Foods that harm, foods that heal: artificial sweeteners

October 9, 2015

Artificial sweeteners are used to reduce both total calorie intake and the amount of sugar consumed. They are many times sweeter than table sugar but add a taste to foods similar to that provided by regular sweeteners such as sugar, honey, molasses or corn syrup. The following information will tell you more.

Foods that harm, foods that heal: artificial sweeteners

Because they do not contain any glucose, artificial sugars can be effective sweeteners for people with diabetes. They come in a variety of forms and tastes. Each sweetener has a slightly different intensity or character to its taste.

1. Different types of sweeteners

While sweeteners on the market are safe for consumption and do play a role, especially for people with diabetes, it is prudent to be moderate in your use of them.

Here is a rundown of four of the most popular artificial sweeteners:

  • Saccharin, sold as Sweet'n Low® or Her­mesetas® is the oldest of the sweeteners on the market. It is calorie-free, about 300 times sweeter than sugar, but has a slightly bitter aftertaste. It is allowed as an additive in the U.S., but only as a tabletop sweetener in Canada. Although several studies have suggested that large quantities of saccharin can cause cancer in laboratory rats, no harmful effects have been shown in humans. It is heat stable and suitable for use in cooking and baking, and as an addition to beverages and foods.
  • Aspartame, marketed under the brand name NutraSweet® and also known as Equal®, is made from two amino acids, phenylalanine and aspartic acid. It contains the same calories, weight for weight, as sugar, but since it is about 200 times sweeter, it can be used in minute quantities. Aspartame loses its sweetness when cooked or exposed to certain acids, so it is not used in baking. You'll find it in soft drinks, candies and desserts. Studies suggest that in isolated cases aspartame can trigger seizures or headaches, but the vast majority use it without obvious problems. Because it contains phenylalanine, it is unsafe for people with phenylketonuria (PKU).
  • Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K) is 200 times sweeter than sugar and calorie-free. Marketed under the name Sunett®, it is highly stable, withstands heat and can be used for baking. It is not broken down by the body and is eliminated without providing any calories. It is found in spreads, beverages, candies, gum and baked products. People on a potassium-restricted diet or with sulfa-antibiotic allergies should discuss the use of Ace-K with their physician.
  • Sucralose, made from sucrose, is about 600 times sweeter than sugar. Marketed as Splenda®, it is highly stable and can be used in foods and beverages, cooking and baking. It is used as an additive in bev­erages and processed foods and as a tabletop sweetener. It is not broken down by the body and is eliminated without providing any calories.

2. Benefits

  • Provide a sweet taste with fewer calories.
  • Can be used as a sugar replacement for ­people with diabetes.
  • They do not promote tooth decay.

3. Drawbacks

  • Pregnant or lactating women should discuss the use of sweeteners with their physician.
  • Aspartame should not be used by people with phenylketonuria (PKU).


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