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Sugar Substitutes: General Information on Sweeteners

  • Published: 2015-09-10 (Revised/Updated 2018-03-26) : Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World
  • Synopsis: Information regarding natural and artificial sweeteners as diabetic substitutes for sugar consumption.

Quote: "Even though there remains a great amount of testing to be performed as new products are offered, much more is now known about sugar substitutes than when the first one, saccharin, was discovered more than a century ago."

Main Document

People with diabetes often have questions concerning sugar substitutes. The subject is polarizing, some people love sugar substitutes while others cannot stand them. Some people with diabetes are concerned about their safety and some people want tips about ways to use them more. For a number of people with diabetes, sugar substitutes, which include both natural and artificial sweeteners, provide solutions for removing excess carbohydrates and calories while still retaining the ability to enjoy sweets.

A sugar substitute is defined as a food additive that provides a sweet taste like that of sugar while containing significantly less food energy. Some sugar substitutes are natural and some are synthetic. Those that are not natural are, in general, called artificial sweeteners.

The fact is, sugar substitutes are among the world's most scientifically tested food products. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has stated sugar substitutes are, 'generally recognized as safe.'

The one sweetener that still has a warning on its labels is, 'aspartame,' which is the sweetener in NutraSweet and Equal Classic. The reason why is because a small population of people, approximately 1 in 25,000 in America, have a genetic condition that prevents the metabolization of, 'phenylalanine,', an amino acid in aspartame.

Even though there remains a great amount of testing to be performed as new products are offered, much more is now known about sugar substitutes than when the first one, saccharin, was discovered more than a century ago.

Which is Better, Real Sugar or Sugar Substitutes?

The answer to this question is, 'it depends.' Both may fit into a healthy eating plan, yet you should limit your intake of both sugar and sugar substitutes.

Where heart health is concerned, short-term studies suggest diet soda is better than regular soda.

A small study in Denmark discovered that healthy people who drank around four cups a day of sugar-sweetened cola over a six month period of time experienced significant increases in belly fat, triglycerides and cholesterol when compared with people who drank aspartame-sweetened cola.

The majority of artificially sweetened foods still have calories and carbohydrates, so it is important to fit them into your daily carbohydrate and calorie counts in the same way you would any other food or drink product.

Sugar Substitutes and Cancer

According to Kantha Shelke, Ph.D., the idea of sugar substitutes causing cancer came up when early studies revealed that high doses of the sweetener, 'cyclamate,' which is banned from food products in America, in combination with saccharin, caused bladder cancer in laboratory animals.

Doctor Shelke made this statement while working for Corvus Blue LLC, a food science and research firm in Chicago. The FDA has since deemed sugar substitutes used in America to be safe based upon extensive animal and human studies.

In addition, studies have not documented negative effects related to the intake of sugar substitutes, even when people have consumed fairly large amounts. Only a few studies have been done in people to evaluate the long-term effects of using sugar substitutes.

The FDA has set acceptable daily intake limits for each sugar substitute. One study showed that the average daily intake of the heaviest users of aspartame was only 5-10% of the average daily intake limitation.

Sugar Substitutes and Baking

At the, 'Better Homes and Gardens Test Kitchen,' recipes were tested using regular granulated or brown sugar.

Upon achieving the results using these sugars, the Kitchen moved on to test a number of sugar substitutes. They had the most success with baking blends such as C&H Light or Splenda Sugar Blend as well as limited success with other brands depending on the length of baking or cooking time.

Splenda Granular was used successfully in a number of recipes and the Kitchen had some success using Equal, Sweet'N Low and Truvia.

Sugar Substitutes and Potential Health Concerns

Sugar substitutes have been under intense scrutiny for decades.

Critics of sugar substitutes believe they cause a number of health issues, to include cancer. The reason is largely due to studies dating back to the 1970's that linked saccharin to bladder cancer in laboratory rats. Because of the studies, saccharin at one time carried a warning label that it might be hazardous to a person's health.

Yet according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, there is no solid scientific evidence that any of the sugar substitutes approved for use in America cause cancer or other forms of serious health issues.

Many research studies confirm that sugar substitutes are generally safe in quantities that are limited, even for women who are pregnant. Due to the results of newer studies, the warning label on saccharin was ended. Sugar substitutes are regulated by the FDA as, 'food additives.' They have to be reviewed and approved by the FDA prior to being presented for sale in America.

In some instances the FDA declares a sugar substitute to be, 'generally recognized as safe (GRAS).' GRAS substances, to include highly refined Stevia, are deemed by qualified professionals based on scientific information as being safe for the use they are intended for, or they have such a long history of common use in foods that they are considered generally safe and do not require FDA approval prior to sale.

The FDA has also established an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for every sugar substitute. The ADI is the maximum amount considered to be safe to consume every day over the course of a person's lifetime. ADI's are intended to be around 100 times less than the smallest amount that may cause a person health concerns.

Sugar Substitutes and Moderate Use

When choosing sugar substitutes it is important to be an educated consumer.

Become informed while looking beyond the hype. Even though sugar substitutes might help with management of a person's weight they certainly are not a, 'magic bullet,' and need to be used in moderation. If you use sugar substitutes to save on calories, be careful not to consume higher calorie foods as a reward for the calories you have saved.

Simply because a food is sold as being, 'sugar-free,' does not mean it is free of calories. If you consume too many sugar-free foods you may still gain weight if they have other ingredients that contain calories. Bear in mind that processed foods, which many times contain sugar substitutes, usually do not offer the same health benefits as whole foods such as vegetables and fruits.

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