Do you have a “sweet tooth?” Have you ever wondered if you should cut back on regular sugar and have sugar substitutes instead? You probably have seen packets of Splenda, Equal , and Sweet’N Low , as well as the many diet drinks that are made with these substitutes. This guide will help you learn all about sugar substitutes and how much is safe for your body.
What are sugar substitutes?
Sugar substitutes are substances used to sweeten foods and beverages instead of sucrose (sugar). There are different kinds of sugar substitutes that include sugar alcohols, stevia sweeteners, and artificial sweeteners. There are some benefits to using sugar substitutes.
- Have few or no calories
- Do not cause your blood sugar to go up like regular sugar does
- Do not cause tooth decay or cavities
What are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners are chemicals that are generally much sweeter than sugar so a smaller amount of them is needed to have the same sweetness as sugar. They typically provide zero to very little calories and have no nutrients in them.
Examples of artificial sweeteners include:
- Saccharin (Sweet’N Low®, SugarTwin®)
- Acesulfame K (Sunett®, Sweet One®)
- Sucralose (Splenda®)
- Aspartame (NutraSweet®, Equal®)
Products containing aspartame have a warning label because they are NOT safe for use by people that have the hereditary disease Phenylketonuria (PKU).
What is stevia?
Stevia is the common name for sweeteners such as Good & Sweet, PureVia and Truvia that are found naturally in the stevia rebaudiana plant. Stevia sweeteners provide zero calories and are one of the most recently approved sugar substitutes by the FDA. Stevia sweeteners can be found in packets and in a variety of drinks and foods.
What are sugar alcohols?
Sugar alcohols are carbohydrates that are found naturally in plants that are added to sugar-free and reduced-sugar foods. They are usually 25-100% as sweet as sugar and they provide 1.5 - 3 calories/gram when compared to sugar (which provides 4 calories/gram). Sugar alcohols can cause gas and loose stools since they are not completely digested by the body. Therefore, foods that contain sugar alcohols include the label “excess consumption may have a laxative effect”.
Sugar alcohols are used in anything from candy to gum to bakery goods and ice cream.
Examples of sugar alcohols include:
Are sugar substitutes safe?
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consider sugar substitutes to be “safe food additives”. The FDA has also set an “acceptable daily intake” (ADI) for each sweetener which is an amount they feel is safe to have each day. It is measured in milligrams per pound of body weight per day. These amounts, listed in the table below, are higher than the amount most people usually have in a day. Sugar substitutes have never been shown to increase the risk of other diseases. Even though they are not bad for you, the most nutritious foods and drinks (such as fruits, vegetables, milk and water) that are better to eat do not contain sugar substitutes.
|Sweetener||ADI* In milligrams (mg) per pound (lb)||Estimated ADI equivalent for a person weighing 150lbs||Average sweetness compared to sugar|
|Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal )||22.7 mg per lb||18 to 20 cans of diet cola**||200 times sweeter|
|Saccharin (Sweet'N Low, SugarTwin )||2.3 mg per lb||9 to 12 packets of sweetener||300 times sweeter|
|Acesulfame K (Sunett, Sweet One )||6.8 mg per lb||30 to 32 cans of diet lemon-lime soda**||200 times sweeter|
|Sucralose (Splenda)||2.3 mg per lb||6 cans of diet cola**||600 times sweeter|
|Stevia (Good & Sweet, PureVia , Truvia )||Not yet established||200 times sweeter|
|*FDA-established acceptable daily intake (ADI) limit per pound of body weight|
|**These products usually contain more than one type of sweetener.|
|Information adapted from mayoclinic.com|
Are there any other ways to make my sweet food taste good (without adding sugar substitutes)?
There are other ways to make your foods more flavorful without adding sugar substitutes, sugar, or honey. Try adding spices like nutmeg and cinnamon to yogurt, cooked cereals, cookies, or coffee. You can also experiment with flavors such as vanilla and cocoa powder in pudding and baked goods.
Sugar substitutes can be used as a safe alternative to sugar. Since they are not found in many foods that have nutritious benefits, it is important that we use them in moderation.