Most of us love sweets but want to avoid extra calories and tooth decay. Because sweeteners such as sucrose, fructose, honey and brown sugar contribute energy, they are called nutritive sweeteners. Some other nutritive sweeteners are sugar alcohols like mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol. These are popular in sugar-free gums, mints and diabetic candies. Foods with sugar alcohols have health benefits that foods with sugars don’t have such as reduced glycemic response and decreased risk of dental caries. Also, sugar alcohols are absorbed slowly and incompletely from the intestine so they provide less energy than sugar. However, they can attract water into the large intestine and cause diarrhea because they aren’t completely absorbed from the intestine. This is why some people are so sensitive to these types of sugar alcohols.
Alternative sweeteners have been determined as safe for adults, children and individuals with diabetes. It also appears to be safe for pregnant women to consume alternative sweeteners according to the FDA guidelines.
Saccharin: 300 times sweeter than sucrose. Saccharin is sold as “Sweet n’ Low” in the US
Acesulfame-K: a calorie-free sweetener that’s 175 times sweeter than sugar. It’s used to sweeten candies, gums, beverages, instant tea, coffee, gelatins and pudding. It can be used when cooking and the body doesn’t metabolize it, so it’s excreted by the kidneys.
Aspartame: known as the “Equal” packet and NutraSweet. It is one of the most popular alternative sweeteners found in foods and beverages. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It cannot be used in cooking. People who shouldn’t consume aspartame are those with the disease phenylketonuria (PKU). This is a genetic disorder that prevents the breakdown of phenylalanine which is found in aspartame. In a person with PKU, phenylalanine can build up toxic levels in the tissues of the body and cause irreversible brain damage. In the US babies are tested for PKU. Some common food sources include meats and milk.
Sucralose: known as “Splenda”. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar and can be used for cooking. It is used in gum, salad dressings, beverages, gelatin, canned fruits, frozen dairy products and baked goods.
Truvia and PureVia are also 2 zero calorie sweeteners that have been designated by the FDA as safe for use. These are developed from a purified extract of the stevia plant. These two are 300 times sweeter than sugar.