Lately we’ve been hearing sugar substitutes, also called nonnutritive or artificial sweeteners, may promote weight gain and may cause diabetes or make it worse. This could be one of those confusing good-for-you, bad-for-you, nutrition stories. The safety of artificial sweeteners is a decades old debate.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is responsible for evaluating the safety of artificial sweeteners by undergoing rigorous premarket studies and an approval process including how a sweetener is absorbed, metabolized and eliminated, what is an acceptable intake, effects on nutritional status and potential for causing cancer. Researchers have found no clear evidence any artificial sweeteners approved for use in the U.S. cause cancer or other serious health problems in humans. The approval process in other countries also confirms FDA conclusions.
Can sweeteners help with weight loss? Studies show diet drinks help, but weight tends to creep back over time. It is not the diet drink that causes weight regain, but it is more likely people adjust their diet to include calories from other foods. A 12- ounce sugar-sweetened soda provides 150 calories. A diet soda contains zero calories.
Studies of mice and small numbers of people suggest artificial sweeteners decrease healthy gut microbes that help digest food. This may alter the body’s ability to use glucose that could lead to weight gain and then to type 2 diabetes. Until better studies can be done, the gut microbe effect remains unknown. There are multiple factors affecting a person’s weight making it hard to place blame on artificial sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners do not necessarily lead a person to crave more sweets. Animal studies show sugar and sweeteners affect the brain’s reward circuitry differently with sugar having a more powerful and pleasurable effect. Sweeteners are safe for people with diabetes as they do not increase blood sugar. Neither do they contribute to the development of tooth decay. Moderate amounts of artificial sweeteners are acceptable during pregnancy.
A Primer on Artificial Sweeteners
Saccharin – Sweet ‘’Low or Sugar Twin is 200 to 700 times sweeter than sugar, but in large amounts can have a bitter aftertaste. It is heat stable and can be used in baking, cooking and canning although it is best to include some sugar which is necessary for texture and volume. Visit www.sweetnlow.com for recipes.
Aspartame – Equal, Nutrasweet or Sugar Twin is 200 times sweeter than sugar, but not heat stable. It is sometimes combined with saccharin, especially in soft drinks, and is used to sweeten puddings, topping and sugar-free dairy products like yogurt.
Acesulfame – Sunett or Sweet One is 200 times sweeter than sugar and is heat stable and is found in baked goods, frozen desserts, candies and beverages.
Sucralose – Splenda: This sweetener is 600 times sweeter than sugar and is heat stable making it great for baking and is available in a brown sugar version. One cup is 48 calories. www.splenda.com
Neotame is a new generation of sweeteners used in food manufacturing especially in beverages, baked goods, dairy products and chewing gum. Because it is 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar, it may replace more traditionally used sweeteners in food production. www.neotame.com
Stevia is a natural substance found in the stevia leaf called rebaudioside. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar and in combination works well for home baking. Brands include Truvia, Pure Via, Sweetleaf, Stevia in the Raw. Check those websites for more information and recipes.
Cinnamon Oatmeal Apple Crisp Recipe from Splenda
2 cups granny smith apples, peeled and chopped, 1 tsp. cinnamon, 6 packets of Splenda Naturals Stevia Sweetener, divided, ¼ cup Bisquik Heart Smart Baking Mix, 1/2 cup (dry) oatmeal, 1/8 tsp. salt, 1 tablespoon melted butter or margarine.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Stir together apples, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 3 packets of Splenda. Set aside.
Mix remaining packets of Splenda, cinnamon, baking mix, oatmeal, salt and melted butter. Divide apples between two baking dishes. Top with oatmeal mixture. Bake 35-40 minutes until apples are soft. Servings: 2
Written by: Mimi Cunningham, Registered Dietitian-Nutritionist, Diabetes Educator
Mimi Cunningham is a dietitian-nutritionist living in Eagle, Idaho. Her nutrition specialty is diabetes education and management. She loves writing about embracing healthy eating as fun plus a route to good health. She serves as a member of the Idaho Foodbank board of directors addressing food insecurity as a challenge to good health for Idaho children and adults.
On behalf of Smart Strategies for Successful Living, our sincerest appreciation goes to Mimi Cunningham for her contribution to our community website and commitment to healthy living and aging.