Get the skinny on sugar-free sweeteners.
It’s four in the afternoon and you’re craving a sugary cappuccino. Two options: indulge your sweet tooth with calorific cubes of white sugar or get all the sweetness minus the calories courtesy sugar substitutes.
Doctors and nutritionists are unequivocal about the harmful effects of sugar that include rebound craving, spikes in blood glucose levels, weight gain and mood swings. So for many sugar substitutes offer a guilt-free way of indulging their sweet tooth without negative health concerns. Read on to get the skinny on various sugar substitutes available in the market today.
The newest wonder kid on the block, it’s actually been used as a sweetener for hundreds of years in Paraguay and Brazil, and is a common ingredient in soft drinks, pickles, candy, ice cream and bread in Japan. Stevia is a powdered, zero calorie sugar substitute up to 250 times sweeter than sugar!
An extract of the stevia plant’s leaves, it imparts the same sweetness minus blood sugar spikes, the perfect answer to diabetics and weight watchers’ sugar cravings. Stevia leaves can be used whole or powdered, and is commercially available as a processed powder, tablets or concentrated liquid. Gaia Stevia Sachets and Gaia Stevia Tablets are easy-to-carry and use. The best part, its calorie-free, has a zero glycemic index, no artificial ingredients and the best way to indulge your sweet tooth guilty-free. While cooking with it, use 1 ½ tablespoon stevia for every ½ cup sugar the recipe recommends.
Marketed as NutraSweet and Equal, of all the low and no-calorie sweeteners aspartame has a sweetness that closely replicates table sugar. Made of two naturally occurring amino acids with just four calories per gram, aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar; 190 mg (less than one calorie) of aspartame has the same sweetening power of 40 grams of sugar (with 160 calories).
Widely used in diet colas it’s been deemed safe for consumption by the FDA though it has a bad rep for causing everything from chronic fatigue to brain tumors. The only people who shouldn’t consume aspartame are those suffering from the genetic disorder phenylketonuria in whom blood levels of phenylalanine need to be kept low ( This is one of two amino acids in aspartame).
Sold under the brand name Sweet N Low, saccharin is the oldest artificial sweetener known to man and was accidently discovered in 1879 by a researcher at John Hopkins University. Three hundred times sweeter than sugar, it was widely used during World War 1 during sugar shortages.
Though it’s been a subject of controversy almost since it was discovered, it’s one of the most thoroughly tested food ingredients, supported by over 30 human studies over the years. Today, it’s a common ingredient in many baked goods, jams, chewing gum, canned fruit, candy, dessert toppings and salad.
Marketed as Splenda and Sugar Free Natura, sucralose is derived from table sugar but the final product is virtually calorie free though it’s 600 times sweeter than sugar. Unlike sugar, the body can’t break down sucralose into calories for energy though sugar and sucralose activate the same taste buds on the tongue giving you the sweetness without the calories.
Most of the sucralose consumed passes out unabsorbed from the body. The best part, you can cook with Sucralose without a breakdown in its molecular structure, making it a popular ingredient in baked goods, desserts, dairy products, canned fruit and syrups. Sucralose has been studied extensively and deemed safe by experts and researchers including the WHO and FDA.
Made from syrup drawn from the agave plant the extract has a caramel flavor and slightly more calories than regular sugar but it’s 25 percent sweeter than sugar so you need less of it.
It’s also has gut friendly fiber and is considered a pre-biotic that ensures smooth digestion. Drizzle it like honey over dahi or use it to sweeten nimbu paani. You can even cook with it. Use just ¾ cup of agave if the recipe calls for one cup sugar.
How much is too much?
In general while sugar substitutes are safe, they can cause minor side effects such as digestive problems and headaches. However, using them to lose weight can backfire unless you combine it with a healthy exercise and diet plan. A Purdue University study suggests that the lack of sugar calories can have a counterintuitive effect by teasing your body by pretending to give it real food, confusing natural responses.
So when you do end up having real sugar your body doesn’t release the hormone that regulates blood sugar and blood pressure, making weight loss tougher. So how much sugar substitute can an average person consume safely? The FDA recommends no more than 50 milligrams of aspartame per kg body weight daily; that translates to a whopping 15 cans of diet soda for a 60 kg woman! But ultimately good health and weight management is not about how many cans of diet cola you glug but what you do with rest of your diet. Artificial sweeteners aren’t dangerous in moderation. But you do need to control your caloric intake and hit the treadmill if you want to look slim and sexy.