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Sugar substitutes and light products


There are various reasons for avoiding sugar or reducing its consumption. People often turn to products made especially for this purpose. But when can a product call itself low-sugar or light, and are sugar substitutes, sweeteners or light products always healthier? Here you can find out what is hidden behind the various terms and what advantages and disadvantages sugar substitutes and light products bring with them.

The World Health Organization recommends that adults consume a maximum of 50g of sugar per day. The negative effects of excessive sugar consumption are well documented. For example, there is an increased risk of various diseases such as obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, tooth decay, and constant ups and downs in blood sugar can hit the mood. No wonder the range of sugar substitutes or light products has grown in recent years.

"Healthy" sugar alternatives: Honey & Co

Many people resort to natural sugar alternatives such as agave syrup, maple syrup or honey to sweeten food. Often in the belief, they do their health thereby something good and one can take from it more to itself, than from the conventional household sugar. That is however a fallacy, because also these sweetening alternatives consist also mainly of sugar. The argument, they would contain beyond that however valuable mineral materials and vitamins, does not really help here, because the content of these contents materials is infinitesimally small to the sugar portion. Honey & Co. therefore do not offer a health advantage. Anyone who really wants to reduce the consumption of sugar should replace it with sugar substitutes.

Sugar substitutes on trend

There are now some products that can replace household sugar, for example xylitol, erythritol or sorbitol.  These sugar substitutes do not consist of classic sugar molecules, but are sugar alcohols in chemical terms. Consequently, they are also metabolized differently by the body, so that no significant increase in blood sugar and no insulin release is caused.

Sugar substitutes have fewer calories than conventional sugar. They do not attack tooth enamel and, unlike sugar, do not promote tooth decay. However, this tooth protection comes at a cost – xylitol, for example, is 10 to 15 times more expensive than table sugar. Since the substitutes usually have a lower sweetening power than sugar, the amount of these must be increased. 

However, the substitutes are not suitable for replacing sugar entirely. If too much is consumed, undesirable side effects may occur. The exact amount of substances that cause negative effects varies from person to person, but studies have shown that nausea, diarrhea or flatulence occur from as little as 25 g per day. This amount may be reached with just one piece of cake. Sugar substitutes are therefore unsuitable for people with irritable bowel syndrome.

Sweeteners: A substitute with many questions

Sweeteners are present in many of our everyday foods and beverages. There are currently 10 sweeteners approved in the EU, including saccharin and aspartame, for example. There are two main categories of sweeteners: chemically produced and those derived from plants. A well-known example of a plant-derived sweetener is stevia. Although stevia occurs naturally in the stevia plant, it requires an extensive industrial processing operation to extract the steviol glycoside sweetener it contains. The sweetening power of sweeteners is 100 to 1000 times stronger than that of conventional sugar, so a much smaller amount is needed than for table sugar. 

One advantage of sweeteners is that, like sugar substitutes, they do not cause a rise in blood sugar levels or tooth decay. Since they are excreted unchanged, they also provide no calories. This makes them a popular choice for diabetics and people watching their calorie intake.

The effect of sweeteners in the body has not yet been fully studied. Each sweetener has a different effect on the body, and the long-term effects are not yet known. However, animal studies and one human study have shown changes in intestinal flora and glucose-insulin metabolism. Other studies have shown a link between sweetener consumption and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. Sweeteners can activate receptors in the gut and brain, but unlike real sugar, there is no actual reward response. This can cause the hypothalamus to signal hunger. In studies, people who consumed light products over ten years gained more weight than the experimental group.

Aspartame has also been studied somewhat more closely. Aspartame can be hidden on products behind the label “contains phenylalanine.” When consumed in high amounts, such as by drinking light sodas, it can cause headaches or dizziness. There is also evidence that too much aspartame affects the release of neurotransmitters and could affect mental health. 

Sweeteners need not be considered harmful across the board, but their long-term effects on the body and health have not yet been extensively and definitively studied.

Light and diet products

Diet and light products are very popular among consumers looking for healthier alternatives to their favorite products. But are these products really as healthy as they are advertised? Many diet and light products advertise that they have a reduced sugar content compared to conventional variants. However, this does not necessarily mean that they are healthier.If a product says “no added sugar,” it means that while no additional sugar has been added, sugar is naturally present in the ingredients.

Terms such as “zero,” “light” or “reduced sugar” are widely used. However, some terms such as “balance” or “less sweet” are not protected and can therefore be used as manufacturers see fit. For other terms, however, stricter rules apply. According to EU guidelines, a product labeled “light” must contain 30% less sugar. However, it often remains unclear to which reference quantity the 30% reduction refers. Manufacturers must use comparable, standard market products as a guide. “Low sugar” means that the product contains 5g of sugar per 100g or 2.5g per 100 ml. And “sugar-free” may only appear on a product that contains a maximum of 0.5g of sugar per 100g or 100ml.

The designations “sugar-free” or “calorie-reduced” can also suggest that a product is all-around healthy and distract from other questionable ingredients. But to compensate for the lost taste due to the reduced sugar content, many light products contain more fat. This can lead to them having even more calories than the conventional variants. In addition, additives such as emulsifiers, colorants or preservatives are often used. These can cause allergies, food intolerances, asthma or skin problems. It is therefore always advisable to check the list of ingredients and nutritional information carefully.

Diet and light products are often more expensive. For example, since the package size is the same, the amount contained may be less than the non-reduced version. 


In conclusion, it can be said that sugar alternatives, substitutes or light products do help to cut out household sugar from time to time. However, if you want to reduce your sugar consumption and/or weight in the long term, you should try to kick the sweet habit and eat a balanced diet.

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