How Fake Sugars Sneak Into Foods and Disrupt Metabolic Health

Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes sweeten foods without adding calories. But studies show that the ingredients can affect gut and heart health. From a report: Table sugar, or sucrose, is still the dominant sweetener in the food supply, and eating lots of ultra-processed foods with added sugar has been linked to chronic disease and obesity. The number of new food products containing sucrose has dropped by 16% over the past five years. The use of high fructose corn syrup and agave syrup has also declined. “These low-calorie sweeteners are ubiquitous in the food supply, so people often aren’t even aware they’re consuming them,” said Allison Sylvetsky, associate professor in the Department of Exercise Science and Nutrition at the Washington University. Many sugar substitutes are known as high-intensity sweeteners because they are often hundreds of times sweeter than table sugar.

Some are synthetic, like sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin, while others, like allulose, stevia, and monk fruit extract, qualify as “natural” because they’re derived from plants. Sugar substitutes can be found in ingredient lists on food packages, often with names that many consumers don’t recognize, such as adventame, neotame, and acesulfame potassium. Foods that claim “free of artificial sweeteners” are often sweetened with stevia and other so-called “natural” sugar substitutes. A variety of these sweeteners are found in cereals, juices and other packaged foods marketed to children, although public health groups have discouraged their use in children. Sucralose and acesulfame potassium are regularly used in Greek yogurts, tortillas, and other foods served in school lunches. Schools in some states have experimented with serving chocolate milk sweetened with a mixture of sugar and monk fruit extract. (…) Scientists thought that non-nutritive sweeteners were largely inert, activating sugar receptors on our tongues and passing through our bodies without causing metabolic changes. But questions remain about the health effects of consuming large amounts of these ingredients. The World Health Organization has warned people to limit their intake of sugar substitutes due to their potential for long-term “adverse” effects, including adverse effects on gut and metabolic health.

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