Insights & Actions for Healthy Living

Which sugar substitute is best?

That is a question I hear a lot especially from people who are trying to lose or maintain their weight and want to cut out empty calories. Unfortunately many worry that using a sugar substitute or artificial sweetener is not a healthy choice.

Granulated sugar has only 15 calories per teaspoon but we tend not to use only a teaspoon when we add it to our foods like beverages and cereal. Regular sugar can fit into your energy balance plan for the day in the correct portion. It doesn’t give us any nutrients however so is considered an empty calorie food addition.

There are many foods that naturally contain sugar such as fruit which are healthy choices. Many foods have added sugars when processed. We should be trying to avoid sugar sweetened foods using fewer processed items. It is recommended that women limit added sugar to 6 teaspoons a day and men to 9 teaspoons a day in foods.

Using sugar substitutes can reduce this amount even further. Which ‘color’ sweetener (yellow, blue, pink or white packs) you prefer depends on what you will use it for and your personal taste preference.

Types of sweeteners:

  1. Truvia or Stevia – it is 40 times sweeter than sugar with zero calories, it is created using an herb. Stevia has a bitter aftertaste but Truvia has found a way to use the sweetest portion of the plant without this aftertaste. Considered safe but many feel it needs more testing.
  2. Agave – made from a sap of the agave cactus plant into a liquid sweetener similar to honey, sweeter than granulated sugar; contains trace amounts of nutrients
  3. Sweet ‘N low (Saccharin) – no calories, not great for use in baking; controversy about safety as animal testing not validated in humans, many urge people to avoid.
  4. Equal (Aspartame) – zero calories, loses sweetness when heated so not great for baking or even hot beverages, used in as many as 6,000 foods; widely touted to cause medical problems but there has yet to be scientific evidence of harm eaten in moderation. Many urge us to avoid foods containing it especially if you are sensitive to it. Avoid if you have PKU.
  5. Splenda (Sucralose) – no calories, 600 times as sweet as granulated sugar, made from a sugar molecule by chemically altering it. No calories and heat stable so can be used in cooking. Continues to be considered safe as a non-nutritive sweetener by the FDA due to need for further research. CSPI has put it on their avoid list pending results of a new Italian study linking Splenda with leukemia in mice.

When one considers the fact that sugar also contributes to tooth decay, blood sugar spikes and weight gain, it might be a good idea to look for a substitute for granulated and added sugars in your food. The best most healthful course would be to enjoy the taste of fresh foods and beverages without adding any type of sweeteners – artificial or natural.

One strategy to avoid artificial sweeteners or added sugars is to drink plain water or infuse it with the flavor from fruits and vegetables instead of adding any type of additional sweeteners. Citrus, melon, cucumber, kiwi, strawberries and other produce are flavorful add ins to water!

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