Women's Health

CAN YOU BUILD A BETTER SUGAR?

With sugar on everyone’s “don’t” list—now accused of causing not only weight gain but possibly diabetes, cancer, and heart disease—artificial sweetener use is soaring. We’re scarfing the stuff like never before: Consumption of sugar substitutes surged by 54 percent between 1999 and 2012 (going up a startling 200 percent in kids), and demand is predicted to rise another 5 percent by 2020. Scientists are tinkering with new plant-based varieties that aim to be healthier and better-tasting than previous lab-created sweeteners, and several are already on the market. All-natural and nearly zero calories: What could possibly go wrong?

Experts are increasingly unsure how to answer that question—or exactly what advice to give to their clients. “There’s a lot of confusion about sugar substitutes these days,” says Ashley Koff, R.D., a nutritionist in Washington, D.C. Despite the health halo crowning the new sweeteners—they come from leaves or fruits or some form of plant—a few things worry researchers: Could they, like earlier sugar replacements, possibly make people gain weight? Is something still “natural” if it has been chemically altered and manipulated? Should the FDA be allowing these new substitutes to be fast-tracked onto the market simply because they’re derived from plants

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