Can’t get enough of that sweet stuff

Too Much Added Sugar

It seems as if we all love sugar! In my blog post “Carbohydrates: Not so simple…” from the Nutrition for Life series, I describe the role that sugar plays in our diets and how much our brains crave sugar. While our brains prefer sugar as an energy source, we are getting too much of it from foods and beverages that have “empty” calories because they are high in calories and low in nutrients. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010, we are eating too many calories including too much added sugar from soda, cakes, cookies, pies, donuts, granola bars, fruit drinks, ice cream and candy.

cupcake / Eva Blue / CC BY 2.0

Sugar Substitutes

In an effort to reduce sugar and still get a sweet taste fix, some food manufacturers and individuals are using sugar substitutes that have either very few or no calories. Sugar substitutes that have no calories are considered non-nutritive sweeteners. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved 5 non-nutritive sweeteners including acesulfame- K, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, and sucralose and regulates them as food additives. Sugar substitutes that have very few calories are typically sugar alcohols such as sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, erythritol and others. With the exception of erythritol, sugar alcohols are not completely absorbed in the small intestine and can lead to bloating, diarrhea and flatulence if eaten in excess.

Sweeteners versus Nutritious Foods

So which do you think is better for you? Should you choose foods and beverages with sugar substitutes that are lower in calories and have less or no added sugars? Or, should you choose foods and beverages with added sugars and perhaps use less of them? Better yet another option is to choose more whole foods such as fruit and fat-free and low-fat milk and yogurt with no added sugars or sugar substitutes. Fruit and milk/yogurt come with their own sweet taste from fruit sugar (fructose) and milk sugar (lactose). While our brains love sugar, we can help to quiet that craving for sweets by replacing added sweeteners with the flavors of whole, nutritious foods such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat milk and dairy foods. It may take some getting used to since the sweet flavors are not as intense as from added sugars, but the simple pleasures of a tart apple or a luscious peach or a juicy orange alone or paired with a low- fat or nonfat yogurt can be satisfying too… and just think of the health benefits!

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About our Nutrition Expert

Lori Kaley MS, RD, LD, MSB is a member of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. Lori has 30 years of combined experience working in healthcare and public health creating policies and environments to help families and children have access to healthy foods and beverages. She is currently Policy Associate at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School of Public Service.

Lori’s greatest achievement and joy has been in raising her three daughters to be healthy and productive young adults, each with their own particular love of food, cooking and being physically active. Lori’s passion for nutritional community outreach has been a cornerstone of the Guiding Stars Scientific Advisory Panel. Lori regularly contributes to the Guiding Stars blog.