Consumers should be good label readers, especially if they have diabetes mellitus or high blood pressure. Women who are pregnant or lactating should avoid non-caloric artificial sweeteners and stevia until more safety-related information is known. All of us should reduce our intake of refined sugars.
Calorie-free artificial sweeteners offer an obvious benefit over table sugar for calorie-conscious individuals. The American Dietetic Association´s advice boils down to ¨Everything in moderation.¨ Caloric sweeteners In general, refined sugars convert to simple sugars that can be burned quickly in our bodies as fuel. Caloric sweeteners are everywhere -- examples include sucrose (table sugar, refined sugar made from sugar cane or beets); dextrose (glucose); turbinado (raw/unprocessed sugar); Sucanat (dark non-refined cane sugar); brown rice syrup; barley malt; date sugar; honey; maple syrup; and molasses. Sucrose and fructose are considered nutritive sweeteners and generally recognized as safe by the FDA.
Fructose is found in honey and many fruits and vegetables. High fructose intake might cause hypertriglyceridemia and upset stomach in some people.
High fructose corn syrup, hidden in many processed foods, can cause bad cholesterol (LDL) to increase in our bodies with repeated consumption. If you have high cholesterol or high triglycerides, it would be wise to avoid products containing fructose corn syrup.
Honey should not be given to babies younger than 1 year of age or to adults with compromised immune systems. Infrequently, honey can contain Clostridium botulinum spores that can cause botulism.
Non-caloric natural stevia Stevia, an herb from the Asteraceae family, was first discovered in Paraguay in the 16th century. In 1975 stevia leaves were approved in Japan as a sweetener. In the U.S., stevia is regulated as a dietary supplement.
The active ingredient in stevia, Stevioside, is 300 times sweeter than sucrose. Stevia is heat stable and can be used in cooking but might cause low blood sugar and low blood pressure in people suffering from diabetes mellitus and hypertension, respectively. Human clinical studies are lacking with the product, so long-term effects are largely unknown.
It´s prudent to talk with your physician or pharmacist before consuming stevia. Interestingly, if you´re allergic to ragweed you might have cross sensitivity to stevia and shouldn´t consume it. Non-caloric artificial sweeteners
Saccharin: It´s the oldest artificial sweetener, having been around since 1879, and is 700 times sweeter than table sugar. In 1977 the FDA proposed a ban on Saccharin based on studies in rats that developed bladder cancer from high doses, but the National Cancer Institute later issued a statement that the mechanism for the cancer´s cause in rats wasn´t pertinent to humans.
Since 2001, Saccharin is no longer considered a cancer-causing agent.
Aspartame: It´s 200 times sweeter than table sugar and was first FDA approved in 1981, becoming a general use sweetener in all foods and drinks in 1996. Although it can be used in cooking, it loses its sweetness when baked at high temperatures.
Aspartame is metabolized to methanol, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Due to the latter constituent, people with phenylketonuria shouldn´t consume aspartame. According to the FDA, there is ¨no scientific evidence supporting a link between Aspartame and any type of cancer.¨ More than 100 studies support aspartame´s safety when used in moderation.
Still, aspartame might cause other unwanted effects including depression and headaches with long-term use. Aspartic acid has been associated with vision problems with prolonged consumption. Too much phenylalanine can cause seizures, insomnia and increased PMS symptoms due to a reduction in serotonin.
Sucralose: Marketed as Splenda, it´s 600 to 1,000 times sweeter than table sugar and, in fact, is actually manufactured from sugar. Splenda contains a combination of dextrose, sucralose and maltodextrin. Sucralose isn´t digested by the body.
It has been around since 1998 and became a general purpose sweetener for use in foods in the USA in 1999. The current thought is that Sucralose is not carcinogenic; it contains chlorine, a chemical that´s potentially carcinogenic in higher doses over prolonged time periods.
Acesulfane-K: Approved by the FDA in 1988, it´s a non-caloric sweetener that´s 200 times sweeter than table sugar. In 2003 it was approved for general use in foods with the exception of poultry and meat. Its safety has been studied in more than 90 trials.
Neotame: It´s 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar and was FDA approved in 2002. It´s structurally similar to aspartame but is not contraindicated in people with phenylketonuria. Studies support the safety of Neotame.
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