Artificial sweeteners have become increasingly common the world over. Most people resorting to artificial sweeteners are either diabetic, pre-diabetic or are those who are trying to lose some weight by cutting down their sugar consumption. But, with so many sweeteners in the market, how do you know which one is the best for you?
Truth is, all artificial sweeteners are not made equal, and before you choose one you must know the difference between the different sweeteners available in the market.
When you are diagnosed with diabetes, or are trying to lose weight, the first thing you want to reduce on is your sugar consumption. There are two ways to keep your blood sugar levels lower:
- Decrease the amount of sugar you take, or go completely without sugar in your tea, coffee and milk
- To resort to artificial sweeteners, which make your foods and drinks more palatable
Most of us resort to option number 2. After all, who wants to live a life without any sweets! But don’t think that choosing the cheapest artificial sweetener in the market and then eating it in larger quantities will solve your problem. Fact is; artificial sweeteners have been linked to weight gain, increasing chances for contracting Diabetes type II and even cardiovascular diseases.
In fact, a study done by two top scientists in the USA, namely Dr. Terry Davidson and Dr. Susan Swithers of ‘Ingestive Behavior Research Center’ at the Purdue University aptly provide concrete proof for this theory. The study revealed that people who use artificial sweeteners in excess tend to eat more calories and hence gain more weight over a period of time. It was published in the 2008 Feb edition of Behavioral Neurosciene, which is a reputed journal of the American Psychology Association, and opened many doors for further research. In fact, another research at Miller School of Medicine at the Columbia University also discovered that aspartame increases risk for cardiovascular diseases.
With so many researches suggesting otherwise, is it really wise to choose any artificial sweetener? Or should you know more about each kind of sweetener available and then make an informed decision?
Which artificial sweetener is right for you?
In most countries, including India, there are 4 major types of artificial sweeteners available. These are Saccharine, Aspartame, Sucralose and Stevia. Let us take a closer look at each of these and find out the Pros and Cons of each type of artificial sweetener.
1. Saccharine –
Mostly sold as brand names Sweet n Low or Sugar Free, Saccharine is an organic molecule derived from petroleum and is almost 300 times sweeter than natural sugar. It is the oldest known artificial sweetener and is used in many diet colas and even sugar free candies. Sold in yellow and pink packets, this is a popular sweetener.
– Saccharine is not affected by heat. That is one of the biggest pros of saccharine, as it can be used easily in sugar free cakes and muffins, or even Indian desserts like Halwas and Kheer.
– It contains no calories at all and is very effective in managing blood sugar levels.
– In 1981, saccharine was reported to be a potential ‘carcinogen’. Lots of studies conducted on male lab rats confirmed that saccharine does increase chances of bladder cancer. The biggest risk is for males, especially those who are heavy smokers.
– In fact, the American Medical Association recommends that saccharine is not suitable for young kids.
– Doctors advise that saccharine shouldn’t be used by pregnant women as it crosses the placenta easily and can pose unknown risks to the developing baby.
2. Aspartame –
Aspartame is one of the most popular and cheaper artificial sweeteners, usually sold under the brand name Equal and Sugar Free Gold and has packets that are either coloured Blue( for Equal) or Yellow (for Sugar Free Gold). Surprisingly, it is a combination of amino acids – aspartic acid and phenylalanine, in combination with menthol. Aspartame is about 180 times sweeter than sugar. Aspartame is the most common sweetener used in diet soft drinks and is safer to use as compared to Saccharine. This sweetener has slow onset as well as longer taste, which is sometimes not preferred by users.
– 1 gram of aspartame is equal to 4 calories. Yet, because we use a very small quantity to sweeten our tea and coffee, the calories amount to almost nothing.
– It was approved by the FDA back in 1981 for beverages; though in 1996 it got approval to be used as an everyday sweetener.
– Safe for pregnant women
– Even with all these benefits, aspartame has been linked to cardio vascular diseases. In fact, Diet coke in the USA no longer uses aspartame at all.
– It is not suitable for patients of ‘Phenylketonuria’, as they can’t metabolize the phenylalanine in aspartame.
– Aspartame cannot be used for baking, or any desserts that require heating as it is unstable when subjected to heat.
– Some people develop skin allergies and respiratory problems as an allergic reaction to this sweetener.
– Even though the CDC has ruled out any links between aspartame and central nervous system disorders, a small group of people have reported having terrible headaches, dizziness and even mood changes on consuming aspartame.
