As people are constantly trying to cut down on sugar and calorie intake, they often turn to sugar substitutes.  Although the FDA claims many of these to be safe, lots of people worry about the safety of these products.  Truth be told sugar substitutes are hundreds of times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose), so much less goes a long way.  Most are calorie free or close to it and they don’t affect blood sugar.  HOWEVER, there’s no truly long-term research proving they are safe.  Sugar substitutes are not a fix for obesity; a better alternative is to simply cut down on sweets and make other changes little by little.  Putting chemically engineered, highly processed foods in your body is a toss up.  The structure of these products resembles a toxin more so than a molecule of real sugar.  My advice is that if you are craving ‘sweet’, go for the real thing.

Here’s How They Differ:

Sucralose (Splenda) — This is a sugar molecule altered so that it passes through your body undigested and therefore has no calories.  It can be used anywhere you would normally put sugar, as it has become very popular.  It is a synthetic compound made through a complex chemical process.

Stevia extracts (Truvia and PureVia) — Stevia comes from the shrub Stevia rebaudiana, which has been used for many years as a sweetener in South America.  Because of concerns brought about by early animal studies, stevia was banned as a sweetener in the U.S.  Most recent research however has failed to find adverse effects.  So, in 2008 the FDA granted GRAS (generally recognized as safe) status to rebiana, a purified extract of rebaudioside A, one of the plant’s main sweet components.  Marketers boast the stevia extracts (rebiana) are “natural”, though the leaves must be highly processed to isolate the compounds.  Whole-leaf stevia herb, in liquid or powder form, can be sold solely as a dietary supplement, not explicitly as a sweetener.

Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal) — Created from two amino acids, naturally occurring building blocks of protein, this has been around for 30 years.  This is not safe for people with a rare genetic condition called phenylketoneuria (PKU), who lack the ability to process one of the amino acids.  According to the FDA this is safe for everyone else.  Nonetheless, many have linked aspartame to: headaches, brain tumors, dizziness, migraines, depression, insomnia, memory loss, and a number of other conditions.

Neotame — Chemically related to aspartame, though not much sweeter.  People with PKU can consume this.  This is found in many food products, but not available directly to consumers.

Saccharin (Sweet’N Low) — This was linked to bladder cancer in the 1970’s in animal studies; yet other research claimed it was safe for human consumption.

Acesulfame-K (Sunett, Sweet One) — Also called acesulfame potassium.  Often combined with aspartame in soft drinks, this compound passes through the body unchanged, and contains a very small amount of potassium.  Once again, FDA has claimed its safe, but many consumers worry this could be linked to cancer among other conditions.

Sorbitol and Xylitol — These and other sweeteners with the “-ol” are sugar alcohols, which have approximately half the calories of sugar and are absorbed more slowly by the body.  They are often found in chewing gum and sweets because they have a more favorable taste than other noncaloric sweeteners, and may help reduce tooth decay.  They can cause gas, bloating, and diarrhea.