Sugar substitutes : eveything you need to know

People aiming for both a sweet tooth but less to no calories consumed in their diet often pick low-calorie sweeteners sold in colored packets. If you want to just sprinkle a little over your pancake or mixed it with coffee but get the same level of sweetness like that of sugar, then it’s time for you to choose a sugar substitute favorite.

What is a sugar substitute?

A sugar substitute, also commonly known as “artificial sweetener” or “non-caloric sweetener”, is a chemical (synthetically-produced or processed) or plant-based (naturally-extracted) substance with significantly less food energy that is used to sweeten or enhance the flavor of foods and drinks.

Most FDA-approved (Food and Drug Administration) artificial sugar substitutes are genetically recognized as safe (GRAs) food additives which are many times sweeter than a common table sugar, sucrose. FDA has established an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each artificial sweetener.

Distinctive Uses

Since artificial sweeteners add virtually no calories to our diet, they are likely considered as highly attractive alternatives to sugar. You only need a fraction compared with the normal amount of table sugar to produce the same level of sweetness. Widely used and marketed today, let’s visit the various intended uses and benefits of sugar substitutes.

Health Benefits Corner

  • Weight Control – If your goal is to lose weight or prevent weight gain as well as avoid problems related to excessive caloric intake, then sugar substitutes are for you. Being non-nutritive – they have virtually no calories, is one of its most appealing aspects. Just imagine a teaspoon of regular sugar is about 4 grams (1 gram = 4 calories) while a 12-ounce sweetened cola contains 10 teaspoons of added sugar, or about 150 calories!
  • Diabetes Mellitus – Diabetics need to regulate their blood sugar level by limiting their sugar intake. This can be resolved by many artificial sweeteners without increasing blood glucose since they are not carbohydrates. Check with your doctor or dietitian first if you have concerns about how these sugar substitutes are labeled and categorized.
  • Dental Care – Xylitol, a sweetener that can actually benefit dental health, prevents bacteria that feed on sugar from eroding teeth since it cannot be fermented. This helps prevent plaque formation and tooth decay.
  • Reactive Hypoglycemia – Individuals with reactive hypoglycemia must avoid high-glycemic foods like white bread. A quick glucose absorption into the bloodstream can fatally cause their blood glucose levels to fall below the required amount for proper brain and body function.

 Common Practice Corner

  • Sugar Alcohols – Also known as “polyols”, this type of sweetener contain calories but is lower than regular sugar. Occurring naturally or manufactured in certain fruits and vegetables, sugar alcohols are also carbohydrates and are FDA-regulated. Replacing sugar on an equal basis, they are used in many processed foods and other products such as toothpaste, baked goods, fruit spreads, and frozen desserts.
  • Novel Sweeteners – Just like “stevia”, novel sweeteners are hard to fit into one category because they are combinations of various types and are differently made. Examples of which are “trehalose” which is naturally found in honey and mushrooms, and the low-carbohydrate sweetener, “tagatose”, which is also manufactured from lactose in dairy products.

Food Industry Corner

Sugar substitutes play a vital role in the U.S. food industry. Highly consumed in America, they have been present in their day to day beverage and food consumption. According to RD Mattes and BM Popkin of “The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2009)”, Americans two years of age and older consumed 375 grams (13 oz) per day of foods with caloric sweeteners (82.3% of Americans) and 585 grams (21 oz) per day of beverages (66% of Americans).

List of Popular Sugar Substitutes by Category

Natural Sweeteners

  • Pure Maple Syrup is one of the healthiest natural sugar substitutes because of its higher antioxidant capacity than sugar. These antioxidants or phenolic compounds are beneficial in the reduction of free radical damage which may cause inflammation and formation of various chronic diseases.
  • Agave Nectar or agave syrup is a GRAs-classified natural sugar substitute by FDA and is marketed as a healthful sweetener. Quickly dissolved, it is often used as tabletop sweeteners for cold beverages such as cocktails, smoothies, and iced teas. It is also said that this nectar is used by Aztecs thousands of years ago as it is a gift from the gods.
  • Dates Sugar is a natural sweetener which is very in high in fiber, potassium, vitamins, and minerals.  They are actual food or fruits that help the body in slowly absorbing sugar and regulate sugar within the body.
  • Honey is one of the best natural sweeteners especially if it’s pure and raw. Used sparingly, it provides many health benefits since it contains amino acids, electrolytes, antioxidants, and antimicrobial compounds.
  • Blackstrap Molasses is an organic highly nutritious sweetener which is rich in calcium, iron, copper, potassium, selenium, manganese, and vitamin B6. It is best for marinades and baking.
  • Coconut Sugar is packed with polyphenols, zinc, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorous, and antioxidants. Being versatile, it is now readily available and is used in many recipes all over the world.

