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Sugar substitutes: be wary of the magic bullet

Sugar substitutes: be wary of the magic bullet

Sugar substitutes are often viewed as the magic bullet in the pursuit of weight management.

But its important to understand more clearly how these products are defined, and what the potential benefits and risks are

Here’s a brief walk through of a few definitions, benefits and red flags associated with sugar substitutes. For the purpose of scope, I will concentrate on those substitutes that can be accessed and used for home cooking.

What is a sugar substitute?

Sugar substitutes are the large category of products designed to replace table sugar, of which artificial sweeteners are a sub-category.

Where the water gets murky is when it comes to the USP provided to differentiate the various options i.e. using the word natural when the substance is refined (i.e. stevia), or labelling a product an artificial sweetener when the product is derived from the product it is replacing (i.e. sucralose, which is derived from sugar).

Pros and cons of artificial sweeteners

Pro: the benefits of some artificial sweeteners are that they can be consumed without any impact on weight management because they contain no calories.

Additionally, if you are diabetic, because certain artificial sweeteners are not carbohydrate they will not cause insulin ‘spike’ due to elevated blood sugar.

Con: according to a recent study[1], Splenda (sucralose) consumption has been linked to elevated blood sugar levels. This in turn will result in more consistent release of insulin, which over time is a known path towards type 2 diabetes. (It should be noted that Splenda responded to this study by citing that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US has identified Splenda as a safe sugar alternative, including for those with diabetes).

Sweet and healthy options

While the origin and benefits of artificial sweeteners is difficult to nail down, here are a few healthier choices you can make when craving sweets:

    1. Coffee, tea, or agave? If you have sugar in your tea or coffee, consider the alternative that is agave nectar. The fact that it is a low GI (glycaemic index) sweetener means that it will not cause the same immediate rise in blood sugar that table sugar does. This translates into more even energy levels throughout the day, and less ‘peaking and troughing’ from table sugar.
    2. Go dark: there are very few people I know who don’t like chocolate…I love chocolate more than certain relatives…but when you are reaching for a chocolate bar to pick you up in the afternoon, try a 70+% cocoa version. Its probably going to be a bit more expensive, but the proven benefits (antioxidants, improved blood flow and decreased risk of CHD) make this a great (and guilt-free) approach to satisfying that sweet tooth.
    3. Measure, record, repeat: if nothing else, record how much sugar you consume, and slowly try to wean yourself off it through gradual decrease. I used to have two sugars in coffee, and over the course of one month I was able to get that down to nil by using the same method. Try and decrease the amount of sugar you consume, and watch how your much more energy you give yourself.


To learn more about healthy eating habits to achieve your fitness goals, contact James Staring, a leading personal trainer in Clapham, London.


James StaringJames Staring is a personal trainer based in Clapham, London. His methods have featured in publications such as Your Fitness, Hello, Healthy, Daily Mail, Closer, and many more. After giving up smoking and entering the fitness industry in 2009, James has focused on his passion to help others transform their health and fitness. However, James is convinced that most people struggle so much more than they need to in an effort to improve their fitness. Through his company, Fit to Last, which he runs with his partner, Ali Page – James has helped hundreds of men and women make small adjustments in their daily habits to transform their fitness and to love how they look and feel.


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