Sugar Substitutes: The Sweet Truth
Sweetening Power: 200 times sweeter than table sugar.
Precautions: Under fire from critics since it’s introduction in 1981, animal studies link this sweetener to cancer and consumers have complained of everything from headaches to depression. But the government considers it safe except for people with phenylketonuria, a rare disorder.
The Sweet Truth: Recently renamed Amino Sweet, the new moniker is unlikely to squash the long time controversy surrounding this sweetener.
Sweetening Power: 300 times sweeter than sugar.
Precautions: Remember those warning labels on foods sweetened with saccharin? Not to worry. In 2000, scientists realized that while saccharin may cause bladder cancer in rats, it doesn’t cause it in humans.
The Sweet Truth: Because of its bitter aftertaste, saccharin is often used with other sweeteners.
Sweetening Power: 600 times the sweetness of sugar.
Precautions: This sweetener is probably the least controversial with no documented adverse side effects. You can bake with it, but it can't compare to using real sugar.
The Sweet Truth: An ingredient in 1500 products, Consumer Reports says 65 percent of American households bought at least one sucralose-containing product in 2008.
Sweetening Power: About 200 times sweeter than table sugar.
Precautions: Since it does resemble saccharin in taste, this sweetener is typically paired with others. While recognized by the government as safe, some critics remain skeptical.
The Sweet Truth: The World Health Organization suggests limiting daily intake to 15mg per kilogram of body weight.
Sweetening Power: Varies.
Precautions: Bacteria in the gut can ferment these undigestible carbs resulting in gas, bloating and diarrhea.
The Sweet Truth: With anywhere from 0.2 to 3 calories per gram (sugar contains 4 calories per gram) sugar-free doesn’t mean calorie-free.
Sweetening Power: About 200 to 300 times sweeter than table sugar.
Precautions: Experts at the Mayo Clinic suggest caution for pregnant women, women who are breast-feeding, and anyone taking medication for hypertension or diabetes. For the latter group, the concern is hypoglycemia or hypotension (low blood pressure).
The Sweet Truth: While leaves of the stevia plant have been used for years, the new extracts haven't so the jury is still out on its safety.
Artificial Sugar in Moderation
But it's also true that these sweeteners are found in foods that have little nutritional value, like diet soda and frozen meals. Several studies have also found a link between sugar substitutes and weight gain. In order to maintain a healthy body, treat sugar substitutes just like sugar, and only consume in moderation.