3. Stevia –
Stevia is unique – it cannot be termed as an ‘artificial’ sweetener because it is in fact an herb, which makes it an organic sweetener. Sold popularly as brand names BeStevia, Sunova and Steviocal, packets of Stevia are usually coloured Green. Stevia based sweeteners have been recognized as Safe to be used by everyone, though pregnant women should be cautious when using it as no studies confirm whether stevia is safe for the developing baby or not. Stevia is 250 to even 300 times sweeter than sugar, though it leaves a bitter after-taste in the mouth. It is free of calories and a healthy alternative to sugar.
– Since Stevia has been used in Japan for over 30 years and in the South American countries for over centuries (since the plant originates in South America) many doctors tend to believe it is a safer option as compared to artificial sweeteners which carry chemical compounds that can cause side effects.
– This plant based herb has no calories, making it a great option for both diabetics and those looking to shed weight.
– Since stevia doesn’t raise blood sugar levels, it is safe to be used by diabetics
– Certain researches carried out in the 1980s mar the safety issue of Stevia. These researches done by the FDA led scientists to believe that when Stevia comes in contact with some kinds of bacteria, changes in the DNA can occur. In fact, Stevia is officially banned in India, though you might find it in your local grocery stores in tablet form sold as a ‘dietary supplement’ and not as a sweetener.
– Some people have reported feeling nauseous and bloated after using stevia.
– It is not recommended for patients who are on medication for either blood pressure or diabetes, as Stevia raises risk factor for hypotension as well as hypoglycemia.
– The bitter after taste of stevia makes this sweetener rater unpopular in the Indian market.
4. Sucralose –
A heat stable sweetener, many doctors and scientists believe that Sucralose is the best sweetener in the market. Available as Splenda and Sugar Free Natura in India, Sucralose is both ideal for baking cakes, cookies and muffins and also works great for Indian desserts. Splenda is the best sweetener in the Indian market, which comes mixed with maltodextrin which means that Splenda can easily be used in recipe just like sugar, in the same quantities. It is almost 600 times sweeter than ordinary sugar, and comes from sugar cane extracts.
– Food manufacturers value this sweetener the most because it is the most heat stable artificial sweetener of all. It is used extensively in cooking as well as baking, because the end result is almost as good as food made with natural sugar.
– Sucralose has no calories, so if effective for those looking to lose weight
– Sucralose doesn’t raise blood sugar levels and the body doesn’t even treat it like carbohydrates (which it what happens to natural sugar) and so it is the safest option for diabetics.
– Of all the artificial sweeteners in the market, Sucralose is the only one which has faced the least controversy
– The FDA has done over 110 studies to test the safety quotient of Sucralose (especially Splenda) and found no carcinogens or toxic materials in this sweetener that can cause any kid of neurologic or reproductive side effects in human beings.
– Splenda uses some bulking agents that add another 12 calories per tablespoon to your food. It is best to use Splenda in smaller quantities, especially if you are diabetic. If you are simply using an artificial sweetener to shed some weight, then Sucralose is a better option as compared to regular sugar.
Quick Glance at the 4 main types of artificial sweeteners:
|Sugar substitutes||Natural vs Chemical||Brands||Potential Side Effects|
|Chemical||Sweet n Low, Sugar free||Potential carcinogen, not suitable for pregnant women and children|
|Chemical||Equal, Sugar Free Gold||Linked to cardio vascular disease, can lead to allergic reactions, can result in weight gain|
|Natural||BeStevia, Sunova,Steviocal, Gaia Stevia||No research to support side effects, banned in several countries, can result in bloating and nausea|
|Chemical||Splenda, Sugar free Natura||Bulking agents mixed carry more calories|
Now that you understand a little more about artificial sweeteners, we hope you will realise that anything ‘artificial’ cannot be good for you in large quantities. Even if you do shift to artificial sweeteners, and if you do it’s recommended you choose either Stevia or Sucralose over others because these are safer, do remember that just using a Zero calorie sweetener doesn’t negate the calories in the sweet dishes you so love! Use these wisely and in small quantities to enjoy the low calorie benefits of these sweeteners. If you aren’t diabetic and use artificial sweeteners to lose weight, a better alternative is Honey. It’s sweet, it’s natural, and it adds the perfect touch to milkshakes, desserts and tea.
*Note: This article has also been published in Healthviva.com
- Are Artificial Sweeteners Really Going to Kill Me? (news.health.com)
- Are You Getting Too Many Artificial Sweeteners? (everydayhealth.com)
- Natural or Artificial: New Kinds of Sweeteners With No Calories (weightloss.answers.com)