Tuesday, 7 February 2012

The truth about sweeteners

Its interesting to me that many people who want to lose weight often consume a lot of diet and slimline drinks and foods with artificial sweeteners and that conversely, many slimmer people, who have never been on a diet in their lives, rarely consume diet or slimline anything. 

I also notice that many of my slimmer friends seem to know innately which foods are highly calorific and find it easier to push away from the table when they are full whereas many of my more overweight friends find it much harder to gauge accurately which foods are higher in calories and find it more difficult to identify when they have eaten enough.

The devils in this scenario are the artificial sweeteners.  They not only mess with you physiologically but psychologically too, scuppering your chances of weight loss.

Artificial sweeteners tell your brain, via your sweet-sensing taste buds, that what you are consuming is high in calories and to expect a corresponding energy rush from it.  As the sweetening agents are calorie free, your body never receives this energy and three things happen. 

       Firstly, your brain begins to become confused by what it is sensing (it tastes sweet and calorific but delivers nothing) so your body loses its ability to trust the messages it receives from your brain.  Your body is no longer able to accurately distinguish between low and high calorie foods and drinks. 
       Secondly, tests on rats have shown that artificial sweeteners increase insulin output, which in turn increases appetite and eventually weight.  The brain expects sugar to be dumped into the system so it releases insulin to deal with it.  As the insulin has no sugar to mop up, the temptation is to consume more sugary foods. 
       And thirdly, psychologically, you think you have been good.  You therefore overcompensate as a result and make more unhealthy choices later on as a result.  Statistically, people who consume diet and slimline foods and drinks also consume more calories per day than people who do not.

There are many alternatives to sugar on the market, from saccharine, sucralose and aspartame to new products like Truvia.  The trouble with these is that they are all processed.  Anecdotal evidence (which isn't really evidence at all, granted) suggests that these sweeteners can produce unpleasant side effects ranging from headaches and migraines to bad breath.  Whilst they have been passed by the FSA, they are still controversial.

The recipes I have included in this blog use agave nectar as a sweetening agent instead of sugar or artificial sweeteners.  My reasoning behind this is that part of the K-Loss ethos is to consume foods that have had the least possible done to them.  So which sweeteners are acceptable?

Having looked into them for this blog, I have come to the conclusion that agave nectar (so long as it isn't treated with chemicals and ultra highly heated) is a good alternative.  (I am still awaiting confirmation emails from different manufacturers of agave nectar to get back to me on their manufacturing processes and will keep you posted on the results.)

Even though I have never used Stevia myself and have never come across it before, it seems to be an acceptable sugar substitute as it is basically a herb, so long as you are using the powdered form of the leaf and not a processed granular form that looks like sugar.

And let's not forget honey.  Unprocessed, straight from the hive (some have been heat treated, so check the label) it's been used safely for centuries.  It is, like the other sweeteners, sweeter than sugar and so you need less and it also purports to have other health properties.

So I will continue to replace sugar with either agave nectar or honey.  But, and it is a big but, these sweeteners are not calorie free.  You need less honey and agave nectar than sugar but they still contain calories.  They are just better calories that give you fewer sharp sugar spikes and dips, keeping your insulin levels,  your metabolism and appetite more stable.

Its worth remembering that the more you avoid sugary foods the more you will find natural foods sweet enough and the less you will need to add any sweeteners to your food.

So do yourself a favour, ditch the diet coke, bin the slimline tonic and give up the artificial sweeteners, ignore the new products on the market and allow your body to recognise the natural sweetness in unprocessed, unrefined foods.  

Krish x

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