Non-Nutritive Sweeteners

Ever heard of the saying, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing? It turns out, this is true for one of the most consumed ingredients in the U.S. - sugar. You might be thinking, how is sugar good if it is one of the things we were told to avoid by parents and doctors for years. Like most things, having sugar in moderation is okay and is actually necessary for carrying out certain body functions. The problem lies when we consume too much of it and are forced to cut it out of our diets. When most people reach this dead end, they turn to non-nutritive sweeteners because they get the satisfaction of sugar without the health risks- or so they believe. 

THE SUGAR TRANSIT

Many food and beverage products that contain no sugar are instead replaced with non-nutritive sweeteners. These can include artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose, or natural sweeteners such as stevia and monk fruit. The constant consumption of these sweeteners, in the long run, negatively outweighs the perceived short-term benefits. Many non-nutritive sweeteners produce more of a sweet taste than that of sugar, and “overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent use of these hyper-intense sweeteners may limit tolerance for more complex tastes” [1]. Eventually, people that rely on these foods and drinks will find certain sweet foods, like fruit, not as satisfying and thus avoid nutritious foods, meanwhile seeking the artificially flavored ones. There are also strong beliefs that these artificial sweeteners may be addictive, making it more difficult for health-conscious people to cut them out when the time comes.


Most consumers often turn to non-nutritive sweeteners if they are looking to lower their blood sugar or to lose weight. Contrary to common belief, studies have shown that consumption of artificial sweeteners may lead to weight gain. Although having a drink or food with no real sugar may suppress your need for it at the moment, you will be more likely to reach for something sweetened later in the day. Consuming artificial sweeteners tricks the brain by giving it less sugar than what is anticipated when you first have the sweetened food or drink. A common example is Diet Coke, which contains aspartame. If you end up drinking a Diet Coke rather than a regular Coke, you might end up eating more at your next meal and thus compensating for the absent sugar and calories in the diet version. So, while you might have saved 120 calories at the time you drank the soda, your total daily caloric intake may not have changed as a result [2].


Similarly, by choosing the lower calorie option with a sugar substitute, some people internally justify that they are able to have a bowl of ice cream after dinner because they chose the “healthier” option before. By doing this, they are just replacing the source of sugar and calories that they skipped out on at the beginning of the day.

Sugar is not the enemy. It is about moderation and avoiding foods that contain large amounts of added sugar. Not avoiding this may increase blood glucose and insulin levels, and increase the risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other chronic illnesses [1]. 


When looking for electrolyte mixes or sports drinks on the market, you will find that many options are loaded with calories and sugar which may seem counterintuitive after having a tough workout or playing sports. On the other hand, you may see drinks that are “sugar-free” or “zero-calorie,” another way of hinting that they use artificial sweeteners in their product. Companies may try to position themselves as the healthier alternative when in reality they may be doing more harm than good. 


Two key ingredients to look for when seeking instant rehydration are sugar and electrolytes. Yes, sugar. Have you ever had a long workout and immediately crave something sweet? It turns out, this is our body's way of wanting to repair itself from physical exercise. Electrolytes are necessary in order to replenish the lost minerals from sweating, and carbohydrates such as sugar give you the sustained energy you need to keep your workout going. 


Electrolytes come in many forms, one source being from minerals like sodium, calcium, chloride, potassium, phosphate, and magnesium. Skëdagø’s clean list of ingredients contains potassium, magnesium, calcium, and sodium to deliver the proper fluid balance and muscle function your body needs. While sugar itself is not an electrolyte, it is a form of glucose that helps absorb electrolytes and ensure that you are getting the proper hydration [3]. The key is to have the right amount of sugar present that will work with the electrolytes.


You might be thinking, how does it work? Glucose (i.e sugar) activates the sodium transport and glucose transport in the small intestine, which both work together in the hydration process. Glucose is able to speed up the process in which water and electrolytes enter our cells- water will move into the bloodstream where there is glucose and sodium in order to remain balanced [4]. Sugar is not only beneficial post-workout hydration, but it also boosts the amount of energy you have while being active. Glucose is a source of energy for many of our cells, and if we do not replenish our body with it, it will use whatever glucose is stored. 



The advantages of sugar and electrolyte consumption go hand in hand. Without electrolytes, you will become dehydrated and more fatigued during workouts and throughout the day. Without sugar, our body is not able to fully accept the water and electrolytes we intake to recover.


So, next time you pick up a product that describes itself as “sugar-free,” think about what this really means and what implications it has on your health in the long term. Skëdagø’s electrolyte drink powders contain only 6 g of organic cane sugar, enough to help deliver the water and electrolytes to your cells and help you reach your health goals. 

References

[1] Strawbridge, H. (2012, July 16). Artificial sweeteners: Sugar-free, but at what cost?  https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/artificial-sweeteners-sugar-free-but-at-what-cost-201207165030

[2] Greger, M., MD. (2019, December 13). Not Sweet Nothings: Why Splenda and Stevia Can Make You Gain Weight. https://www.forksoverknives.com/wellness/artificial-sweeteners-can-make-you-gain-weight/ 

[3] Rehydration Project. Oral Rehydration Therapy.
http://rehydrate.org/ors/ort.htm 

[4] Jeukendrup A. E. (2017). Training the Gut for Athletes. Sports medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), 47(Suppl 1), 101–110. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-017-0690-6