With the rising obesity rates worldwide, we are all anxiously searching for the victim.

We need something to blame. Something, which if we could just point out and banish, then all our problems would be solved. All the fingers have been pointing towards sugar. Unfortunately, the problem is not that simple.

First of all, ALL carbohydrates are a form of sugar .We can‘t just ban all sugar sources, because like I said, all carbohydrates are sugar, besides, sugar is essential for providing energy for all the vital processes in our body, including the function of our brain.

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So how can we choose between all these different types of sweeteners and comfort foods?

Different types of sugars

Ok, we’ve got the simple sugars, complex sugars, sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners, and the newly introduced, miracle berry.

Let’s take a look at each of these groups independently, so we can try to understand which is preferable for our health.

– Complex

First, there are the complex sugars, including the soluble and insoluble fibers which are present in vegetables. It’s highly advised that you go full board with those. The more the merrier!

– Simple

The simple sugars, on the other hand, are the sugars found in all our beverages, sweets and candies. They are also present in fruits. They have a high glycemic index, which simply means they produce a rapid rise in our blood sugar, increasing insulin, and then are rapidly metabolized, leading to a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar which can leave you feeling hungry quickly, and thus craving more sugar.

In most cases, sugars found in beverages and candies are better avoided, or at least reduced in our diets as much as possible. However, not even these can be deemed as all time demons. There are times, when they are essential to saving a persons’ life, as I have witnessed personally several times in my medical practice. Patients with diabetic hypoglycemia, for example, may go into diabetic coma if not given a rapid dose of these simple sugars.

The simple sugars found in fruits, however, are much better for you, as the fiber content of the fruit slows down their absorption. This is why eating fruits is encouraged, and drinking fruit juice is not!

– Mid-calorie

The sugar alcohols, sugar alternatives or nutritive sweeteners, as most people know them, include xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol. These are nearly as sweet as sugar, but are preferred, as they contain only about half the calories, and they do not cause tooth decay like sugar.

– Other alternatives

Sugar alternatives 2Then, we have other alternative sweeteners which have zero to very few calories. These include a group of artificial sweeteners, and one natural sweetener, namely, stevia.

– Saccharin is the oldest of the artificial sweeteners, however, it gives a bitter taste with cooking or baking .
– Aspartame is another alternative, but this also loses its’ sweetness when heated, and must not be consumed in people with Phenylketonuria.
– Neotame is similar to aspartame, but much sweeter, is heat-stable, and isn’t a worry for those with Phenylketonuria.
– Acesulfame-potassium is not digested or absorbed, therefore it provides no energy or potassium to the body.
– Sucralose is structurally identical to sucrose except that it is not digested, and is excreted unchanged, without supplying calories.
– Tagatose is an isomer of fructose, that provides a small amount of energy (1.5 kcal/g). It reaches the large intestine, where it is fermented by bacteria, meaning it has a prebiotic effect.

So, as you can see, you have a wide variety of artificial sweeteners to chose from, and you can meet many of these types of sweeteners on food labels in the supermarket, so, don’t forget to read your labels!

Health repercussions

The growing concern recently, has been from the link that has been suggested between many of these artificial sweeteners, and increased weight gain, and even worse, certain cancers! How can they increase weight when they have nearly no calories? Two theories have been presented. One being that they simulate sugar in the body without providing calories, and thus increase the bodies craving for sugar, and the other more recent theory is that they negatively affect gut bacteria.

Should we avoid these artificial sweeteners altogether?

The answer is probably yes. Our body naturally needs a certain amount of carbohydrates for energy, and so a well-designed diet plan can incorporate a certain amount of sugar, without overdoing it. Of course, replacing honey with sugar would be a wise choice, as honey has the sweet taste of sugar, in addition to a whole range of nutrients and anti-microbials.

If you feel that you can’t do without non- calorie sweeteners, it is best to lean towards stevia, which is a natural sugar alternative derived from a plant, and is probably safer.

Recently, there has been interest in a miracle berry, derived from a plant called Synsepalum dulcificum, which can give you the taste of sugar without actually consuming it. How successful an alternative will this be, and will we discover any side effects to it? The answer is not yet clear.

Until that day comes, your best option would be stevia if you want to lose weight, and natural sugar if you don’t have a weight problem.

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