Sugar substitutes are everywhere in today's society and the choices are quite varied. The food and beverage industry are using the substitutes more and more as they cost a fraction of what natural sweeteners cost. They try and duplicate the sweetness of sugar, but just how good are these substitutes in everyday use and are they safe?
Most people use sugar substitutes today for a variety of reasons such as weight loss, diabetes, care of teeth, avoiding processed foods, and hypoglycemia. And many of the same reasons can be attributed why people don't use sugar.
Sugar is a high calorie food that can easily be overused and can really pack on the pounds if not used in moderation. There are many people who would rather have sugar, especially when used in cooking. Many say the taste just isn't the same and sugar used in baking actually gives texture and helps cakes, etc. rise and brown. There are clearly arguments for and against sugar substitutes, but in the end it will come down to what the user considers more important. Below are some overviews on some of the more popular substitutes available today.
Aspartame: NutraSweet and Equal are the most well known brands of sugar substitute. Aspartame is used in many consumer foods as it is very cheap. It is not recommended for baking as it breaks down when heated and will lose its sweetness making your sweet cake taste more like a biscuit. Although it has been found safe for human consumption, there are many people very vocal about aspartame causing cancer.
Saccharin: The most popular brand is found in restaurants all over the place under the name of Sweet'N Low. It is much sweeter than sugar and used in toothpaste and dietary foods / beverages. It does have a bitter aftertaste and is often mixed with other sweeteners to lessen the bitterness. If used in cooking you should definitely use less than what is called for when using sugar.
Stevia: Stevia has been used for centuries in South America and since the 1970's in Japan as a natural sweetener. It is a natural plant and can be grown by anybody, thus no company can patent it. Many believe that for many years, companies that produced artificial sweeteners put pressure on the FDA to keep stevia out of the United States because they considered it to be too much of a threat. The Coca-Cola Company and PepsiCo played roles in finally bringing stevia into the U.S. Many people call stevia the best sugar substitute out there. Popular brands include Truvia, PureVia, and SweetLeaf.
Sucralose: Splenda is the most well known of the brands and the claims that it is made from sugar is false, it is an artificial sweetener. Sucralose is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar and can be used in baking and fried foods without it breaking down. It is quickly becoming a valid alternative to aspartame. It is used in a wide range of consumer foods and related products.
Xylitol: Xylitol is a sugar alcohol found in the fibers of many fruits and vegetables such as berries and even corn husks. It is not a no calorie alternative, but a low calorie alternative that is just about as equally sweet as sugar with less calories and no aftertaste. Many countries around the world use this sugar substitute, especially in chewing gum. It is also used by pharmaceutical companies in toothpaste, mouthwash, etc. The only drawback is that if taken in excess it can cause diarrhea or gas in some people.
Sorbitol: Sorbitol is a sugar substitute that is a sugar alcohol and has many of the same properties and is used in the same manner as xylitol. It is often used in mouthwash and toothpaste and sometimes used as a thickener in the cosmetics industry. As with xylitol it can stimulate bowel movement when taken in excess.
Erythritol: Erythritol is another sugar alcohol that occurs naturally in fruits. It is not as sweet as sugar (about 70%) so more of it has to be used to achieve that same sweetness. There is less of a chance of it causing digestive related side effects as it is absorbed by the body. It has the same beneficial qualities as other sugar alcohols such as not affecting blood sugar levels and being having almost no calories at all.
Honey: Perhaps the king of sugar substitutes, honey is made by bees using the nectar of flowers. It has about the same sweetness of sugar, although can have slightly different tastes depending on which flowers the bees feed off of. People have been using it for a very long time to sweeten drinks and foods.
Agave Nectar: A sweetener that is produced in Mexico from several species of agave plants. It is similar to honey, but is sweeter and not as thick.
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