Years ago, there were three choices when it came to sweetening your tea or coffee: white sugar, brown sugar, or honey. Oh, how times have changed.
Today, with the great amount of attention given to calorie, sugar, and carbohydrate intake, many people do not even consider those options. Instead, numerous sugar substitutes are available, giving consumers the choice between the yellow packet (sucralose), blue packet (aspartame), or pink packet (saccharin). Many have a preference as to which best suits their taste buds and waistline. And now, in addition to those three choices, there’s a relatively new calorie-free sugar substitute available: stevia, served in a green packet.
Reasons to Use Sugar Substitutes
There are three key benefits to surrendering some of the sugar in your diet:
1. Weight Loss
There are 774 calories in just a single cup of sugar. You might think that you don’t consume much sugar, but most of us do actually intake a fairly large amount, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Just as with salt, adding sugar to foods and beverages becomes a habit. For example, you may stir it into your coffee and sprinkle it over your oatmeal or breakfast cereal in the morning. If you decide to make pudding “from scratch” for an after-dinner desert, the directions call for two cups of sugar. Consuming too much sugar can undercut your weight loss efforts. However, if you substitute artificial sweetener for sugar, you can cut down on calories without eliminating your favorite foods from your diet.
2. Dental Care
One of the most common of all disorders, according to MedlinePlus, tooth decay occurs when the bacteria in your mouth converts foods – particularly sugar and starch – into acids. From cavities to tooth loss, the resulting problems can impact your appearance and your wallet. Sugar substitutes may reduce your need for professional dental care.
Studies indicate that consuming too much sugar can increase your risk of heart disease. Researchers at UC Davis also caution that current U.S. dietary guidelines for daily sugar intake limitations may be set too high. Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture advises that women limit their sugar intake to 20 grams a day. Most of us consume more than five times that much!
Choosing the Right Sweetener
Thinking about swapping sugar for a zero- or low-calorie sweetener? Here’s the scoop on sugar substitutes:
1. Aspartame (Equal)
The familiar blue packet in the sugar substitutes bowl usually contains aspartame. With no saccharin-like aftertaste, Equal has become one of the most popular sugar substitute brands. There are four calories per packet.
- It is 200 times sweeter than sugar, and can be used to sweeten beverages and cereal.
- It also can be used in some recipes that call for sugar.
- Because it loses its sweetness if you subject it to heat for a long time, aspartame is not ideal as a baking substitute.
- Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration considers it safe, those with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria (PKU) must avoid it.
Furthermore, WebMD reports that for those who suffer chronic headaches or migraines, aspartame can trigger these painful occurrences. It is recommended that you keep a food diary to see if you are sensitive to foods containing this sugar substitute.
2. Sucralose (Splenda)
Fond of the yellow packets to sweeten your tea? You’re using sucralose, made popular by the Splenda brand. It’s 600 times sweeter than sugar, and contains 0 calories per packet.
- Just as with Equal, there’s no “saccharin” aftertaste, making it ideal for those with diabetes who want to satisfy their sweet tooth.
- Although it can be used for baking, you may need to make some adjustments by referring to a conversion chart, as sucralose is more potent than sugar.
Can you have too much of a good thing? In the case of sucralose, yes.
- If you have a sensitive digestive system, you may suffer from gas, bloating, and diarrhea if you consume too much.
- In addition, there has been some debate about the fact that the sucralose molecule contains three atoms of chlorine, and whether that is safe for human consumption.
If you go for the pink packets, you’re a saccharin fan. The most popular brand is Sweet’N Low, which contains four calories per packet.
- This sweetener can be used in baking and cooking, as well as for sweetening beverages and cereal.
- The most common complaint about saccharin is its bitter aftertaste.
- Saccharin is also categorized as a sulfonamide, and can result in allergic reactions for those who cannot consume sulfa drugs.
- Furthermore, it may pose health risks for the average consumer: During studies in the early 1970s on its safety, saccharin was linked with the development of bladder cancer. Consequently, food products containing saccharin bear the following warning label: “Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals.”
4. Stevia (Stevia In The Raw, Truvia)
Few coffee houses offer this option, which comes in the green packet and is commonly branded as Stevia Extract In The Raw or Truvia. However, using it at home has become an increasingly popular choice. It contains no calories.
- Stevia’s taste lasts longer than sugar, and it can be used for baking and cooking. However, be sure to follow a conversion chart, as it may be advisable to replace sugar with half the amount of stevia extract when cooking.
- If you use extensive amounts to sweeten your food, such as plain yogurt, you can detect a bitter aftertaste.
- In addition, stevia was initially banned in the United States because of research that showed it caused infertility and cancer in laboratory rats.
In addition to these four common, popular sugar substitutes, a number of other sweeteners are available on the market. These artificial sweeteners include Sunett and Sweet One, which contain acesulfame potassium; NutraSweet, which contains aspartame; and SugarTwin, which contains saccharin in the United States (saccharin is banned in Canada), and cyclamates in Canada (cyclamates are banned in the U.S.).
What sugar substitute do you prefer? Do you avoid non-sugar sweeteners altogether?
(photo credit: Shutterstock)