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A guide to sugar substitutes
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Your Everything Guide to Sugar Substitutes

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Do you have a sweet tooth? Nothing wrong with that, you’re wired to like sweets. But, you might be concerned about what sugar does to your health, and you’re looking for a sugar substitute. 

Recently, sugar substitutes have become more popular as people look for ways to sweeten foods without piling on the calories or feeling the sugar highs and lows.  

What is a Sugar Substitute?

Sugar substitutes are ingredients that can sweeten foods and drinks without adding calories. 

There are many natural and artificial sugar substitutes out there, but not all of them have the same flavor or effect on your body. 

For example, some sugar substitutes contain chemicals that may be harmful if consumed in large amounts, so it is essential to do your homework before consuming them.

How are Sugar Substitutes Developed?

Some sugar substitutes are natural, like monk fruit sweetener that comes from monk fruit, or xylitol that comes from birch.

Others are created in a lab. Some sugar substitutes were discovered by accident, but most modern-day substitutes have been developed with a specific purpose in mind. Each unique ingredient has its properties and flavor that it brings to the table.

Although sugar substitutes may be a safe alternative to regular sweeteners out there, some of them do contain chemicals and additives that may not be good for your health. Let's take a closer look at some of today's most popular sugar substitutes and see if they are worth it.

Sucralose (brand name Splenda®)

Sucralose is one of the newest sugar substitutes to hit the shelves. It was first discovered accidentally in 1976 by a scientist named Jim Schlatter, working for Tate & Lyle, a British sugar refiner. Since then, it has been refined and marketed as an alternative sweetener with many unique properties.

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener made from sugar and approved by the FDA for use in food products. It is 200 times sweeter than regular sugar, so you can use it to sweeten foods without adding any calories. It does not have a bitter aftertaste and can also be used in cooking and baking, although some nutritionists recommend against using it in high heat situations.

What are the Side Effects of Sucralose?

Many reports have been made that people who consume large quantities of sucralose can experience side effects like stomach cramps and diarrhea.

Stevia

Stevia is an all-natural sweetener extracted from the leaves of a plant. It has been widely used in various cultures as traditional medicine, and as a sugar substitute in South America. Still, it has only recently become popular in other parts of the world thanks to its natural and zero-calorie properties.

While many swear by Stevia's sugary taste, there have been reported cases of bloating, upset stomach, and in rare instances, nausea from consuming too much Stevia in a portion.

The FDA has set the acceptable daily intake (ADI) of stevia at 4 milligrams per kilogram of a person's body weight.

What are the Side Effects of Stevia?

Stevia is all-natural and has been used for centuries as a sugar alternative, but it does have side effects. It can cause bloating or nausea when consumed in large quantities because of its high fiber content.

Acesulfame Potassium 

Acesulfame potassium, commonly known as acesulfame-K or Ace-K, is another artificial sugar substitute. It was discovered in 1967, and it has been widely used around the world since 1988.

Ace-K tastes very much like regular sugar, so you can use it as a direct replacement for sugar one-to-one with no adjustments to your recipe. The FDA has set the acceptable daily intake of ace-K at 15 milligrams per kilogram of your body weight.

What are the Side Effects of Acesulfame Potassium?

Ace-K is known to contain the carcinogen known as methylene chloride. While not dangerous in small doses, research does potentially show that there can be side effects such as nausea, headaches, confusion, liver damage, and more. However, the FDA at this time has not taken further steps to limit ace-K on the market.

Monk Fruit (brand name Lakanto®)

Monk fruit, also known as the Lo Han Guo, is an all-natural sweetener that has been used in China for centuries. The extract from monk fruit is nearly 200 times sweeter than regular sugar, so it does not take much to achieve a desired level of sweetness. Some believe monk fruit can help suppress appetite and improve energy since it contains antioxidants.

The monk fruit sweetness is found in compounds called mogrosides that reside within the flesh of the fruit. Monk fruit extract contains no calories per serving and is deemed Generally Recognized as Safe by the FDA.

What are the Side Effects of Monk Fruit?

Monk fruit does not have a flavor aftertaste when used as an alternative sweetener. Some reports have been made that it causes stomach upset, but that could be because it is often combined with erythritol, which is associated with intolerance in some people. 

Tagatose

Rather than a substitute for sucrose, Tagatose is a fructose substitute that is reported to be sweeter than sucrose. Tagatose can be found in small traces in some apples, pineapples, and other fruit. The FDA classifies tagatose as generally safe for use in food.

Tagatose does have a low glycemic index (which is vital to diabetics and others who follow restricted diets), but it does not provide the same sweetness as sugar, so you need to use more to achieve the desired flavor. 

It also has a very high melting point which means it will not help your ice cream remain soft when sitting on the shelf in your store.

What are the Side Effects of Tagatose?

