although many times sweeter than sugar, they yield no calories. When replacing sugar, they lower incidents of tooth decay, lower caloric content of food, and decrease the glycemic index in food. The International Food Information Council maintains that non-calorie sweeteners aid in attempts to control weight. Studies with humans found that substituting Aspartame for sugar-sweetened products resulted in nearly a half-pound of weight loss per week.

For the majority of the population, the five approved sweeteners become a boost to those who need to cut sugar intake and lower calories. As always, use in moderation and enjoy.

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Happy Valentine’s Day! Valentines is the fourth biggest holiday of the year for purchasing candy. For this special day, more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of candy will be sold. Can you enjoy those sweets without shame?

Sugars have been blamed for diabetes, hyperactivity in children, and obesity. Are these accusations truth or hype?  The good news—research fails to support the beliefs of many that sugar causes these conditions.

Diabetes: All sugars and starches break down in the body to glucose. The body uses insulin to change blood sugar (glucose) into body energy. Diabetes occurs when the pancreas produces insufficient amounts or no insulin. Type 2 diabetes, the most common, results when the pancreas cannot make enough insulin for body needs. Sugar does not cause diabetes, but obesity as a result of consuming too many high-calorie foods is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.  

Hyperactivity: In the early 1970s, Dr. Benjamin Feingold proposed the theory that diet, namely sugar, affects children’s behavior. More than 20 scientific studies failed to support that claim. While activities such as parties or other events with excessive sweets may cause excitement, scientific evidence maintains that sugar does not cause hyperactivity in children.

Obesity: With the growing epidemic of obesity, is sugar the villain? One teaspoon of sugar yields 15 calories. According to the Sugar Association, those calories are no more fattening than 15 calories from other sources. Eating too many calories makes you fat. However, excessive sugar, like other high-calorie substances, will add to weight.

Are there negatives to sugar in the diet? Sugary foods can cause a rapid rise in blood glucose levels that plunge sharply. Thus, while sugar may trigger a quick energy response, the sudden drop can result in tiredness or weakness. Some studies do link sugar to dental caries (decay). Foods, such as candy, that adhere to the teeth or that are held in the mouth create ideal environments for development of tooth decay. Although significant at all ages, prolonged mouth contact to sugar is especially harmful to children.

So, what are your best options for Valentine’s Day and everyday when faced with delectable sugar-filled goodies? Make the holiday and the loving thoughts linger by sharing with others and limiting your choice to one or two morsels. With moderation and careful selection of other foods, you can enjoy that sweet pleasure—guilt free.

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What better time to talk about sweets than February. Romantics may express love to their Valentines with a box of candy.  Such treats have lots of sugar. As you gobble down those tasty morsels, will you think about health? Facts about sugars and sweeteners may help salve your conscience. Not all sweets are the same. Those heart-shaped goodies may contain one or all three categories of sweeteners: caloric sweeteners, sugar alcohols, or artificial sweeteners.

The most familiar caloric sweetener is sugar (sucrose). Sugar appeals to all ages. Most folks seem to come wired to enjoy sweet tastes. Is that a bad thing? Are there good or bad sugars?   

That depends on who you ask. According to the American Heart Association, most women should not consume more than 100 calories per day from sugar and most men should limit their daily intake to150 calories. That’s approximately six and nine teaspoons, respectively. On average, though, Americans eat or drink the equivalent of more than twenty-two teaspoons of sugar daily for a total of about 350 calories. To put into perspective, one twelve-ounce cola has about eight teaspoons of sugar.

America’s Sweet Tooth

The use of sugar steadily increased to an average U.S. annual intake of nearly 135 pounds. That’s a lot of sugar, and those calories can pack on pounds. Should you cut back on this favored food item?

The Sugar Association maintains that sugar is not the culprit. Many health professionals agree. Sugar is not harmful in reasonable amounts.

Some people have more of a sweet tooth than others. If you are one of those, keep candy and other sugary foods out of sight. Better yet—don’t have it in your house.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, will that candy affect your health? Will it make you fat? Read next week to find out. You may be surprised.

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