It seems that every few years, a new sugar substitute comes on the market promising zero calories without compromising taste or sweetness. In recent decades, these claims were generally followed by frightening revelations of carcinogenic effects or other ill health effects.
There are a variety of reasons to seek sugar substitutes, and a similar variety of options available. Discussed below are why these imitators are constantly in demand and the best (and safest) choices for the savvy consumer.
Reasons To Use Sugar Substitutes
Wishing to reduce sugar intake is hardly anything new. The advent of processed foods and refined sugars has led to an absolute explosion of the ingredient’s consumption. This has led to diabetes, obesity, and a variety of other health epidemics that seem in no hurry to solve themselves.
Individuals most often seek out sugar substitutes when attempting to lose weight, but there are a variety of other reasons that someone may want or need to eliminate sugar from their diet. Sugar substitutes, unlike real sugars, do not harm the teeth and some (like Xylitol) actually provide dental benefits. Those with diabetes or hypoglycemia may simply need to avoid sugar for medical reasons. Sugar substitutes are also cheaper than real sugar, and may be sought out for those looking to improve their health on a budget.
4 Healthy Alternatives
1. Aspartame has been used as a sugar substitute since the mid-1960’s. It is approximately two hundred times as sweet as conventional sugar and has a wide variety of uses. It cannot, however, sustain very high temperatures and is not recommended for baking or most cooking. Over the years, quite a few negative health claims have been levied on it.
As a consequence, aspartame has become one of the most intensely studied food ingredients in history. After practically thousands of studies, a hundred different panels and regulatory agencies have deemed it perfectly safe for consumption at current levels.
2. Cyclamate was banned in the 1970’s because of its link to bladder cancer but is still used in many parts of Europe.
3. Saccharin is one of the oldest sugar substitutes, having been discovered in 1879. It is up to 500 times as sweet as sugar, but has a slightly bitter aftertaste that is generally eliminated by blending it with other sweeteners. For a few decades, it required a warning label because it was linked to bladder cancer in rats. Eventually, however, it was discovered that this link was caused through a mechanism that did not exist in humans and Saccharin was deemed safe to use.
4. Stevia, an all natural sugar substitute derived from a plant, has been used around the world for decades and has only recently made its way to the United States. The FDA had issued a ban on it even though it was provided with significant evidence that Stevia had no ill health effects. In December 2008, this ban was finally lifted and Stevia products finally entered the US marketplace.
Sucralose, coming in at a whopping 600 times the sweetness of sugar, was approved for use in 1998. Unlike other substitutes, it remains stable at high temperatures and can be used for cooking, baking, and frying. Splenda, perhaps the most popular sucralose product, has repeatedly come under fire for its marketing slogan “Splenda is made from sugar, so it tastes like sugar”. It is actually not made from sugar, and contains replacement chlorine atoms. There has been no conclusive evidence that sucralose has any ill health effects.