With so many low-calories sweeteners in the market it can be hard to decide whether we should keep using sugar or switch and save some calories. In this post I will list some of the categories of low-calorie sweeteners, their known effects, and the beliefs surrounding them so that you can make an informed decision about whether or not to use them.
What Low-Cal Sweeteners Are Not
Sugar is sugar. Low- calorie sweeteners are not sugar.
So while alternative sweeteners like Agave, Coconut Sugar, or Honey can be considered healthier than sugar, they are still at their most basic lever, sugar. They're called natural caloric sweeteners. That is because they are still made up of simple carbohydrates that break down in the same way as sugar does when you eat them. While they may have other health benefits, they don't fall into the "Low-Calorie Sweetener" category because they are not low in calories. Although some people can be easily fooled by marketing and packaging that suggests that.
Low-calorie does not automatically equal healthy, and nutritious does not automatically equal low-calorie. In order to understand low-calorie sweeteners, we need to understand that they are not chemically the same as sugar, they just happen to taste like sugar (ish).
Sugar is the name we give to simple carbohydrates. Carbohydrates come in complex and simple versions. So one glucose molecule is a MONOsacharide, two of them are a DIsacharide, and many glucose molecules are called POLYsacharides. Table sugar is specifically a disacharide called sucrose. So when you eat table sugar it breaks down into glucose which gives you calories. Carbohydrates account for 4 kilocalories per gram.
The types of sugars are:
Low-Calorie sweeteners on the other hand don't give your body calories or they give you a much smaller amount. That is because they are built differently than regular carbohydrates and your body processes them differently.
Natural vs. Artificial
The two main categories of low-cal sweeteners are natural and artificial. Natural sweeteners are derived from natural sources like plants. Artificial sweeteners are man made. Once made into sweeteners they are both technically processed and technically all chemicals come from somewhere in nature so these categories tend to be used as ways to market the products as being better than others. Not all natural products are safer than man made ones and so it is important to learn about the specifics of each product rather than only buying products because they say Natural on them.
You have to wonder just how scientists found out these substances are sweet, like, what did they taste in order to find out??? There are 3 major artificial sweeteners that are commonly used these days so I will focus on those. While there is always new science going into creating new low-calorie stuff for us, these products do have to go through testing and the FDA before being allowed to go out into the market or for them to become popular.
So these 3 are the commonly used ones and the ones that are talked about the most when referring to Zero-Cal.
Aspartame (Equal) Blue Packet
Sucralose (Splenda) Yellow Packet
Saccharine (Sweet'N Low) Pink Packet
All three of these sweeteners are classified as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) by the FDA. Each of them has their own set of rules when it comes to how they can or should be used. For example aspartame loses its sweetness when heated so its not suited for baking but sucralose is pretty stable and is marketed as the best for baking.
All three of these are considered high-intensity sweeteners because they are 200 -700 times sweeter than sugar. This means that you only have to use a tiny amount in order to get the same sweet flavor. Although, they do tend to have an aftertaste so that super sweetness does come with a slight different flavor. Usually these flavor differences are something that you can get used to if you use them often.
When it comes to safety, the major concern is for people who have a disorder called phenylketonuria because aspartame can be unsafe for them but for the most part people don't need to worry about this because its a disorder that you are aware of from a very young age. Apart from a lot of conspiracy theory, aspartame, is considered to be safe in the appropriate amounts.
"Aspartame is one of the most exhaustively studied substances in the human food supply, with more than 100 studies supporting its safety. FDA scientists have reviewed scientific data regarding the safety of aspartame in food and concluded that it is safe for the general population under certain conditions. However, people with a rare hereditary disease known as phenylketonuria (PKU) have a difficult time metabolizing phenylalanine, a component of aspartame, and should control their intake of phenylalanine from all sources, including aspartame."
Sugar Alcohols are carbohydrates that are found in plants that, while having the structure of a carbohydrate, are not digested the same way in our body, leading their calories to not be absorbed.
These are the main ones:
Sugar alcohols are becoming more popular and have been used in products like chewing gum for some time. They are usually not as sweet as artificial sweeteners and some of them are even slightly less sweet than sugar. Some have been shown to cause digestive discomfort like bloating if eaten in large amounts. While erythritol is one of the sugar alcohols that has both a low calorie effect and low GI effect, some of the other sugar alcohols have been found to have a high GI effect even with low calorie absorption. So that means that if you are watching your blood sugar, you may want to be careful. They are, though, generally recognized as safe as well.
Natural Low Calorie Sweeteners
These sweeteners are also found in plants but they are not carbohydrates so our bodies can't get calories from them. These sweeteners tend to have other health benefits as well and don't have a GI effect. These sweeteners also tend to be much sweeter than sugar and each one has its own rules when it comes to how to use them. They sound great right, well a downfall is that because they are less popular, they are more expensive and can be harder to find but, Stevia is becoming more and more afordable!
Luo Han Guo
So should I use them???
Whether or not to use zero calorie sweeteners really comes down to your specific needs and wants. You basically have to make a PRO/CON list.
These are some of the questions I ask myself:
Does it (the food or drink) have to be sweet?
I personally can't drink black unswee