8 Artificial Sweeteners and Sugar Substitutes
Are artificial sweeteners healthier than natural sugar? Let’s see.
We know that sugar contributes to tooth decay and obesity, but we don’t think twice before spooning it onto cereal and into coffee. Not to mention that the food industry puts heaps of “added sugar” into products. Sugar substitutes are on the rise, which actually are hundreds of times sweeter than table sugar. But are artificial sweeteners, honey, agave nectar, or high-fructose corn syrup healthier than table sugar? To help you decide, here’s the real deal on 8 common sweeteners.
Also known as table sugar, sucrose contains 16 calories per teaspoon. It is found naturally in fruit and is added to baked goods, jams, marinades, salad dressings. Although, sucrose offers energy, it doesn’t provide any nutritional benefits. In 2003, a team of international experts recommended that added sugars make up no more than 10% of your diet, or about 12 teaspoons (50 grams) for a 2,000-calorie diet. But in 2009 the American Heart Association cut that down even further, suggesting that women should consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar and men no more than 9 (37.5 grams).
AKA: Sunett and Sweet One, acesulfame potassium has 0 calories. Soft drinks, gelatins, chewing gum, and frozen desserts usually contain it. This nonnutritive artificial sweetener was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1988, meaning it now has a 22-year track record in which no problems have surfaced. However, pre-market testing was thin. In 1996, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urged the FDA to require better testing, but for now it seems to be safe in moderation.
With 20 calories per teaspoon, and found in cereals, yogurts, tea, agave nectar is a product of the agave cactus, and its taste and texture are similar to honey. It doesn’t contain as many antioxidants as honey, but it contains approximately the same amount of calories. Because agave is sweeter than sugar, its advocates suggest using less of it to get similar sweetness. It contains more fructose than table sugar, which, according to a recent study, means it is less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar but could be more likely to reduce your metabolism and insulin sensitivity.
With 0 calories to its share, aspartame is found in drinks, gum, yogurt, cough drops. Being one of the most studied artificial sweeteners, it has been accused of causing everything from weight gain to cancer. However, since being approved by the FDA in 1981, studies have found no convincing evidence and the FDA, the World Health Organization, and the American Dietetic Association say aspartame in moderation poses no threats. The CSPI feels differently, and gave it their lowest ranking in a review of food additives. People with phenylketonuria, an inherited genetic disorder, should avoid it.
High-fructose Corn Syrup
Found in sodas, desserts, and cereals, corn syrup gives you 17 calories per teaspoon. It is a hotly debated sweetener which contains the sugars fructose and glucose from processed corn syrup. It is cheaper than sucrose and gives products a longer shelf life, more packaged foods in the U.S.—especially soda, cereal, and yogurt—contain HFCS as added sugar instead of sucrose. Some studies say beverages sweetened with HFCS contribute to obesity more than sucrose, but others show it’s no worse for health. It’s best to limit your consumption in order to avoid any harms to your health.
Artificially found in cereals, baked goods, and teas, honey contains 21 calories per teaspoon. It has trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, and studies suggest it may not raise blood sugar as fast as other sweet products. A slow and steady rise in your body’s blood sugar after eating is generally considered safer than a dramatic spike. Honey, however, does contain calories and should be used as sparingly as any other full-calorie sweetener.
Calories: 0. Found in: Some drinks, dairy products, frozen desserts, puddings, fruit juices. Neotame is the newest on the market, and was approved by the FDA in 2002. It is between 7,000 and 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar depending on what it is added to, and is produced by the same company that makes aspartame. Neotame is one of the only nonnutritive sweeteners to get the seal of approval from the CSPI, but it is rarely used in everyday products.
Saccharin has 0 calories and is found in drinks, canned goods, and candy. Rat studies in the early 1970s found a link between consuming Saccharin and bladder cancer. Later studies showed that these results may only occur in rats, and there was a lack of evidence that saccharin causes cancer in humans.
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