Lately, artificial sweeteners have been in the buzz among general population. They are available everywhere, in grocery stores, restaurants, cafes in small packets with different names. Few other terminologies used for these kinds are sugar substitutes, non-calorie sweeteners and non-nutritive sweeteners. Sugar substitute are certain elements that are used instead of sweeteners with sugars or sugar alcohol.
Generally, people use them if they are either diabetic or are trying to lose weight. Majority of these sweeteners have negligible amount or no calories and give sweetness to meals without adding excess calories. Therefore, they are effective for people having diabetes to control their glucose levels and also helpful in preventing dental decays.
Some regularly used sugar substitutes are:
Aspartame– this FDA approved sugar substitute is about 160 to 220 times sweeter than sugar. It loses its sweetness when it comes in contact with heat. It is essentially a combination of two amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It contains 4 calorie/gram. It is extra sweet that’s why it is used in very small quantity which contributes almost zero calories to the meal. People with PKU (phenylketonuria) should not use aspartame because their body cannot breakdown amino acid which is used to produce aspartame.
Saccharine – this type of sweetener is about 300 times sweeter than sugar and FDA approved. It does leave a metallic and bitter taste when mixed with certain liquids. It isn’t the best choice for baking and cooking but used to make many drinks and foods. Some studies showed that using high amount of saccharine links to bladder cancer in rats which led to a ban in 1981 across US and Canada. But based on further reviews and studies by the national toxicology program in 2000, the associated health warning results were removed and now FDA has also considered it as safe at “humans’ level of consumption”.
Sucralose – it has very low or no calories. It is about 600 times sweeter than sugar and used for frozen desserts, chewing gums, gelatin, baked good and to make many drinks and foods. In twenty years more than 100 scientific studies found that there are no adverse results in humans so considered fairly safe for consumption.
Advantame – it is 20,000 times sweeter than sugar! It is not commonly used but usually recognized as safe by FDA. Advantame is generally used for baking because it is heat stable. It is a derivative of vanillin and aspartame but it is extremely sweet therefore it is used in very negligible quantity. And even though it is derived from aspartame the PKU warning is generally not required due to the negligible quantity intakes.
Stevia – this one is made up of sweet leaves of plant called Stevia rebaudiana. Rebaudiana extract is considered as a dietary supplement which is approved as a food additive and recognized as safe by FDA.
Neotame – it is a nonnutritive sweetener, FDA approved. Like Aspartame it is derived of aspartic acid and phenylalanine which is about 7000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar. Therefore, it is also used in very little amount and that’s why PKU warning is not required. It is used as table sweetener and for baking.
Monk Fruit – this sweetener is about 150 to 250 times sweeter than sugar. It is more concentrated than sugar (¼ tsp. equals to 1 tsp. of sugar) and heat stable therefore it is good for cooking and baking. Usually recognized as safe by FDA.
Acesulfame K – its 200 times sweeter than sugar which is heat stable and that’s why generally used for baking and cooking. Its taste and texture is very similar to table sugar and it is used with other sweetener like saccharine in low calorie carbonated beverages. This sugar substitute is also FDA approved.
Below are some common brand names you might be familiar with and their ADIs (acceptable daily intake).
People often are concerned about side effects and safety of sugar substitute. Most common concerns are,
- too much consumption of these sweeteners links to cancer risk,
- people with PKU should not have Aspartame,
- high amount of saccharine consumption during pregnancy could lead to potential slow fetal clearance, therefore do not recommend for consumption during pregnancy.
But many recent studies consider these substitutes as safe, and most importantly studies conducted by the FDA concluded with safe results, hence approved by FDA.
What I believe?
When it comes to sugar substitutes, moderation is key. They may help you manage weight, diabetes, dental decay and many other benefits but remember these are not magic bullets. Just because packaged food products advertise it as sugar free, it isn’t always calorie free. You can still gain weight even if you eat sugar free food products because they may have other ingredients which could be carbohydrate rich and contain so many other calories. American diabetic association and American heart association published a report which states that sensible use of these sugar alternatives could help lower carbohydrate and calorie intake (further research is still needed). These ADIs from FDA also endorse that moderation is the key. Therefore, if your sweet tooth craves for some sugar, turn towards these sugar alternatives but in moderation as per the ADI suggested by FDA.
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