Sweet and Low -er

Thursday, May 24, 2007 - 5:20pm

By Staff

Supermarket shelves are bulging with products labeled "reduced sugar" and "no added sugar" that use sucralose, commonly known as Splenda, as the sugar substitute. Artificial sweeteners, also called sugar substitutes, are compounds that offer the sweetness of sugar without the same calories. Is Splenda an ideal no-calorie sweetener? Well, yes and no.

Sweetener lowdown

Approved in the United States in 1998, Splenda does appear to be safe, and unlike sugar, it is low in calories and does not promote tooth decay. So you can use Splenda instead of sugar in your coffee, tea, and baking recipes. However, although the sugar-derived calories are absent in supermarket products made with Splenda, the fat and calories from other ingredients are not. Sugar-free cookies made with Splenda, for example, may have the same amount of calories and artery-clogging saturated fat as cookies made with real sugar. The take-home message here: Low or no sugar does not always equal healthy. You need to flip that product over and investigate before you buy.

Are sweeteners good for your health?

The company that manufactures Splenda goes to great lengths to imply that Splenda is all natural by using the nifty slogan "made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar." In fact, Splenda is sugar combined with the synthetic chemical chloride. Safe it is; natural it is not. Do not be fooled by the not-so-sweet marketing campaign that confuses consumers and leads them to believe that Splenda is natural and just like sugar. It's not.

Here is what you need to know before you hit the stores in search of something sweet to eat:

1.   Acesulfame - more safety research is needed

Acesulfame (Sweet One, Sunett) is a synthetic chemical that has not been adequately tested. It might be safe, but more good research is needed.

2.   Aspartame appears to be safe

Aspartame (Equal) is a synthetic sweetener that appears to be safe. A small amount of people may develop headaches after ingesting it, and it should be avoided if you have the rare disorder phenylketonuria (PKU).

3.   Saccharin - more safety testing is needed

Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low) is a synthetic chemical that caused an increased risk of bladder cancer in the only human study to date. More testing is needed.

4.   Sucralose - has passed safety tests - appears safe

Sucralose (Splenda) is sucrose (sugar) chemically combined with chlorine. Sucralose has passed all safety tests, and there is no reason to think it causes harm.

5.   Stevia - more safety research is still needed

Stevia (Sweet Leaf, Honey Leaf) is an extract from a shrub that grows in South America. For safety reasons, the FDA does not allow Stevia to be used as an ingredient in food. It can, however, be sold as a supplement (the rules for supplements are not as stringent as for food). Although Stevia is promoted as a natural alternative to synthetic sweeteners, it may or may not be safe. More research is needed to tell.

6.   Sugar alcohols in large doses may have laxative effect

Sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol, maltitol, lactitol, isomalt, erythritol) are safe, but they are poorly digested and may cause a laxative effect, gas, and bloating, if consumed in large amounts.

For more information on sugar substitues that are approved for diabetics see the following article from TheDietChannel: Sugar Substitutes: Can Diabetics Use Them?

For more information on sugar substitutes on the market see the following article from TheDietChannel: Sugar Substitutes: The Skinny on Sugar Substitutes.