You've heard of them all: Sweet 'n' Low, NutraSweet, Equal, Splenda, and now Truvia, SweetLeaf and PureVia. They are all artificial sweeteners, or sugar substitutes, but are they safe to use if you have Diabetes?
Sugar substitutes are made from chemical or natural compounds. They offer the sweetness of table sugar without the all the calories and carbohydrates. Artificial sweeteners may be up to 600 times as sweet as sugar, so you typically need to use much less of a sugar substitute than you do the real thing.
Artificial sweeteners are sold in boxes of individual packets and are readily available in supermarkets and health food stores. In addition, thousands of food products and beverages - even liquid medications - are sweetened with sugar substitutes. Those that are typically have fewer calories than products made with table sugar and are popular among dieters.
Sugar substitutes are also popular among diabetics because they do not raise blood sugar levels. However, just because a product uses an artificial sweetener does not mean it won't affect your blood sugar. Many foods touted as being "sugar-free" may have other ingredients that can increase your blood sugar levels. Flour and sweeteners, such as sorbitol or mannitol, add calories and can affect your blood sugar levels. So if you have Diabetes, be sure to read a product's nutrition label and try to avoid those with "hidden" calories.
There are five types of artificial sweeteners approved by the FDA for use in the United States:
Aspartame, also known as brand names Equal and NutraSweet, is a low calorie sugar substitute that is about 180 -200 times sweeter than table sugar. It's great for adding to drinks, dairy and other cold foods and beverages, but it cannot be used for cooking or baking, as it breaks down when heated and loses much of its sweetness.
A note of caution: aspartame is not safe for those who have the rare hereditary disease called phenylketonuria (PKU). Products that contain aspartame must carry a PKU warning on the label.
Saccharin, also known as brand names Sweet 'N' Low or SugarTwin, is a calorie-free sugar substitute that is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Like aspartame, saccharin breaks down when heated, so it is not ideal for use when baking or cooking.
Sucralose (brand name Splenda) is a zero-calorie artificial sweetener actually made from table sugar. Sucralose is approximately 600 times as sweet as table sugar, twice as sweet as saccharin and more than 3 times as sweet aspartame. Because sucralose does not break down when heated, it is extremely popular for cooking and baking. In fact, sucralose is available in a granulated form that allows for same-volume substitution with table sugar.
The newest non-caloric artificial sweetener to receive FDA approval and hit the market is stevia, marketed as brand names Truvia, SweetLeaf and PureVia. Made from the leaves of a South American shrub, this "natural" sugar substitute is about 300 times sweeter than table sugar and does not break down when heated, so it can be used for baking and cooking.
Another no-calorie sugar substitute that is less well-known commercially is acesulfame potassium, or acesulfame K (K being the symbol for potassium). Acesulfame K is 180-200 times sweeter than table sugar. Marketed as brand names Sunett and Sweet One, acesulfame K is often blended with other sweeteners (usually sucralose or aspartame), particularly in diet sodas. Like sucralose, acesulfame K is stable under heat, allowing it to be used for baking and cooking.
Be Smart About Sugar Substitutes
Just because a product contains a sugar substitute doesn't give you carte blanche to fill up on it. Most of these foods are processed and contain empty calories with little nutrients, so consume these products in moderation. You should always opt first for fresh, wholesome foods such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains.