You see them everywhere – those tiny yellow, blue, and pink packets at coffee shops, on restaurant tables, and you most likely use them yourself at one point or another in a day. What exactly are these artificial sweeteners that are all around us? They are used in place of sweeteners with sugar or sugar alcohols. You may also hear them be called sugar substitutes, nonnutritive sweeteners (or NNS), or noncaloric sweeteners.
It has been reported that adults in the US on average consume 14.6% of their daily calories from sugars not naturally found in food. The appeal to these in place of sugar is that they can be an aid in helping individuals lose weight because they are 0 calories in comparison to sugar, which is not calorie-free.
These sweeteners also have the potential to prevent dental decay. Artificial sweeteners as well are an 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 these!
A few of the common ones are listed below:
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 the diet calorie-wise. The body breaks this down into its amino acid components which do not accumulate in the body. Some of its sweetness may be lost in baking or a lot of exposure to heat. One caution to take note of is that aspartame is not recommended for people with PKU 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, gelatin, and 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 with heating and baking.
Saccharin (also known as Sweet `N Low): is about 200-700 times sweeter than sugar, and sometimes has the possibility of having a bitter/metallic aftertaste in some liquids. It is not used in baking or cooking, is FDA approved, and used in many diet foods and drinks. It is not broken down by the body, so 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, is a plant-based sweetener that is also noncaloric made from the plant Stevia rebaudiana. This is metabolized by the body but doesn’t accumulate, and heat stable to almost 400 degrees.
Aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin are all FDA approved, and this organization has set an acceptable daily intake, or ADI, for each of these.
There has always been a question surrounding the use of artificial sweeteners and whether they are harmful to health. Recently (in 2012), the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association released a report saying if consumed in reasonable amounts, artificial sweeteners could in fact help lower calorie and carb intake. A few studies have claimed that people using noncaloric sweeteners are more likely to gain weight or be heavier, but this is because they are more likely to be consumed by an individual who is overweight or obese. There’s not enough information at this time to conclude that these are in fact detrimental to one’s health in any way. Whilst artificial sweeteners may be healthy in moderation, one should not go overboard with them (just as with any food or ingredient).