Sugar and sugar substitutes

With many people trying to reduce the amount of added sugar in their diets, the use of sugar substitutes has been on the rise and such sweeteners can be found in a multitude of food products. From ice creams and yogurts to granola bars and beverages, sugar substitutes such as sucralose and aspartame can be located on many product ingredient lists. What exactly are sugar substitutes and how do they vary from added sugar? Read below to find out more!

A sugar substitute is a non-nutritive sweetener. Non-nutritive sweeteners contain a very small amount of calories or are calorie-free. Examples of non-nutritive sweeteners include sucralose, aspartame and saccharin. Sweeteners that provide carbohydrates and calories are known as nutritive sweeteners. Examples of nutritive sweeteners include white sugar, brown sugar, honey, maple syrup, molasses, and agave nectar. Sugar alcohols such as mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol and erythritol are also considered nutritive sweeteners as they contribute carbohydrates, however, they provide about half of the carbohydrates as white sugar. Sugar alcohols are common in chewing gum.

Non-nutritive sweeteners, also known as artificial sweeteners, have been the center of various research studies. Due to the fact that they don’t contribute excess calories or cause spikes in blood glucose levels, they may help support weight loss and promote diabetes control. It is important to point out, however, that certain sugar substitutes can cause gastrointestinal distress for some.

From a safety standpoint, according to the FDA, there are 6 non-nutritive sweeteners that have been approved for use in food:

Aspartame (Equal)

Acesulfame potassium (Sunnet and Sweet One)

Neotame (Newtame)

Saccharin (Sweet and Low)

Sucralose (Splenda)

Advantame

In addition, high purity steviol glycosides (from the Stevia plant) that are used as sweeteners are “generally recognized as safe.”

Overall, if one decides to include sugar substitutes in their diet, I would suggest being mindful of the amount consumed in case gastrointestinal discomfort occurs. If we decide not to include sugar substitutes, it is important to be mindful of how much added sugar our diet contains. Consuming large amounts of added sugar has been linked to many health complications including cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes.

Rachelle Deutz is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center.

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