It isn’t news that sugar consumption is at an epidemic level. Whether born with a sweet tooth or not, added sugar finds its way into much of today’s food, and consumers are demanding alternatives. The industry is responding with sweeteners that are all-natural and others that contain zero calories. While a fit athlete can afford extra calories from natural alternatives, others suffering from obesity or diabetes require options that help them beat health-related issues.
Understanding the different categories of alternatives is the first step in understanding how consumers choose their products.
Don’t let the name confuse what’s in the product. Sugar alcohol occurs naturally in fruits and vegetables but doesn’t contain any alcohol or sugar. It has half the calories of table sugar and is a favorite with people who have diabetes because it converts to glucose slowly, so it doesn’t cause a sudden increase in blood sugar. Consumers find it in baked goods, and in sugar-free gum under the name of Xylitol.
Natural Sweeteners are the best alternative for health-conscious consumers because the products come from the earth. Examples include honey, date paste, and coconut sugar. Many people prefer the taste of natural sweeteners to that of table sugar. However, they will be high in calories, and like processed sugar, they can cause weight gain and tooth decay.
While these sweeteners are more challenging to define, they come from highly-refined natural sources. One of the biggest names in novel sweeteners is Stevia, a plant extract with little-to-no calories. While some studies show that it may lower blood pressure and control diabetes, it tends toward a noticeable aftertaste, limiting its use for people who enjoy a sweetener in their coffee or tea.
These sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes. They are intensely sweet and calorie-free, and are a good alternative for diabetic or weight loss patients, primarily since they don’t raise blood sugar levels. The Food and Drug Administration must review and clear all artificial sweeteners before releasing it to consumers, and the FDA also provides guidelines for consumption. The jury is still out about using these sweeteners over the long term.
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Consumers are not going to give up the sweet life. They will, however, demand natural alternatives such as agave and vanilla to replace processed sugar. If people have diseases such as diabetes or suffer from obesity, novel and artificial sweeteners may suit their lifestyle better.