And, believe it or not, the presence of processed stevia plants in a product doesn’t mean that the product is free of other sweeteners. Experts tell us that manufacturers typically add acesulfame potassium, aspartame, neotame, sucralose, sugar and even HFCS to improve the taste of stevia products. In other words, these “natural” products are heavily refined synthetic formulations that carry the same health concerns as other types of sugars and sweeteners do.
THE SAFEST PATH? With all of the uncertainty that’s hanging over HFCS, sugar, artificial sweeteners and even stevia, how can you best satisfy your sweet tooth?
Dr. Cate Shanahan, who is a family practitioner, recommends that you avoid sweets for at least 2 weeks and then stick to the natural sugar that’s in fruits to satisfy sugar cravings. However, she says sweetness is so addicting that it’s tantamount to being addicted to drugs.
“Nobody I know who has had weight problems from eating sweets has had lasting weight-loss success without losing their addiction to sweetness first,” she says.
Other experts, such as Nestle and Dr. Janette Sherman, who is trained in internal medicine and toxicology, agree that excess sugar should be avoided. They advise patients to look under “total carbohydrates” on an ingredient label. Unless the product contains raisins or other dried fruits, you can assume that any listed amount of sugar has been added.
World Health Organization recommends that added sugars should make up no more than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake. Therefore, for someone who is on a typical 2,000-calorie diet, no more than 200 calories (or 50 grams) should be sugars, Nestle said. That’s equivalent to 16 ounces of soda per day.
“Nobody worries about a gram or two here or there,” Nestle says. “It’s the large amounts that matter. That means limiting sodas, candy and desserts.”
That’s the same advice that you’ll get from Department of Agriculture. Unfortunately, most Americans consume 440 calories of sugars—more than twice the recommended amount—per day, according to USDA and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s reason for crystal concern.
Martha Rosenberg writes about public health. Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times.