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Limiting Sugar in Diet: The Debate Over Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, also known as non-sugar sweeteners (NSS), have been used as a sugar substitute to reduce caloric intake and help control body weight. However, the World Health Organization (WHO) now advises consumers that artificial sweeteners could, in fact, be harmful if used long term.  

According to the WHO, a review of available evidence found that using NSS does not reduce body fat in adults and children and that the long-term use of NSS can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and mortality in adults.  

WHO now recommends that people reduce their sugar intake by consuming foods with naturally occurring sugar. This recommendation includes all people except those with pre-existing diabetes. 

Common NSS include: 

  • Acesulfame K 
  • Aspartame 
  • Advantame 
  • Cyclamates 
  • Neotame 
  • Saccharin 
  • Sucralose 

But Miranda Reynolds, a clinical dietician at the Osher Center for Integrative Health at University of Utah Health, says, “Instead of focusing the debate on sugar versus artificial sweetener and which one is better, the focus should rather be on how to reduce both of those things in our diet altogether.” 

Reynolds offers these tips to help you get started: 

1. Read the nutrition facts

Understanding what’s in your food will help you choose healthier options. While you may be cutting your calories, a snack labeled low sugar or no sugar may not be the most nutritious choice. When looking at the nutrition facts label, check out the percent daily value column. If it says 20% or higher, the product is high in that nutrient. If it is 10% or lower, then it is low in that nutrient. Look for foods high in protein and fiber. Choose options that are low in added sugar and saturated fat.

2. Stick to whole, natural foods

Include more whole ingredients in your diet such as fruits, vegetables, protein, grains, and dairy. Some of these foods contain natural sugars, which are not harmful in small amounts.

3. Avoid food and beverages with added sugar

Sugar-sweetened beverages such as soft drinks or sports drinks are less nutrient dense and are generally high in calories that can add up and cause you to gain weight. Sweet foods such as baked goods or candy are often lacking in nutrients that are good for us such as protein and fiber and high in unnecessary sugar. The American Heart Association recommends no more than nine teaspoons or 36 grams (150 calories) for men and six teaspoons or 25 grams (100 calories) for women a day.

4. Stay away from processed foods

Processed foods may contain high levels of salt, sugar, and fat. These ingredients are sometimes added to help enhance flavor or extend shelf life. They also tend to be higher in calories.

5. Cook meals at home

Follow the rules of a balanced diet by using whole ingredients. “Home cooked meals will keep you healthy and satisfied,” Reynolds says. “Eating consistent balanced and nutritious meals full of protein, fiber, and healthy fats can reduce the incidence of snacking and cravings, which is when we normally reach for something sugary or salty.” Also limit buying packaged meals or eating out.

6. Talk with a dietician

Whether you are trying to lose weight or eat healthier, a registered dietician can help you reach your goals. “My best recommendation is to change the way we think about dieting and focus on what you can add to your diet, instead of what you should restrict,” Reynolds says. “Food is way more than just fuel for our bodies. It’s social, it’s cultural. It should be enjoyed. A dietitian can help you achieve satisfaction while still following a balanced and nutritious diet.”