Sugar substittutes the 411

21 Aug

My best friend’s fiance *cough man-servant cough* commented on my last post concerning the use of sugar substitutes. There has been a lot of concerns when it comes to using sugar alternatives with speculation that it could be a carcinogen. Although studies have not been conclusive about artificial sugars causing cancer, some people have developed reservation when it comes to those pink and blue packets of artificial sugar.

To start things off there are two major classes of sugar substitutes, artificial and natural. Artificial sugars like saccharin, sucralose and aspartame are chemically synthesized in the labs. Natural sugar substitutes like stevia are derived from a plant called Stevia rebaudiana.  Each type of sugar have its own pro and cons.

Artificial sweeteners

Saccharin often sold under the commercial name of Sweet n’ low is a chemical that is produce artificially in the lab that has a sweetness similar but not exactly like sugar. This chemical is 300 times sweeter than normal sucrose (table sugar) and contains near zero calories. The compound is not heat stable. It can withstand the heat of a hot cup of coffee, but does not hold up in cooking and baking. There has been past studies in the past suggest this compound when eaten at excessive amount may cause gastric cancers, but these studies done on rats have not been conclusive.

Aspartame is a common artificial sugar sold under the commercial name of Equal and Nutrasweet this also synthesized chemically. This compound is 200 times sweeter than sucrose. Similar to saccharin, this compound is also not heat stable or ph stable. Although this chemical is very popular sweetener in soda there are some draw backs to this chemical. Most of the problems stems from the component this compound breaks down into after digestion. This compound breaks down into aspartic acid and phenylalanine amino acid. For healthy individual these components pose no health threats. In individuals born with the congenital disease PKU (phenolketouria) causing an inability to breakdown the enzyme phenylalanine due to a enzyme deficiency. People with PKU are unable to properly breakdown phenylalanine and cause a storage build up of this amino acid can cause mental retardation, brain damage and seizures. As long as you do not have PKU, consumption of this chemical should cause no harm

Suralose is an artificial sweetener commonly sold as Splenda. This chemical is completely synthesized in the lab and is 600 times sweeter than sucrose. Unlike saccharin and aspartame, suralose is heat stable and could be used in cooking. There has been a study that suggest the excessive consumption of this chemical can reduce the probiotics in our intestines. However, the credibility of these finds are very questionable since the study was funded the sugar industry. Due to its heat stability, this compound has been very popular sugar substitute in baking goods.

Natural Sweeteners

There are not very many FDA approved natural sweeteners in the market. So far the only natural sweetener commercially sold is stevia that is derived from the plant Stevia rebaudiana. It is heat stable and could be used for cooking. This natural compound has been used in many countries outside of the US as a sugar substitute for a while, but has only recently become available in the US. There has been many contradicting studies on the health effects of stevia. Some studies suggest that it may be a carcinogen but other studies show it may increase insulin sensitivity. At one point, FDA banned the import of stevia under the reason that it is unsafe to use. Stevia is a natural occurring substance and cannot be patented. There is speculation that a lot of the controversy is stirred up by big companies. What the truth is about this natural sweetener is unknown. A major difference between the artificial sweeteners and the natural types, is that natural sweeteners are not zero calorie. The caloric content of natural sweeteners are a fraction of sucrose, but can still be beneficial for those on diets or need to watch their sugar intake.

Are sugar substitutes bad for your health?

There has been a lot of studies concerning each type of sugar alternative with contradicting or inconclusive results. It is important to keep in mind that there are good science practices and bad science practices out there. Not everything we hear in the news about the newest discoveries are 100% true. Many studies are bias from the beginning depending on who is funding their project. The findings by these studies are unreliable. Can there sugar alternative be harmful if consumed in excessive amounts? Yes, I believe they can cause adverse health effects. In fact, everything we eat can cause adverse health effects. Too much water can kill you. Eating too much garlic can cause inflammation, diarrhea, vomiting and thinning of blood. Too much fats, too much sugars or too much of anything will cause adverse health effects.

The key is moderation. Sugar substitutes are helpful for those that want to cut a few extra calories or reduce their sugar intake when they want to sweeten their coffee or eat the occasional scoop of ice cream. In small quantities there are little to no harm in consuming sugar substitutes. Unless you plan on sitting down with a tub of sweet n’ low and eat spoonfuls of it every day, I really would not worry about sprinkling some in my morning coffee. Before I even begin to worry about the adverse health effects of sugar substitutes, the larger concern is with our daily diet and exercise.

There is a nice simple article on the mayo clinic site that does a simple in a nut shell job of covering sugar substitutes. Read here

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3 Responses to “Sugar substittutes the 411”

  1. Julie (A Case of the Runs) August 23, 2011 at 3:37 pm #

    Nice post! I once ate way too much sugar-free candy before going to a meeting, and let’s just say I had to run out at some point. So far, the small amount of Stevia I have tried has been okay.

    If you guys want to do a guest post on my blog, I would totally love that!

    • nerdswithfood August 23, 2011 at 4:11 pm #

      Yes that could happen, especially if there is a lot of sugar alcohols in that sugar free candy. Since sugar alcohols are not really considered sugar by the FDA, they are often found in many products that are labeled as sugar free. The sugar alcohols in excess tend to cause a lot of bloating, diarrhea and gas. Its is not pretty.

  2. vimax results September 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm #

    Hi, I love your weblog. Is there some thing I can do to obtain updates like a subscription or some thing? Im sorry Im not acquainted with RSS?

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