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April 24, 2013
Jewish World Review
On Nutrition: Understanding sweeteners
It was a lovely meal. And healthy, too. Fresh fish. Grilled vegetables. And then came dessert…and that's all I'm going to say about that.
What makes us so enjoy the taste of sweets? According to the latest position paper on "Nutritive and Non-nutritive Sweeteners" from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics ((http://www.andjrnl.org/article/S2212-2672(12)00325-5/abstract) our taste for sugar is innate. It's the sweet taste of lactose (milk sugar) that guides a newborn baby to mom's breast. And genetics plays a role as well, say experts. Not everyone is "programmed" to desire the taste of sweets. I've known a handful of people in my lifetime that could take or leave dessert. I am not one of them.
Here's a quick primer on sweeteners in our diet:
Nutritive sweeteners are a source of energy (calories). Some are a natural part of the food we eat such as lactose in dairy foods and fructose in fruit, honey and agave. Some "added sugars" are derived from natural sources. For example, sucrose half fructose and half glucose "table sugar" is found in cane and sugar beets.
"Non-nutritive" sweeteners are those that impart a sweet taste without calories. Examples are acesulfame K (derived from an organic acid and potassium), aspartame (made from two protein-type amino acids), and stevia (a sugar-type molecule processed from the stevia plant). Sucralose (aka Splenda) is another example of a non-nutritive sweetener.
Sweeteners do more than impart a sweet taste. Sugar inhibits the growth of microbes (bad bugs) in jams and jellies. It can balance the acid taste of dressings and sauces. It adds volume, texture, flavor and color to various food creations. Chewing gum that contains xylitol a sugar alcohol has been found to prevent dental caries.
We need sugar. It is the fuel that runs all of our body machinery. Glucose, for example is the primary energy source for every cell in the body. Cells including brain cells will die without adequate glucose.
We eat more sugar than we need. Excessive amounts of added sugar provide no redeeming nutritional value other than added calories. And like all extra calories, those that are not burned for fuel get stored as fat. Experts tell us that excess consumption of added sugars is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
Sweeteners used in the United States have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to be safe for the general public, including during pregnancy. As with all nutrition recommendations, however, safe intake is within the context of an overall healthful diet.
Bottom line, says the academy: We can safely enjoy a range of nutritive and non-nutritive sweeteners within an eating plan guided by current nutrition research and our own health goals and preferences. We can choose to drink water, low-fat or non-fat milk, and other beverages with no added sugars. We can eat natural sources of sugar (such as fruit) for dessert more often. And we can share those special sweet desserts with a friend.
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Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator at the Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula.
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