How Sugar Substitutes Stack Up

A new generation of artificial sweeteners PureVia, Truvia, ZSweet, Zerose and Xagave, are here to push the old timers saccharine, aspartame, and sucralose off the market shelves. And the older lot may soon have reason to worry.

Saccharine, sold as Sweet N’ Low and named “the pink one”, was the first artificial sugar substitute to hit the market. That was back in 1957. Then aspartame under the brand names Equal and NutraSweet came along to sweeten teas and beverages. Following on its heels was sucralose, better known as Splenda. In recent years, a new generation of herbal sweeteners has made its appearance on the sugar substitute scene. So far there’s no indication that they’re breathing down the old timer’s necks. But do Saccharine & Co. have reason to worry?

Before evaluating the new guys, let’s see how the old timers were faring before stevia came along.

Saccharine, aspartame, and sucralose – all three have FDA approval. But opinion on their safety is clearly divided. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in particular, has never been impressed with the FDA approval of saccharine and aspartame. They point to the results of various studies they have conducted that have linked these sweeteners to cancer. The Center seems to have no problems with sucralose, though.

Now, let’s look at the recent entrants: PureVia, Truvia, ZSweet, Zerose and Xagave, which are natural sweeteners. PureVia and Truvia are made from the extract of a plant named stevia. Though this plant extract has been used by natives of South America for centuries as a natural sweetener, it has only made its presence felt in the west recently. The FDA has granted approval to these sweeteners. Stevia is 300 times sweeter than table sugar, which means that you need a very small quantity of the stuff to add sweetness to your foods and drinks. To reduce the excessive sweetness of stevia, PureVia and Truvia use erythritol, a sugar alcohol.

Following on the heels of these products have been ZSweet and Zerose. These are based purely on erythritol. The erythritol used in these sweeteners is derived from sugar, but it is calorie free. However, these sugars are only approximately 60-70 percent as sweet as sugar, so you may need to add more of these to add sweetness to your beverages. Unlike other sugar alcohols, erythritol doesn’t cause abdominal bloating. It doesn’t have a laxative effect either. All four artificial sweeteners have been luring dieters, diabetics and anyone else for who sugar is anathema though their websites, which feature conversion tables and recipes for desserts and shakes.

Xagave, an agave product is derived from a plant that is mostly found in Mexico. It is available in a liquid syrupy form called “nectar”. Unlike stevia and erythritol, agave is packed with calories. A tablespoon of agave has 56 calories. In comparison, a tablespoon of sugar contains 50 calories. But agave has a low glycemic index, meaning that it doesn’t send blood sugar levels soaring after consumption. Blood sugar levels soar after consuming sweet foods and drinks.
The fact that agave doesn’t result in this rapid rise of blood sugar levels should make it the number one sweetener, right? Wrong. You see, agave’s low glycemic index could be because it’s high on fructose, a simple sugar that’s been linked to gas, bloating, and other symptoms of an irritable bowel. Fructose can also increase the level of triglyceride levels in the body, which raises the risk of a heart attack. Its adverse effect on certain hormones can cause weight gain and obesity. So if you suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, or have a history of cardiovascular disease, then stevia, erythritol, or the older artificial sweeteners, saccharine, aspartame and sucralose are probably ideal for you.

However, it is best to simply go slow on sweet foods and drinks. It’s not the type of sweetener that decides whether a food is healthy or not. In fact most often, these sweeteners are used in desserts, cakes, cookies and a bunch of other foods that are not that great for you anyway, and should be eaten in moderation.


2 Responses to “How Sugar Substitutes Stack Up”

  1. Bruce Knott on August 26th, 2009 4:13 am

    Do you perhaps know where I can get plants or viable seed of Stevia?

  2. justin bock on September 16th, 2009 12:10 am

    You can find it in the nursery or even Home Depots nursery sometimes. Usually find it in the spring or early summer when all the new plants come out.

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