Can’t shake off a sweet tooth? Nichola Ludlam-Raine, a specialist registered dietician, gives the lowdown on how non-sugar sweeteners could form part of a healthy lifestyle.
Can non-sugar sweeteners help to fuel workouts?
Nichola says: ‘When you want to fuel training performance, you’ve got to think about carbohydrates and sugars. One hour before training you need to have something that’s quick energy releasing – a banana, for example. Non-sugar sweeteners like those found in energy gels and sports drinks are useful during longer training sessions and events because they still provide a boost through e.g. caffeine. But be sure to use non-sugar sweetener versions rather than sugar ones, as these help to prevent sugar crashes.’
How can I use non-sugar sweeteners to stay hydrated?
Nichola says: ‘Of course drinking water is always preferable to stay hydrated, and we should be drinking eight glasses of fluids every day. But for people who aren’t used to consuming a lot of water, it’s important to be realistic. Things like diet drinks and squash with non-sugar sweeteners will help to hydrate your body and give you the opportunity to have something you enjoy in a social setting.’
Should I swap sugar in my tea and coffee for non-sugar sweeteners?
Nichola says: ‘Tea and coffee counts towards your daily water intake. Unsweetened hot drinks are preferable, but if you find it hard to eliminate the sweet taste completely, making the switch from sugar to non-sugar sweeteners is one of the easiest ways to help curb your added sugar intake whilst drastically cutting down on calories. When I work with my clients I show them how many calories they are getting across each day of the week from regular sugar and then what they’d save by swapping to a sweetener in hot drinks. It gives people a way to make a swap whilst still having that sweet taste.‘
Is one non-sugar sweetener better than another?
Nichola says: ‘No, it’s really down to taste preference and it’s good to try lots of different varieties to see which ones you like best. For example, if you’re in a cafe having a hot drink, try the sweetener that’s readily available. If you try one and you don’t like it, try another as they are all different. Stevia and xylitol are good natural non-sugar sweeteners.’
Can non-sugar sweeteners negatively affect gut health?
Nichola says: ‘Gut health is more about what you add into your diet: for example, fibre. If you have a diverse diet, you will be feeding your gut healthy bacteria, and a small amount of non-sugar sweetener shouldn’t make a difference to your overall gut health. Remember that it depends on the individual, so always listen to how you feel. Whenever you experience digestive issues, keep a food and symptom diary to pinpoint the cause.’
Will non-sugar sweeteners cause the same negative side effects as sugar?
Nichola says: ‘When we eat any carbohydrate source or sugary food it gets broken down through the process of digestion. Glucose goes into the bloodstream and then there is a signal from the pancreas to release the hormone insulin. Insulin is like a key which unlocks the cells and allows glucose in where it can be used for energy. Our body stores glucose as glycogen in the muscles and liver as a source that can be used for energy. Too much sugar can cause glucose spikes which can lead to weight gain and is linked to diabetes type two, heart attack and stroke. Small amounts of non-sugar sweeteners are a great way for people to have that sweet taste minus the calories and free sugars, plus there’s no impact on dental health.’
Are there any groups of people that should avoid non-sugar sweeteners?
Nichola says: ‘We know that excess sugar is linked to diabetes type two, weight gain and stroke. In the right quantities it’s fine, but it’s easy to over-consume, especially as it’s cheap and hidden in so many convenience foods. Non-sugar sweeteners are a good alternative. There are small amounts of people that experience migraine when consuming them but that’s a very low proportion of the population. For the overwhelming majority of people, non-sugar sweeteners are perfectly fine.’
For more information on the use of non-sugar sweeteners visit: britishsoftdrinks.com/low-no-calorie-sweeteners
Words: Louise Pyne