04 Apr 2016
Let’s take a look at some common artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes.
A native plant of Paraguay, the stevia plant is said to be up to 300 times sweeter than sugar, yet contains no calories and has barely any effect on blood glucose levels. It came onto the market in Australia in 2008 as a natural sweetener after decades of use in Japan. However, Dr Alan Barclay, spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia says that what we buy at the supermarket is not strictly ‘natural’. Rather a “a highly purified extract that is usually blended with sugar alcohols and oligosaccharides such as dextrins."
As stevia can have a bitter aftertaste, it needs to be mixed with sugar, sugar alcohols, lactose or other compounds to make it palatable.
There is currently no evidence to suggest stevia is unsafe for consumption but beware of other additives in the brand you use. The World Health Organization recommends consuming a maximum of 4mg per kilogram of body weight per day.
Discovered in 1965, aspartame is a chemically synthesised compound that is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Of all sugar substitutes available, it is said to have the closest taste profile to sugar, with an aftertaste that lasts longer than that of regular sugar.
Reviews in 2010 and 2013 also concluded that aspartame poses no public health and safety concerns for consumers.
Discovered in 1937, sodium cyclamate was originally an anti-fever medication. It was first marketed in the United States in 1958 to diabetics as a substitute for sugar.
A 1969 study linked cyclamate use to bladder cancer in rats. As a result, the US restricted the use of cyclamate. Despite subsequent studies being unable to replicate the results of the 1969 research, cyclamate remains banned in the United States.
Food Standards Australia and New Zealand conducted a safety assessment which concluded that a daily intake of 11mg/kg body weight is not associated with an increased risk of cancer.
A sugar alcohol that is found in fruit and vegetables, xylitol is roughly as sweet as sugar, but contains 40% less kilojoules. It’s considered to be “tooth-friendly”, with studies showing chewing gum containing xylitol can reduce dental cavities by up to 70%. It’s also been shown to help with some ear and throat infections.
Xylitol is considered safe for human consumption, although high doses can have a laxative effect. It is toxic to dogs and some wild birds.
Most commonly known under the brand name Splenda, sucralose is 600-1000 times sweeter than sugar. It is derived by chlorinating sugar and changing its molecular structure. First discovered in 1976, it was approved for sale in Australia in 1993.
Although one study has linked sucralose consumption to leukaemia in rats, over 100 other studies have shown no risks.
Saccharin is popularly known in the United States by the brand name Sweet’n Low. It was first discovered in 1879 by a scientist working on coal-tar derivatives. It’s roughly 300 times sweeter than sugar but has a metallic aftertaste.
Despite many attempts to link saccharin to cancer in rats, it is considered safe to consume.
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