Sometimes it seems like sugar is in every single thing we eat. While sugar need not be of concern when eaten in moderation, it can have devastating effects on the body and your metabolism should you eat too much of it. As a result, a seemingly endless number of sugar substitutes now exist so that we can still get the sweetness we crave without consuming actual sugar. Here’s a look at some of the most popular artificial sweeteners on the market.
Aspartame is the zero-calorie sweetener and key ingredient in Equal, however, it’s also found in soft drinks, gum, yogurt and cough drops. It is made by bringing together two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanin. Since its introduction in 1981, aspartame has been one of the most researched artificial sweeteners on the market. That said, it has been accused of causing everything from weight gain to cancer. Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than sugar, however, it’s not recommended for baking as it loses its sweetness when exposed to heat for extended periods of time.
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Neotame is another zero-calorie sweetener commonly found in dairy products, frozen desserts, pudding and fruit juice. Chemically speaking, Neotame is very similar to aspartame, however, it also contains dimethylbutyl, a chemical that blocks the production of phenylalanine—an amino acid that can be hazardous to some individuals. Neotame is also one of the newest artificial sweeteners on the market, having only been approved by the FDA in 2002. Additionally, depending on what it is added to, Neotame is between 7,000 and 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar.
First approved by the FDA in 1988, acesulfame potassium (or Ace-K) is about 200 times sweeter than sugar and has gone almost 30 years without any reported side effects. The white, crystaline powder isn’t broken down or stored in the body and is instead absorbed into one's system before being passed unchanged through their urine. This zero-calorie sweetener is the key ingredient in Sweet One and is found in a number of products, including soft drinks, gelatins and gum.
First introduced in 1879, saccharin (benzoic sulfimide) is the oldest artificial sweetener still in use today. It’s 300 to 500 times sweeter than sugar and this crystaline white powder can be found in everything from toothpaste to candy to canned fruits and vegetables, however, it’s most well known as the key ingredient in Sweet’N Low. While Saccharin was long regarded as a possible carcinogen, it was cleared in 2000 and is considered safe for consumption to this day.
Sucralose is a zero-calorie sweetener found in fruit drinks, canned fruit, chewing gum and syrups. It is produced by procesing sucrose (sugar) through selective chlorination, which removes the substance's caloric output. Unlike other zero-calorie sweeteners, sucralose, which is also the key ingredient in Splenda, is heat stable and is commonly used as a sugar substitute in baking recipes. Sucralose is one of the most extensively studied artificial sweeteners on the market with over 110 safety studies already conducted on it by the FDA.
While sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol and mannitol) aren’t calorie-free–they have 2.6 calories per gram–they don’t have the same decaying effect on your teeth that sugar does. These white, water soluble solids are derived from three existing types of sugar–glucose, sucrose and mannose–and are commonly found in sugar-free candy, gum and desserts that are marketed specifically to diabetics. Sugar alcohols provide fewer calories than sugar, primarily because they are not well absorbed and may even have a laxative effect when consumed in large quantities.
Unlike the aforementioned artificial sweeteners, stevia leaf extract–also called rebiana–is actually a natural product commonly found in diet drinks, yogurts and as the main ingredient in both Truvia and Pure Via. However, much like the artificial sweeteners on this list, stevia is a zero-calorie alternative to sugar and is classified by the FDA as a High-Intensity Sweetener. This is what sets stevia apart from other natural sugar alternatives like honey and agave syrup. While the FDA has not approved raw stevia extracts, Truvia gained a Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) approval in 2008. Additionally, stevia's strongest market is Japan, where it’s been consumed in vast quantities since 1971.