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Artificial Sweeteners: Sweet Deal or Shady Substitute?

Stevia, one of the newer sweeteners. The plant is 10-15 times sweeter than sugar.

In America, refined sugar is added for us and by us into foods that need no extra sweetening.  Our sweet tooth has evolved into a sugar denture and the obesity epidemic has expanded our waistlines and our health care costs.  Artificial sweeteners tout the same taste as sugar without the calories, but are they better?  Do they have longevity in the American food market or are they a temporary replacement?

Though conclusive research about artificial sweeteners is limited, some facts remain:

  1. Sweeteners provide the same sweetness in less quantity than sugar.  One gram of sweetener can be several hundred times sweeter than a gram of sugar.
  2. Contrary to popular belief, according to the National Cancer Institute there is no evidence that consuming artificial sweeteners increases your risk of cancer.
  3. Sugar-free does not mean calorie-free.  Artificially sweetened foods are often high in fat and can be high calorie.  If you overeat, you can still gain weight.
  4. Most artificial sweeteners are considered food additives, and regulated by the FDA.  If they are considered safe, they are added to a list termed GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) but longitudinal studies about the effects of sweeteners are limited.  Consumption in large quantity is not recommended.

(NOTE: Stevia is not considered a food additive, but an herbal supplement.  Therefore, it is not regulated by the FDA).

Currently Available Sugar Substitutes

  • Sacchrin (Sweet N’ Low, Necta Sweet, Sweet Twin); 200-700x sweeter than sugar
  • Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet); 200x sweeter than sugar
  • Sucralose (Splenda); 7,000-13,000x sweeter than sugar
  • Acesulfame Potassium (Sweet One, Sunnett); 200x sweeter than sugar
  • Stevia (RebA, Purevia, Truvia); 200x sweeter than sugar

*The cost of artificial sweeteners is highly variable & only some can be used for baking.

Take Home Message:
Sugar should not be consumed in excess, nor should sugar substitutes.   A diet that derives sugar from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (containing naturally occurring sugars in the form of complex carbohydrates) remains the healthiest form of sugar to consume.

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