Here's a breakdown of sugar substitutes:
A sugar substitute is a food additive that duplicates the effect of sugar in taste, usually with less food energy. Some sugar substitutes are natural and some are synthetic, or artificial sweeteners.
Sugar substitutes are used for a number of reasons, including:
- To assist in weight loss
- Diabetes mellitus — By limiting their sugar intake with artificial sweeteners, diabetics can enjoy a varied diet while closely controlling their sugar intake. Also, some sugar substitutes do release energy, but are metabolized more slowly, allowing blood sugar levels to remain more stable over time.
- Reactive hypoglycemia — individuals with reactive hypoglycemia, like diabetics, must avoid intake of high-glycemic foods like white bread, and often choose artificial sweeteners as an alternative.
- Cost — especially for food companies, many sugar substitutes are cheaper than sugar.
Alternative sweeteners are often low in cost because of their long shelf-life. This allows alternative sweeteners to be used in products that will not perish after a short period of time.
There are six intensely-sweet sugar substitutes that are widely used. They are:
Stevia — (Truvia) a genus of about 240 species of herbs and shrubs in the sunflower family and is used as a natural sweetener. The extracted steviol glycoside from this plant has up to 300 times the sweetness of sugar. It has a negligible effect on blood glucose and is attractive as a natural sweetener to diabetics and other people on carbohydrate-controlled diets. Stevia has also garnered attention with the rise in demand for low-carbohydrate, low-sugar food alternatives.
Sucralose — (Splenda) a chlorinated sugar that is about 600 times as sweet as sugar. It is used in beverages, frozen desserts, chewing gum, baked goods, and other foods. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, it is stable when heated and can therefore be used in baked and fried goods. The majority of ingested sucralose is not broken down by the body and therefore it is non-caloric.
Saccharin — (Sweet 'N Low) often used to improve the taste of toothpastes, dietary foods, and dietary beverages, it is 300 to 500 times as sweet as sugar (sucrose). Saccharin is believed to be an important discovery, especially for diabetics, as it goes directly through the human digestive system without being digested.
**Aspartame — (NutraSweet, Equal) is an odorless, white crystalline powder that is derived from the two amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It is about 200 times as sweet as sugar and can be used as a tabletop sweetener or in frozen desserts, gelatin, beverages, and chewing gum.
Neotame is a relatively unknown artificial sweetener made by NutraSweet that is between 7,000 and 13,000 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). Due to the lower quantities needed to achieve the same sweetening impact as sugar or high fructose corn syrup, neotame benefits the consumer by providing fewer "empty" sugar calories and has a lower impact on blood sugar.
Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One) a calorie-free artificial sweetener, also known as Acesulfame K or Ace K. Acesulfame K is 180-200 times sweeter than table sugar, as sweet as aspartame, about half as sweet as saccharin, and one-quarter as sweet as sucralose. Like saccharin, it has a slightly bitter aftertaste, especially at high concentrations. Acesulfame K is often blended with other sweeteners (usually sucralose (Splenda) or aspartame (NutraSweet,
Equal).) There are no conclusive studies on its effects in humans.
**High levels of the naturally-occurring essential amino acid phenylalanine are a health hazard to those born with phenylketonuria (PKU), a rare inherited disease that prevents phenylalanine from being properly metabolized. Since individuals with PKU must consider aspartame as an additional source of phenylalanine, foods containing aspartame
sold in the United States must state "Phenylketonurics: Contains Phenylalanine" on their product labels.