Since when has choosing a sweetener become so complicated?
Walking down the supermarket aisle, we are bombarded with choices. How can we decide which one to use?
First, there is a difference between a nutritive sweetener which contains carbohydrates and calories, and a non-nutritive sweetener which is calorie free. The FDA has given the GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) label to five Non-nutritive sweeteners:
- Aspartame ( aka Nutrasweet, Equal)
- Acesulfame K (Sweet One)
- Neotame – made from Aspartame, but can be used by those with phenylketonuria – a condition that prevents the person from digesting phenylalanine.
- Saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low)
- Sucralose (Splenda)
FDA has not yet approved Stevia (Truvia, Sweet Leaf) – not because it is not safe, but because they don’t have enough evidence one way or the other.
Nutritive Sweeteners – have the same carbohydrates and calories as sugar
- Agave – made from the nectar of the agave plant
- Fructose – the sugar in fruits
- HFCS – High Fructose Corn Syrup – liquid sugar
A teaspoon of table sugar contains 4 grams of carbohydrate and 16 calories. So why is that so bad? If sugar is added in moderation to coffee or tea, then there’s little problem. However, added sugars are used in baked goods that also contain lots of fat and therefore lots of calories. Numerous studies have linked excess sugar intake to obesity and dental caries. FDA suggests limits on sugar. They recommend <6 tsp./day for women and <9tsp./day for men. As a point of reference, one 20 oz. soda contains 14 tsp. of sugar or approximately 225 calories!
A couple of new sugar substitutes that you should watch for:
Whey low – made up of 3 natural sugars – fructose (fruit sugar), sucrose (table sugar) and lactose (milk sugar). Blended together they decrease the absorption of sugar so they only provide 4 cals/tsp. This is available in various forms – granular, brown, maple sugar and confectioners.
Monkfruit extract – native to Asia. Contains no calories.
Neotame – mentioned above
If all of this info is just too overwhelming, then stick with the things that are naturally sweet – “Nature’s Fastfood” – fruit!!
Watch for Part 2 of this blog on using sugar substitutes in baking, sugar alcohols, and confusing label terms.
Elizabeth Quigley, MS, RD, CDE is the nutritionist and diabetes educator at Dedham Health & Athletic. Most insurance companies cover for nutrition.
For further information or to schedule an appointment, please call 781-326-0605.