Q: Sugar vs. Sweeteners: Which way to go? –Jenny Hardy, Facebook
A: Ideally I would have you pick neither, but if you had to make a choice, pick sweeteners. Eating lots of foods and drinks with added sugars is the number one nutrition behavior that I change with a new client. It is very detrimental to both health and weight loss efforts.
Oftentimes it is too hard to completely stop eating or drinking these empty calories, as they are addictive, so I recommend replacing some of the things you consume which contain added sugars with versions that do not. This could be as simple as drinking diet soda instead of regular soda. Eventually you’ll want to replace that diet soda with a drink that does not contain any artificial sweeteners, like green tea or black tea either unsweetened or with an all-natural sweetener like stevia or xylitol.
Stevia, or the extract from the stevia plant, has become a very popular choice for people looking for a natural sweetener. It is calorie free and 200-300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is generally regarded as safe; however the European Union has yet to approve its use as a sweetener due to concerns about its impact on fertility.
Many people are familiar with stevia but not xylitol. Xylitol is what is known as a sugar alcohol due to its chemical structure, not because it's like consuming actual alcohol. There are several different types of sugar alcohols used to sweeten different foods (most sugar-free gums contain sugar alcohols) but xylitol is the best of the bunch, as it actually has health benefits. Research shows that xylitol fights the bacteria which cause cavities.
In addition, sometimes people complain of bloating and stomach discomfort after eating sugar alcohols, but the chances of you having to deal with these uncomfortable side effects are minimal with xylitol.
My favorite xylitol product is called Ideal. Ideal is xylitol with a little sucalose (i.e. Splenda), and it can be used in the same amounts and ratios as you would use real sugar (unlike stevia). Ideal also makes a brown sugar version, which is great in oatmeal.
The key to sugars and sweeteners in your diet is moderation. Having a sweet treat once a week isn't going to sabotage your health and fitness goals. Giving up sugar completely only to live off artificially sweetened snacks and drinks isn’t a good idea either. Take the time to wean yourself off sweetened foods and drink, using zero-calorie sweeteners to please your sweet tooth during the interim. Eventually you’ll enjoy a majority of the foods in your diet without the need to sweeten them up, but when you do, just add a little xylitol or stevia.
Meet the Diet Doctor: Mike Roussell, PhD
Author, speaker, and nutritional consultant Mike Roussell, PhD is known for transforming complex nutritional concepts into practical eating habits that his clients can use to ensure permanent weight loss and long lasting health. Dr. Roussell holds a bachelor degree in biochemistry from Hobart College and a doctorate in nutrition from Pennsylvania State University. Mike is the founder of Naked Nutrition, LLC, a multimedia nutrition company that provides health and nutrition solutions directly to consumers and industry professionals via DVDs, books, ebooks, audio programs, monthly newsletters, live events, and white papers. To learn more, check out Dr. Roussell's popular diet and nutrition blog, MikeRoussell.com.