There have been no reports of any side effects from the medicinal or daily use of tagatose, but individuals who are allergic to galactose should avoid using this particular sweetener. Also, it’s not calorie-free, so you need to consider that with your diet.

Aspartame (brand names NutraSweet®, Equal®)

Aspartame was developed as a sugar substitute by accident during the investigation into an anti-ulcer drug. Its popularity has exploded over the years, and you likely have eaten or drank something that contains aspartame without even knowing it.

Aspartame can also be found in medicines, vitamins, and chewing gum. It is 200 times sweeter than regular sugar and is also known as E951 in the European Union.

What are the Side Effects of Aspartame?

Aspartame side effects can include headaches, stomach illnesses, mood swings, and more. Diabetics may be advised to avoid using products that contain aspartame since it could potentially affect their blood sugar levels.

Saccharin (brand name Sweet 'N Low®)

Saccharin has been around for over 100 years now and was the first alternative sweetener to be produced. It is a little more than twice as sweet as sugar, but it does have calories, so you need to make sure not to use too much of this particular sweetener in your food or drinks.

Saccharin was first discovered in 1879 by a chemist working for Johns Hopkins University. When ingested, it breaks down into a product very similar to sugar and is considered safe by the FDA.

What are the Side Effects of Saccharin?

Some people may experience nausea, headaches, or dizziness if high amounts are consumed, but these side effects are rare.

The FDA approved saccharin for use in foods and drugs in the 1970s but now claims it could cause cancer, heart disease, and strokes. However, research has shown that the cancerous results found in tests with lab rats have not translated to humans, so saccharin is still available on the market.

Xylitol

Xylitol is a natural sweetener derived from fruits and berries. Xylitol has become popular in some countries as a replacement for sugar. It looks like sugar but is actually 75% sweeter per gram, so you’ll have to do a little calculation to use it as a sugar replacement in recipes.

Like many other artificial sweeteners, you can use it for baking or cooking with it if you want to control your caloric intake. It also has some positive side effects on your teeth, making it an ideal sweetener for diabetics.

What are the Side Effects of Xylitol?

Xylitol does not have any significant side effects, but like many other sugar substitutes, it can cause stomach problems if too much is consumed at one time. It also can reduce the absorption of medicines in your body, so speak with your doctor or pharmacist about using xylitol with your prescriptions.

Sorbitol, Isomalt, Matitol (Sugar Alcohols)

Sugar alcohols have a similar sweetness to glucose (which itself is not very sweet), but it can be combined with other ingredients to improve its taste. 

Many people use sugar alcohols as alternatives for sugar due to various reasons such as diabetes, dental health, or reduced calories.

Sugar alcohols contain a variety of types of sugar substitutes, including the following:

  • Isomalt (ClearCut Isomalt, Decomalt, DiabetiSweet, Hydrogenated Isomaltulose)
  • Lactitol
  • Maltitol (Syrup, Powder, Glucose Syrup, Hydrogenated Maltose)
  • Mannitol
  • Erythritol

What are the Side Effects of Sugar Alcohols?

Sugar alcohol can cause digestive upset in larger doses. 

Polydextrose

Polydextrose is a sweet, odorless, and digestible substance that makes it possible to replicate the texture and volume of sugar without its flavor or calories. 

Instead of being metabolized as a carbohydrate, polydextrose goes through your digestive system mostly unchanged. It can also be used instead of corn syrups and other sugar substitutes.

What are the Side Effects of Polydextrose?

There are no reported side effects for polydextrose, which is always a positive thing in the world of food additives. It’s not one of the more common sweaters you’ll find in stores.

  1. Cyclamate (brand name Sucaryl)

Known as Calcium cyclamate, Cologran, and Sucaryl, Cyclamate is an artificial sweetener that has been around for some time now. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar, so just a tiny amount can be used in place of sugar to give food and drinks a very sweet flavor without adding any calories or affecting blood glucose levels. 

It's ideal for people with diabetes who want to eat sweet foods without worrying about increasing their glucose levels.

What are the Side Effects of Cyclamate?

Cyclamate can cause side effects such as diarrhea and bloat. Children should avoid this substance entirely since they tend to be more sensitive than adults concerning new additives in their diet. 

It is also unknown how cyclamate interacts with other medications, so it's best to avoid using this substance if you are taking any prescription drugs regularly.

Should I Use A Sugar Substitute?

A sugar substitute can be a good choice for people who have diabetes or are trying to lose weight. There has been much research in the field, and most experts agree that artificial sweeteners are safer than sugar. However, you still must exercise caution when selecting your food options since each has its characteristics and side effects that you may not be aware of.

Substitutes such as monk fruit, with its natural derivative and lack of calories, are a great way to sweeten up a meal without worrying about the benefits of sugar.

The best course of action is to find a healthy balance with sugar intake and choose your food wisely. Sugar has been linked to health problems, so it is better to limit your information and replace it with an alternative that you know is safe!

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