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Do You Know Your Sweetners?


There are many choices for sweetners for your coffee, tea, and even for cooking. We are talking sugar substitutes.

The “oldest” of the sugar substitutes is saccharin. Most of us know it as Sweet’N Low or the “pink one.” It has been around since 1957. Aspartame, commonly known as Equal or NutraSweet or the “blue one” was introduced in 1981. Sucralose was introduced in 1998. It is commonly known as Splenda or the “yellow one.”

The FDA says all three of these are safe to use though there are some who would disagree, citing studies that indicate an increase risk of cancer from its use. Unless you use a large amount (more than two or three packets) each day, then you have minimal risk.

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If you are concerned about that risk, then switch to one of the new natural sugar substitutes. These include sweeteners based on a sugar alcohol or from the stevia plant or from agava.

Sweeteners based on a sugar alcohol include sorbitol, maltitol, and xylitol. These can all lead to gassiness, bloating, or even have a laxative effect. There is another sugar alcohol, erythritol, which does not have these effects. Erythritol-based products include ZSweet and Zerose. Erythritol is 60% to 70% as sweet as table sugar. These new erythritol sweeteners are calorie-free.

Sweeteners made from an extract of the stevia plant has now received FDA approval. Stevia extracts are up to 300 times sweeter than table sugar, so a little will go a long way in sweetening your coffee or tea. It is sold as PureVia and Truvia, but these are “cut” with erythritol, so they’re a lot less sweet than pure stevia. Stevia products are calorie-free.

Products derived from the agave, a plant native to Mexico, are sold in the syrup form and usually referred to as “nectar.” These are not calorie-free. Xagave, an agave product, contains a few more calories than sugar. Sugar has 50 calories per tablespoon whereas Xagave has 56 calories. Xagave is sweeter than sugar, so you should need less of it which may save you calories. One advantage of agave based sweeteners is a more even, less erratic blood-sugar level.

Food and Drug Administration
Cooking with Sugar Substitutes