What is a Sugar Substitute?
There are a plethora of options available these days when it comes to choosing a sugar-free product. Sugar substitutes are present in a variety of products including beverages, desserts, condiments, and even dairy and grain products like yogurt and breads. Here is a breakdown of sugar substitutes and their advantages and disadvantages, to help you make an informed decision.
Sugar substitutes, also known as artificial sweeteners, are imitation sweeteners, meaning they are man-made, with the exception of a few that may come from an herb, a plant, or are derived from sugar. For example, sucralose is made from sugar and Stevia is extracted from the Stevia plant. Sugar substitutes or artificial sweeteners, sometimes referred to as “high-intensity sweeteners” can be a desirable option for someone looking to reduce their sugar intake or watch their calories by adding lots of sweetness without all the calories of sugar. They have practically no calories, but contain much more sweetness than sugar.
How Much Should You Consume?
The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, states that sugar substitutes including aspartame, neotame, saccharin, advantame and sucralose are safe to consume in moderate amounts that most people typically consume. But what is considered a moderate amount? Each sugar substitute has what’s called an Acceptable Daily Intake (ADI), which is the maximum amount that can be safely consumed on a daily basis without any adverse effects. This varies for each sugar substitute and each person, depending on their weight. For example, a 132 lb person would reach the ADI with the following sugar substitutes and amounts: 23 packets of sucralose, 45 packets or saccharin, and 75 packets of aspartame.
The Benefits and Downsides of Artificial Sweeteners
Health benefits of artificial sweeteners include: they don’t contribute to cavities or tooth decay, they are a much lower-calorie option than sugar, so may be helpful in reducing calorie intake and helping people with weight control, and provide more options for people with diabetes who are looking for a sweet option that doesn’t raise blood sugar.
But there are also potential downsides to sugar substitutes. A study performed on lab rats in the 1970s showed a link between saccharin intake and bladder cancer. But the National Cancer Institute has stated that there is no sound evidence that the FDA-approved sugar substitutes cause any serious health problems. A number of studies have confirmed that they are safe in limited quantities, even throughout pregnancy.
Sugar alcohols are another form of sugar substitutes that are derived from naturally-occurring carbohydrates. While they do contain some calories, they have much less than sugar. Sugar alcohols are typically found in items like chocolate, gum, and toothpaste. The benefits of these are similar to artificial sweeteners. Common sugar alcohols are xylitol, erythritol, and sorbitol. The disadvantage of sugar alcohols are that they can produce a laxative effect when eaten in large amounts.
Alternatives to Artificial Sweeteners
Natural sweeteners, like honey, maple syrup, molasses, or fruit juices, are another sugar alternative. Some people prefer these as they are less processed than sugar, but they typically contain the same amount of calories and have similar effects on blood sugar. These are all considered safe, but don’t really provide any advantages over sugar.
In summary, sugar substitutes can be a useful option to help with weight management, but always consume in moderation. Also note that processed foods are typically inferior to whole and unprocessed foods, as they do not provide the same health benefits.