Sugar alternatives are booming- the industry is already worth multi-millions and anticipated to continue to skyrocket in the next few years.
When you are on a journey to a healthier version of yourself, it is natural to look at caloric intake as part of the process. The obvious benefit to sugar alternatives is the lower caloric intake. But when you are cutting out some of the calories, are you also cutting some of the health benefits? Are you substituting sugar with something that could be detrimental to your health?
How Do Sugar Substitutes Affect Your Gut?
The food you consume affects your body as soon as it enters your mouth. As the food makes its way to your GI tract, it affects gut health either in a positive or negative way. Sugar, in general, can negatively impact your gut health.
Gut health is extremely important and has been linked to your overall physical health.
When you are exercising, eating well, and sleeping right, your gut is benefitting from these healthy changes that increase bacteria diversity in your GI tract.
The diversity in your gut is increased when you eat a variety of healthy foods. The more diverse your gut organisms are, the better equipped your gut is at fighting infections, reducing inflammation, and much more.
Gut diversity is negatively impacted when you are:
- sleeping less
- eating poorly
- improperly hydrated
What is the Gut Microbiome?
There are nearly 1000 different species of bacteria, fungi, and viruses living in the intestines. Collectively, all of the organisms together are referred to as microbes or microorganisms. The human gut is their environment, also known as the gut microbiome.
With a proper well-rounded diet, the microbes stay balanced and keep the gut healthy. The diet you consume can affect your gut by either increasing the diversity of the organisms or by depleting the organisms. Having diversity in your gut can help fight infections, prevent disease, help with weight management, and boost your immune system.
The Western diet is low in fiber and high in sugar, both of which can reduce gut microbial diversity.
The imbalance of the microbiome is termed dysbiosis. When dysbiosis occurs in the GI tract, symptoms can start out as gut irritability but can lead to chronic conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, chronic fatigue syndrome, and sometimes cancer. Dysbiosis is commonly caused by gut bacterial imbalances from a poor diet.
Sugar Decreases Gut Diversity
The Western diet is full of sugars, fats, and over-processed foods. None are beneficial to gut diversity. In fact, a study was done which demonstrated that high fructose corn syrup and highly refined sugars led to increased inflammation in the human GI tract, which can lead to a number of medical ailments.
Although the typical Western diet is full of processed foods, sugars, and fats, there has been an effort to decrease sugar intake. The sugar substitute industry has made a change to the typical Western diet by giving alternatives to refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
There are many sugar substitutes out in the market right now. These sweeteners are on the labels of many foods and beverages.
Sugar Substitutes: Three Groups
Sugar substitutes can be grouped in multiple different ways, as there are so many different types of them arising. One way to break down sugar substitutes is to categorize them into three different groups: artificial sweeteners, natural sweeteners, and sugar alcohols. See below for common sugar substitutes broken down into these three groups.
The Artificial Sweeteners
First gaining popularity on restaurant tables as the little pastel-colored packets next to the traditional sugar packet, artificial sweeteners have been known to have a negative impact on gut health by inhibiting the growth of some of the gut bacteria.
Here are some of the most popular artificial sweeteners:
- Acesulfame K: Ace K
Neither sugar nor alcohol, this group of sugar alternatives is called sugar alcohols because on the chemical level, it resembles part sugar and part alcohol. Some are naturally occurring and some sugar alcohols were artificially developed.
These sugar alcohols are all absorbed differently in the body. The sugar alcohols that are more readily absorbed into the GI tract will produce more GI symptoms.
Out of all the sugar substitutes, sugar alcohols are the ones that have notoriously been related to GI discomfort. It has been recommended that sugar alcohol be consumed in smaller quantities to prevent GI irritability. As related to the gut microbiome, overall the sugar alcohols do not affect it. A few of them can increase one of the common organisms found in the gut:
The Natural Sweeteners
You can see many natural sweeteners listed on smoothies, drinks, and other healthy food options. The three main natural sweeteners and their GI diversity impacts are listed below:
- Monk Fruit- research shows no impact thus far on gut diversity.
- Stevia- research shows no impact thus far on gut diversity.
- Agave- has been shown to positively impact some bacteria within the gut microbiome.
It is well known that sugar negatively impacts the gut microbiome. Sugar substitutes and sugar alternatives may not have quite the same impact on the gut. We are here to help you as you are looking for food alternatives and ideas. Please reach out to us if we can answer any questions or concerns you may have as you are navigating your new healthy lifestyle.