Controversy surrounds the use of nonnutritive, or artificial, sweeteners versus sugar. Among the concerns is whether nonnutritive sweeteners raise glycemia — the glucose level in the blood. Two food science and human nutrition researchers at the University of Illinois analyzed current research on four of the most popular nonnutritive sweeteners to find a conclusive answer.
Results from their study show that nonnutritive sweetener consumption doesn't elevate glycemia. That means that for people with diabetes or those trying to maintain or lose weight, sweeteners are a good choice. They add a sweet taste to food or beverages while adding few (or no) calories to the diet. There is well-documented research on the health risks of sugar consumption in terms of child and adult obesity, but studies are ongoing to provide conclusive evidence that nonnutritive sweeteners offer benefits toward weight management or other health benefits.
"It has been assumed in the literature for a long time that nonnutritive sweetener consumption wouldn't affect your fasting blood glucose levels, but there's never been a meta-analysis to determine if this is actually true," said Alexander Nichol, co-author of the study and master's student in the department of food science and human nutrition at the University of Illinois. "I see it all the time in research papers, where people will mention that nonnutritive sweeteners don't affect blood glucose levels, and now we hope our study can be used as a reliable reference."
Nichol and his partner, Maxwell Holle, designed a systematic review of current research findings on the use of nonnutritive sweeteners in humans. They wanted to look at the glycemic response specifically to nonnutritive sweeteners, so they only included studies in which participants had fasted before consuming the sweeteners. In addition, the sweeteners could not have been consumed as part of another beverage or food in the study, which was published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
"A lot of research will focus on giving you the nonnutritive sweetener in addition to a meal, and the additional calories can really impact the glycemic response. So we excluded a lot of studies that added a nonnutritive sweetener to a food or a drink that had additional calories," Holle, a doctoral candidate in food science and human nutrition at U of I, said.
The researchers' analysis included 29 trials, with a total of 741 participants. The sweeteners represented in the studies included aspartame, saccharine, stevia and sucralose. The meta-analysis tracked blood glucose levels over 210 minutes after the consumption of a nonnutritive sweetener.
Nichol and Holle found that these sweeteners — neither overall nor at various time points — didn't raise glycemia. Though they did see a decline in glycemia for some participants (depending on additional characteristics, such as diabetic state, age, etc.), Nichol said this is most likely because of the prolonged fasting, not because of the sweetener consumption.
The bottom line? "Our paper shows that if people drink something artificially sweetened alone, their blood glucose levels will not change," said Nichol.
Q and A
Q: I often hear people say they are addicted to caffeine. Is that possible?
A: Caffeine intake does produce some of the characteristics associated with addictive drugs, although there are important differences. Caffeine has rewarding effects, and stopping caffeine triggers withdrawal symptoms, such as fatigue and headaches. On the other hand, caffeine withdrawal symptoms usually are mild and last only a few days. Addictive drug use typically escalates, and individuals may eventually lose control. In contrast, with caffeine, people typically have a set routine for consuming it — for example, having a cup or two of coffee only in the morning or drinking it throughout the day. They typically don't lose control and can cut back if they want to. Excessive caffeine consumption can cause restlessness, insomnia, anxiety, gastrointestinal disturbances, cardiac arrhythmias and rambling thoughts but rarely causes serious health problems. If you develop the jitters or insomnia from caffeine, try limiting intake from all sources, not just coffee, to 400 milligrams per day, which is the amount of caffeine in about four 8-ounce cups of brewed coffee. — Tufts University Health & Nutrition Letter.
Grilling fish can be challenging, but it doesn't need to be. If you're using a gas grill, simply heat on high. Lay the fish, skin side down, on the hot grill grate, and sear it over high heat for a minute. Then turn off the burner under the fish and cover the grill to finish cooking. For charcoal, place the coals on one side of the kettle, and arrange the fillets skin side down on the grate to sear them. After a minute, rotate the grate 180 degrees, and then cover the fillets and finish cooking over indirect heat. Don't move or flip the fish. Here's a recipe from Cooking Light to try.
Grilled Rainbow Trout with Chimichurri
4 (6-ounce) skin-on trout fillets
1 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped yellow onion
1 garlic clove
1 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
Heat a gas grill to high, or push hot coals to one side of a charcoal grill. Pat fish dry, and season with 3/4 teaspoon of salt and black pepper to taste. Let seasoned fish rest while grill heats.
Place onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, jalapeno and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt in a food processor; process until smooth. Add lemon juice and 1/4 cup of olive oil; pulse until combined, about 2 times.
When grill is hot, brush fillets with remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Place fillets skin side down over grill grates. Grill, uncovered, for about 1 minute. Turn off burner under fillets, leaving the opposite burner on high (or rotate charcoal grill grate 180 degrees using tongs and oven mitt so fillets sit opposite the coals). Do not flip fish.
Grill, covered, until cooked through, 3 to 5 minutes per inch of thickness. Using a fish spatula, transfer fillets to a platter. Serve with chimichurri.
Serves 4 (1 fillet and 2 tablespoons of chimichurri).
Per serving: 372 calories, 33 grams of protein, 2 grams of carbohydrates, 25 grams of fat, 1 gram of fiber and 567 milligrams of sodium.
Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. For comments or questions, contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @NutritionRD. To find out more about Charlyn Fargo and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.