The question of choosing artificial sweeteners or sugar is one I get quite often. The best answer to this question is neither but I try to only recommend things that I feel like I am capable of following myself and cutting out all sweetened foods from my diet would not be one of them. So which is the lesser of two evils? The short answer is sugar but lets discuss why.
The biggest argument against artificial sweeteners over the past two decades is that they are potential carcinogens which very well may be true when consumed in high doses. However, the latest research sheds light on why artificial sweeteners may actually cause you you to GAIN weight when consumed instead of sugar. This happens primarily in 2 ways, increasing your cravings for carbs/sugar and alteration of your gut bacteria.
When artificial sweeteners come in contact with your taste buds your brain thinks a big sugar load is coming its way and when this doesn’t happen your brain convinces you to seek out other foods that are rich in carbs and sugar increasing your overall caloric load.
However, in my opinion, it’s the alteration in your gut bacteria that really has the most detrimental effect. What makes artificial sweeteners calorie free is the fact that they are not absorbed into your blood stream by the GI tract. But the fact that they are not absorbed means they make it all the way to your large intestine undigested where they “feed” the bad bacteria that are associated with weight gain. A study out of Israel suggests that artificial sweeteners enhance the populations of gut bacteria that are more efficient at pulling energy from our food and turning that energy into fat! Think about it, what this means is if I have an overgrowth of bad gut bacteria and you have a healthy gut and we were both fed the same muffin I would actually extract MORE calories out of the muffin than you would. Crazy.
So if artificial sweeteners aren’t the answer should you just stick with plain ole table sugar? Not exactly. In our house we use 2 main sweeteners. Stevia and coconut sugar. Coconut sugars differs from table sugar in 2 main ways. First, table sugar is stripped of nutrients due to processing, coconut sugar retains its rich mineral content, including calcium, iron, zinc and potassium due to minimal processing. Second, coconut sugar contains inulin which actually lowers its glycemic index when compared to table sugar. The usual conversion of coconut sugar to table sugar is 1:1. Stevia is a plant based sugar substitute that is extracted from the leaves of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana. It is the newest of the sugar substitutes and does not appear to have the negative affects of the sugar alcohols and artificial compounds mentioned above.
There you have it. My best advice would be to avoid sugar as much as possible but for those times when your sweet tooth is to much to resist than I would reach for some coconut sugar or stevia.