This is a topic that comes up often! And with so many products incorporating, there’s good reason to get to know them better! With that being said, this is not a blog to promote or encourage use of them. I write about these for education purposes only. When I am working with someone, I am more concerned with how many products they consume in a day that have any one of these items in it. The idea is to use these very infrequently if at all. And the awareness to gain here, is how often they are used in products. If we are consuming a lot of these in a day, there is a possibility we are lacking adequate nutrition from somewhere else. Balance is everything. For my take on these substitutes, check out ASK NICOLE!
What are these sweeteners exactly? Artificial sweeteners were created to provide a lower calorie option to sweets (as the drive for thinness and diet culture was on the rise) and an alternative to sugar for those with diabetes. They are between 250 and 300x’s sweeter than sugar! Below is a short list of the most common.
- Kicking it off is Saccharin! Saccharin is probably the oldest of the artificial sweeteners. Think Sweet’n Low and the little pink packets! Developed in 1879. Mind blowing how early diet culture began!
- Aspartame – The second developed sweetener. Trying to develop a better product. Better, meaning safer and better as far as after taste, heat stable etc. Think little blue packet or “Equal”! This replaced saccharin in most diet beverages.
- Sucrolose – The third sweetener to attempt improved quality, safety and expanding of its uses. This product became one of the first available to the consumer to actually bake with! With the ability to substitute cup for cup of sweetener vs. sugar.
The others couldn’t perform as sucralose did because the integrity of their product would change significantly when heated. It would become bitter and did not provide the texture that regular sugar does in a product.
- Sugar Alcohols – This next one has gained significant popularity and is available for purchase at most supermarkets. The most common being Erythritol, xylitol, Sorbitol and Mannitol. Sugar alcohols will always end in “ol”. These can be found in protein bars, mixed with other sugar substitutes, cookies, gum etc. The thing about this substance is that it is not absorbed by the body at all. Everyone has their own tolerance level. Meaning, if you exceed that in grams, your body will experience many GI symptoms such as diarrhea, cramping and gas. To be safe (though I am not a fan of these at all), stick to any products adding 5gms or less per serving and limit the amount of servings you have to a day as well as spread them out for higher tolerance. Again, reiterating that I am not supporting the use of these or even suggesting the use of them.
- Stevia Leaf Extract – Stevia leaf extract is the better quality of all the versions of stevia as it’s the purest form. Stevia also offers the ability to create a great product if you bake with it. It too has been replacing some other sweeteners in sodas, yogurts, bars, protein bars and protein powders. Stevia can have a slight bitter taste to it as well, and it is one of the safest alternatives that we have had thus far.
- Monk Fruit Extract – The newest in substitutes. This sweetener is derived from the actual Monk Fruit. It has a brown outer layer similar to a kiwi, and has a brown looking like fruit, that look like larger pomegranate seeds. This fruit has a substance called a mogrosides, which is what contributes to keeping blood sugar level control and serves as an anti-inflammatory agent. Monk fruit is starting to show up many products as well. It is a more expensive alternative. Beware of bagged sweeteners that you can find out there that say they are a monk fruit sweetener. Check the actual ingredients as many of them are mixed with the sugar alcohol, erythritol or xylitol. This makes a different in your baking and consuming…you will feel/taste the sugar alcohol. It is pretty distinct.
The history of these sweeteners is fascinating! And its exciting to see how researchers are finding more and more natural replacements for these!
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Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Nicole is recognized state-wide and nationally as a Registered Dietitian and is also a Certified dietitian through the state of Wisconsin. She is also a Board Certified Sports Dietitian and a Certified Personal Trainer and Physical Fitness Instructor.
Nicole’s areas of expertise include: Wellness and lifestyle coaching, weight management, behavior modification, eating disorders, vegetarian lifestyles, gluten-free living, sports nutrition, recipe and menu design and development.