All About Artificial Sweeteners
You see them everywhere – those tiny yellow, blue and pink packets at coffee shops, on restaurant tables, and you've most likely used them yourself at one point or another. What exactly are these artificial sweeteners that are all around us? They are used in place of sweeteners with sugar or sugar alcohols. You also may see them labeled sugar substitutes, non-nutritive sweeteners (or NNS), or non-caloric sweeteners.
Reports show that adults in the U.S. consume on average 14.6% of their daily calories from sugars not naturally found in food. The appeal of artificial sweeteners is that they can help individuals lose weight because they have zero calories, compared to sugar, which is not calorie-free.
These sweeteners also can help prevent dental decay. Artificial sweeteners also appeal to those dealing with diabetes – they can help with blood sugar control since they are not carbohydrates and do not cause a spike in one’s blood sugar like regular sugar does.
It’s a high possibility that you consume more of these than you think – most diet or low-calorie products are made using artificial sweeteners.
Common Artificial Sweeteners:
- Aspartame (also known as Equal): is 200 times sweeter than sugar, and FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved; it does contain 4 calories per gram like regular sugar, but the fact that it is so much sweeter than sugar means that less of it will be used, ultimately having no effect on your diet, calorie-wise. The body breaks this down into its amino acid components that do not accumulate in the body. Some of its sweetness may be lost in baking or too much exposure to heat. One caution: aspartame is not recommended for people with phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare but potentially serious inherited disorder, because the body is unable to break down one of the amino acids used to make aspartame.
- Sucralose (also known as Splenda): is 600 times sweeter than sugar, FDA approved, and used in diet foods, drinks and chewing gum; frozen dairy desserts; fruit juices; and gelatin. It also can be added to food at the table; the body doesn’t recognize this as a carbohydrate, so it counts as no calories and is excreted. It is heat-stable and therefore can be used in cooking and baking.
- Saccharin (also known as Sweet 'N Low): is about 200-700 times sweeter than sugar. It sometimes has a bitter/metallic aftertaste in some liquids. It is FDA approved, and used in many diet foods and drinks. It is not broken down by the body, but it is eliminated without adding any calories. Like sucralose it is heat stable and can be used for baking and cooking.
- Stevia (also known as Truvia): is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar, and is a plant-based sweetener that's also non-caloric. It is made the plant Stevia rebaudiana. This is metabolized by the body but doesn’t accumulate, and is heat stable to almost 400 degrees.
Use in Moderation
Aspartame, sucralose and saccharin are all FDA approved; this organization has set an acceptable daily intake, or ADI, for each of these. There have been questions as to the use of artificial sweeteners and whether they are harmful to health. The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association released a report in 2012 indicating that moderate consumption helps reduce calorie and carbohydrate intake. There is not enough information at this time to conclude that these are detrimental to one’s health.