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April 1, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 3 Faves: 0

Which Sugar Sub Is Right for You?

By Jessica Corwin MPH RDN More Blogs by This Author

Q: Since I am giving up diet soda because of the "poison" it is supposed to be, does that mean I need to give up everything with artificial sweeteners (i.e. gum, candy - not like I eat tons of hard candy, a periodic mint - yogurt, sugar-free this and that)? If so, is the "real" sugar option a periodic option for substitution or what? In my coffee I have always used real sugar. Are any of the subs safe? Please help!

A: Great question and certainly one expressing a common concern felt by many people. The “poison” I believe you are referring to is that of the group of sugar substitutes referred to as artificial sweeteners. These chemically processed or otherwise manmade sweeteners include aspartame (NutraSweet®, Equal®), sucralose (Splenda®), acesulfame potassium, and saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low, Sugar Twin).

A quick internet search of any one of these sweeteners yields a wide range of drastic and contrasting recommendations. Some sources indicating that such ingredients will cause everything from cancer to autism, while others encourage their use for weight loss. So, what is true?

When we stick to the credible health organizations online (American Cancer Association, FDA, etc.) and proven research, the evidence is largely in favor of the safety of such sweeteners. However, there are studies available, largely older, smaller, and animal based studies, that have indicated risk of disease when consumed in large amounts. If this causes concern, I recommend following the sage advice of everything in moderation. By doing so you will remain well within the recommendations (according to the FDA this is 28 packets of Sweet ‘n Low® or Splenda®, and 98 packets of Equal®).

According to the Dietary Guidelines, we should include 8 teaspoons or less of added sugars, an amount easily found in a mere 8 fluid ounces of a sugary beverage. If you choose to stick with your previous choice of white sugar, you will be just fine as long as you aim to include 8 teaspoons or less in your total intake. Sugar provides 15 calories per teaspoon, an amount quite similar to that of brown sugar, honey, and agave –though surprisingly, agave actually has 20 calories per teaspoon! A single teaspoon of a natural sweetener in your morning coffee will not lead to a massive blood sugar spike or overnight weight gain. So, the zero-calorie form will not make a large difference for such a small amount.

Personally, I feel that all sugars, whether man-made or nature-made, are nutrient-poor and not essential to our diet. Therefore we should be including all types of sweeteners in this 8 teaspoon limitation – less is more. Since you have found sweeteners in a variety of areas in your diet (now including bread, teas, instant oatmeal, and more), simply do your best to made small reductions. If you currently have 5 artificially sweetened or naturally sweetened things in your diet per day, try cutting back to only 4.

I do hope this helps make more sense of this topic. With the grocery shelves constantly being bombarded with new products, both artificially and naturally sweetened, I can understand how the choices can become confusing. 

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3 Comments

  • so I have a jar of Truvia in my cupboard - do you think this is a good alternative or just as bad as any other substitute?

  • Truvia is essentially the extracted chemical from the stevia plant. So, the stevia plant would be the most natural and studied form... the extract itself has not been studied as extensively as far as I know.

    What do you think? It is so hard for me to give you a definitive answer without having the science to back it up...

  • Re: Truvia, I think anything processed is worse than natural. I've been reading a blogger who is very into sustainability and trash-free living, and I'm interested in growing my own stevia plants and using the leaves in place of sweeteners for tea and a few recipes.

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