How to Satiate America’s Sweet Tooth Without Sugar

How to Satiate America’s Sweet Tooth Without Sugar

By Jessica Geahlen

Sugar has become a main villain in the processed food industry. Recent revelations of a pivotal misleading scientific review article from the 1970s that was sponsored by the sugar industry fueled public concern. The conclusions of the dubious review, blaming fat as the dietary culprit to increases in coronary heart disease, were the primary drivers behind public health recommendations to reduce fat intake. This reduction in fat lead to a greater dependence on sugar.

According to a Euromonitor report, the average American consumes over 126 grams of sugar a day, which is the highest percentage in the world. Added sugar has been dubbed as “empty calories” since there is no added nutritional value. Increased sugar consumption has not only been directly linked to tooth decay, type 2 diabetes, obesity, but also to heart disease, fatty liver disease, and can even be detrimental to unborn children.

As a result of the overwhelming scientific evidence supporting the harmful effects of added sugar, local governments have instituted soda taxes. Recently, the Washington Post has called for a sugar tax by the federal government to offset the healthcare expenditures due to obesity of diseases directly linked to added sugars.

Science Behind Sugar Metabolism

Sugar (sucrose) and broken down into half glucose and fructose. Glucose enters the blood stream and is absorbed by the cells of the body in an insulin-dependent manner.  Excess glucose is filtered out by the liver and stored as glycogen or triglycerides leading to obesity. Constant conditions of high glucose in the blood can lead to insulin resistance, where tissues take up less glucose, causing type 2 diabetes.

Fructose, on the other hand, is not necessary for cellular function and is therefore removed by the liver and stored as fat and triglycerides. Excess fructose has been directly linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NASH) which is also on the rise in the United States.

Alternatives to Sugar

High fructose corn syrup is one of the most commonly added ingredients in processed foods. High fructose corn syrup is broken down into glucose and fructose, in a similar fashion to sugar. There does not appear to be a difference in metabolic effects of sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. Therefore, high fructose corn syrup is about as dangerous to public health as sucrose.

There are several natural alternatives to sugar such as, honey, agave nectar, both of which contain antioxidants, but also sucrose. Stevia leaf extract is a newer natural sweetener, with zero calories, although individuals complain of a slightly bitter aftertaste.

Chemical artificial sweeteners such as Acesulfame potassium, Aspartame, Saccharin, and Sucralose all of which have zero calories and been on the market for decades. There have been a few studies linking Saccharin and Aspartame to cancer in animal models, but there has been no evidence of a direct link in humans. Sucralose is not heat sensitive and therefore applicable to baking. It is very popular among diabetic patients. Neotame is a newer chemical sweetener that is several thousand times sweeter than sucrose. Sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol are sugar alcohols with almost half the calories of sucrose, although they have been linked to digestive issues.

There is some scientific evidence that even artificial sweeteners contribute to metabolic disorders and type 2 diabetes. So, the search for a more desirable alternative to feed America’s sweet tooth continues.

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