It's logical to believe that cutting down on your calorie intake will help with weight loss, and one way to cut those calories is by going "sugar-free" on those fizzy drinks. But is this really helping you reach your target weight?
Sweeteners are found in nearly everything nowadays, you can't walk down an aisle of your local grocery store without finding sugar substitutes in something. Toothpaste, chewing gum and even cooking sauces are all likely to contain some form of artificial sugar.
The majority of beverages which claim to be sugar free genuinely are - but instead of sugar, the sweet taste of these products is concocted by a chemical sweetener. Sweeteners are likely to make the 'traffic light' system on your drink look god - they contain a fraction, if any, calories compared to normal sugar. To put this in to context: 500ml of cola will have roughly 200Kcal, whereas 500ml of diet cola will contain 1Kcal. Where's the catch?
There have been ongoing debates about the effectiveness of these sweeteners and whether they can be linked to diabetes, weight gain, and even cancer.
What are Sugars and Sweeteners?
SUGARS: Sugar is a collective term for a group of sweet tasting soluble carbohydrates formed mainly from carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. There are two distinct groups of sugar, the monosaccharide (a.k.a the simple sugars), and the disaccharides which are compound sugars formed from the simple sugars.
SWEETENERS: Some sweeteners are natural, and some are synthetic and chemically made. There are three main types of sweeteners that are used in the production of low-cal drinks:
Aspartame: Perhaps the more controversial sweetener consumed is aspartame. It's an odourless and colourless powder that is derived from two amino acids. In the UK, we know it as E951, and it's roughly 200 times sweeter than sugar, without all the calories.
Saccharine: The first artificial sweetener ever synthesised in 1879
Stevia: A natural sweetener derived from the South American Stevia plant, and has been used for many years in the sweetening of foods and drinks.
All these sweeteners have been rigorously tested in the EU, and signed off as being safe for human consumption. However, they may be safe to consume, but are they healthy?
There have been many claims against the synthetic sweetener, aspartame - suggesting that long-term consumption can attribute to premature births, allergies, tumours and even weight gain.
One study explores the claim that artificial sweeteners can lead to weight gain, and thus lead the consumer to be prone to type 2 diabetes. Kirtada Tindal explains that this weight gain may be down to a neurological influence rather than a physical consequence of ingesting aspartame. For example, "I'll have a super-sized double cheeseburger meal, but it's OK because I'll have a diet coke with it"
Many research and medical facilities have carried out extensive research and testing, even on animals, regarding the possible adverse affects of aspartame on the human body, and still it stands as a contested stalemate.
What does' this mean for cyclists?
Physical exercise breaks down sugars in the body to fuel your muscles, pedal those miles and get that arm pump on the go. Using up these fuels means that we need to replenish them, quite often with water and something a little sugary to restock the glycogen tanks.
As long as you're burning, and consuming in moderation, sugar doesn't need to be considered the enemy, and will probably benefit you more than a drink laden with chemicals. Energy gels and drinks themselves are mostly made up of sugar.
However, keep an eye on how much and how often you consume sugary drinks, keeping them for after intense or multiple-hour-endurance rides only.
Despite a high volume of research, scientists haven't found a tangible and exact health risk behind sweeteners - leading us to believe they should be safe to consume, in moderation and as part of a healthy diet.
However, it would be ignorant of us to disregard claims of adverse medical reactions when more research has yet to be conducted.
As a general rule, water is always the best way to stay hydrated. Water is even a great way to lose weight according to a study which suggests that drinking plenty of water 30 mins before a meal will help you to avoid over eating.
At the end of the day, hydrating with water is one of the best things for your body, but the odd sugar-free pop probably isn't too sinful. After intense exercise, remember that your body might well benefit from a sugar boost, so don't disregard the full fat options in these circumstances.
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