Novel Sweeteners

  • Stevia Extracts, with its brand names Pure Via and Truvia, is an FDA-approved sugar substitute extracted from the leaves of Stevia rebaudiana. These are often used for carbohydrates-controlled diets. It has longer taste duration to that of sugar and has a slower onset taste.
  • Tagatose, an FDA, KFDA (Korea Food and Drug Association), and EFSA-approved  (European Food Safety Authority) sweetener and GRAs-classified by FAO/WHO, is a functional sugar substitute present in dairy products and is 92% as sweet as sugar. Its brand name is Naturlose. Its functional characteristics include low glycemic index and anti-hyperglycemic effect.
  • Trehalose, also known as mycose or tremalose, is a novel sweetener with about 45% the sweetness of sucrose and is found in honey and mushrooms. It is used to treat amyloidosis, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson disease, and tauopathies.

Artificial Sweeteners

  • Acesulfame Potassium, also known as Ace-K, is a non-caloric FDA-approved substance which is 200 times sweeter than sucrose. Its brand names are Sunett and Sweet One. They are often found in processed foods, some medicines, and drinks. It does not contribute to tooth decay and is helpful for diabetics.
  • Aspartame, a low-calorie FDA-approved sugar substitute, is a combination of aspartic acid and phenylalanine which are both amino acids. With its brand names Equal, NatraTaste Blue, and NutraSweet, it is also about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is found in thousands of processed foods, drinks, medicines, and vitamins.
  • Neotame, with its brand name Newtame, is an FDA-approved sweetener made by NutraSweet and has between 7,000 to 13,000 times sweetness than table sugar. Food manufacturers are attracted to use it since only a trace of it is used to achieve the same sweetening while providing a lower impact on blood sugar and fewer empty sugar calories.
  • Saccharin, with brand names Sugar Twin and Sweet ’N Low, is a low-calorie FDA-approved sugar substitute which was accidentally discovered in 1879. It is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar and is found in some medicines, vitamins, and many processed foods and drinks including chewing gum, canned fruit, and soft drinks.
  • Sucralose is a no-calorie FDA-approved sugar substitute and is known for its brand name Splenda. Being 600 times sweeter than sugar, it is used in soft drinks, candies, desserts, juices, sauces, baked goods and canned fruits. It is also present in medicines, vitamins, and nutritional supplements.
  • Advantame, a no-calorie FDA-approved sweetener from Japan’s Ajinomoto Co., is synthesized from isovanillin and aspartame. Generally recognized as safe (GRAs) by the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association (FEMA), it is mainly used in chewing gum, dairy, frozen desserts, and beverages.

Sugar Alcohols

  • Erythritol is a zero-calorie FDA-approved polyol which occurs naturally in some fruit and fermented foods. Despite it being 60-70% as sweet as sucrose, it is non-caloric and is partially absorbed by the body, thus, not affecting blood sugar or cause any tooth decay.
  • Hydrogenated Starch Hydrolysates (HSHs) are sugar alcohols approved by Canada, Japan, and Australia as food ingredient because they provide 40-90% of the sweetness of sugar. They are used as humectants (moisture-retaining ingredient) and as a commercial sweetener.
  • Isomalt, a tooth-friendly FDA-approved sugar alcohol, is advised to be consumed in small quantity. With an energy value of half that of sugars, it is widely used for the production of sugar-free candy.
  • Lactitol, a GRAs-classified sweetener by FDA, is a sugar alcohol which has about 40% of the sweetness of sugar and is used as a replacement bulk sweetener for low calorie foods. Popular for baking, it is used in low food energy or low fat foods such as cookies, ice cream, and sugar-free candies. As a prebiotic, it even promotes colon health.
  • Maltitol is a half-caloric sugar alcohol with 75-90% of the sweetness of sucrose which is often used to replace table sugar. Its brand names are Lesys, Maltisweet, and SweetPearl. Its sweetness makes it an attractive option in candy manufacture, chewing gum, chocolates, baked goods, and ice cream.
  • Mannitol, also known as mannite or manna sugar, is a sugar alcohol derived from mannose, a type of sugar, by reduction. Aside from its many industrial uses, it has several medical uses including the treatment of increased intracranial pressure, elimination of toxins, decrease pressure in the eye, and treatment of fluid buildup.
  • Sorbitol, a sugar alcohol less commonly known as glucitol, is made from corn syrup but is also found in pears, peaches, apples, and prunes. It is often used in diet foods, cough syrups, sugar-free chewing gum, modern cosmetics, mouthwash, and toothpaste.
  • Xylitol, a polyalcohol or sugar alcohol (alditol), is naturally found in low concentrations in fruit and vegetable fibers, berries, oats and mushroom extracts, as well as corn husks and sugar cane bagasse. Aside from being a source of energy, its healthy benefits range from dental care, and prevention of diabetes, ear infection and osteoporosis.

With such an array of sugar substitutes, both natural and artificial, out in the market, it is now time for you to finally make an informed choice. And so the rise of sugar substitutes begins

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