November 14, 2022 – When Cherie Russell’s husband brought home a bottle of marinara sauce from the grocery store with a label advertising less sugar, he thought he’d made a healthy choice.
But when Russell, a food researcher at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, looked closely at the label, she saw that the artificial sweetener replaced some of the sugar in the tomato sauce. And while she later didn’t want sugar in her pasta dinner, she didn’t want any artificial sweeteners either.
Russell says she’s concerned about how safe it is to consume too many sugar alternatives. A recent study of more than 100,000 people published in the British Medical Journal showed a link between artificial sweeteners and heart disease and stroke.
Previous research has also suggested that sugar substitutes Change gut microbiomes.
Russell recognized that policy makers often focus on a specific aspect of a food, such as: B. fat, sugar or caloric content, and not its sweetness or overall nutritional value.
Like Russell and her husband in Australia, many Americans are trying to cut back on sugar for health reasons. –Purchases of foods and drinks with added sugars fell in many households, according to a 2020 study Journal of the Academy of Dietetics and Nutrition.
Russell had read reports that some sections of the population were turning away from sugar-sweetened beverages, but she wanted to learn more about their overall diet, not just beverages. She also wanted to know whether consumers were eating less sweets overall or replacing sugar with other sweeteners.
Measuring how much sugar a food contains and how much of it is sold in different parts of the world is relatively easy. Measuring how sweet a food is without relying on its sugar content is much more difficult. Go for tonic water — it often contains as much sugar as juice or regular soda — but the presence of bitter quinine can mask the sweetness.
Russell and her team went about their work by measuring both regular sugar and other sweeteners added to foods and beverages. Their results show that the per capita volume of noncaloric sweeteners in beverages increased by 36% from 2007 to 2018. While sugar in beverages fell by 22% in high-income countries, it rose by as much as 40% in low- and middle-income countries.
“Our food supply is becoming increasingly sweet, which is of great concern,” says Russell. “Even though we’re consuming less added sugar, the food we’re consuming is still sweeter than it was ten years ago.”
That’s important, she points out, both because of ongoing concerns about the safety and benefits of many low-calorie and no-calorie sugar alternatives, and because overly sweet foods could train future generations to love sugar.
desire for more
There’s an important biological reason why we crave sweet things, which helped humans survive in times when food wasn’t readily available. Sweet foods usually contain more calories, and the body needs calories to function. But in our modern food system, it’s probably easier to name products with no added sugars, since almost everything else has sugars or sweeteners in them. Vegetables have small amounts of natural sugars. And other options like fruit, milk, and honey have higher amounts of natural sugars.
From the age of two is an American child allegedly are more likely to eat a product sweetened with sugar than fruit or vegetables on any given day. It’s a disturbing statistic, say researchers, who suggest that food preferences are set early in childhood and that there’s a strong link between dietary habits and the risk of developing chronic diseases.
The links between early life sugar consumption and adult intake are less clear. “The data is very chaotic, but there is no clear association between eating sweet foods and developing a liking for sweet foods,” said Kelly Higgins, nutritionist at the US Department of Agriculture.
She is currently planning a clinical trial to see if switching to low-calorie sweeteners changes a person’s sugar preferences long-term.
Replace fat and cholesterol with sugar
A few decades ago when nutrition studies Food manufacturers responded to concerns about fat and cholesterol in the modern diet. In response to consumer demand, they substituted sugar and trans fats for saturated fats in order to put “low-fat and low-saturated fat” labels on packages.
From a marketing perspective, the strategy was a success. From a nutritional point of view, however, it was a major failure. Subsequent studies showed that the health consequences of saturated fat were far less than the effects of even small amounts of it trans fats.
Then there was the extra sugar that was added to preserve a food’s flavor and texture after fats were reduced or removed. This shift towards added sugar has been accompanied by a global increase in processed food consumption. This meant sugar was a bigger part of the average person’s diet than ever before, he says Barry Popkin, PhD, Nutritional Epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Popkin has spent his career studying nutrition and sugar consumption around the world and says sugar consumption is increasing everywhere. “We’ve really switched to more processed or ultra-processed foods, and they have a lot of added sugars in them.”
One of the biggest challenges in reducing added sugar in food is that we really like our food sweet. And while studies have shown that reducing the amount of sodium in foods makes a person more sensitive to salt and helps them reduce the amount they eat more easily, that doesn’t happen when the amount of sugar is reduced. The sweet tooth stays just as strong no matter how much sugar is reduced.
Synthetic sugar substitutes
People who watch their waistlines have been looking for shortcuts to dieting for years. After World War II, the food industry introduced several new synthetic sugar substitutes to give health-conscious consumers a chance to tickle their taste buds without the added calories of sugar.
Artificial sweeteners such as saccharin and aspartame and later additives such as sucralose and acesulfame potassium quickly caught on. More recently, sugar substitutes like stevia, monk fruit, and agave have eclipsed their first-generation counterparts in popularity. Manufacturers turned to these alternatives to meet consumer pressure for less sugar while retaining the sweet flavor that drove sales.
“Some of our policies can have unintended consequences that can end up being worse than the problem we’re trying to solve,” says Russell.
Popkin says artificial sweeteners are probably safe in moderate amounts — especially when compared to sugar itself.
Still, Russell says exposure to highly processed, overly sweetened foods shapes a person’s taste buds for a lifetime. This could lead us to lifelong health problems, she says. We will benefit from a healthier, less processed diet, she adds.
“If we consume less sugar, what will we replace it with,” Higgins asks. “We need to understand the downstream effects.”