Sugars, and Sugar Substitutes

November 19, 2009

Sugars, and Sugar Substitutes

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), Americans, on average, eat about 22 teaspoons (110 grams) of added sugars a day! This amounts to about 146 pounds per year, according to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service. Broken down, American’s consume about 45 pounds of refined sugar (about 2 ounces or 56 grams a day), 58 pounds of corn sweeteners (about 2.5 ounces or 70 grams a day) and a little over a pound of honey or maple syrup per year. considers sugars (not found in whole foods like fruits and vegetables) part of the ‘discretionary calories’ category, as these added sugars are not a vital part of a healthy diet. In the August 2009 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers concluded that diets high in added sugars are linked to obesity, high blood pressure, increased triglycerides, and cardiovascular disease. To lower those risks, recommendations to limit sugar intake (based on general caloric allowances) to no more than 5 teaspoons or 25 grams (80 calories) of added sugar a day for women, and no more than 9 teaspoons or 37.5 grams (144 calories) per day for men.

According to the Food & Drug Administration (FDA), “sugars” refer to all caloric sweeteners containing the individual or a combination of– sucrose, fructose and glucose. This includes, sugar from sugar beets and sugar cane, corn sweeteners (high fructose corn syrup, glucose syrup and dextrose), honey, maple syrup, agave syrup and other edible syrups. The artificial or non-caloric sweeteners do not fall into the “sugars” category listed on the Nutrition Facts Panel on food products.
For those who are watching your weight, monitoring glucose levels, trying to limit sugar consumption, or just looking to sweeten up your snack with out adding extra calories, there are many low calorie, high intensity, sugar substitutes to choose from… but these days there are many choices, some might say “too many”; so here’s our 101:

Sugar Substitutes 101 
So just how much “artificial sweeteners” do we each consume? According to Landor Mills Commodities, the equivalent amount of sweeteners (both in our foods and beverages) translates into 16.2 lbs per person per year. And that’s on top of the 146 pounds of all sugars! 

Saccharin (Sweet‘n Low and Necta Sweet): Saccharin was first discovered in 1879 and has been used commercially for about a century (it is the first artificial sweetener). Saccharin starts with methyl anthranilate, a synthesized organic molecule derived from petroleum. Methyl anthranilate is also found in many fruits, especially grapes. Saccharin has no calories and is 300-500 times sweeter than table sugar and is used in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, foods and beverages, tabletop sugar substitutes such as 

Sweet'n Low® and chewing gum. Although saccharin keeps its flavor when heated, it will not provide bulk or volume to baked goods the way table sugar does. 

Aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal): Approved for use in 1981, aspartame is a combination of phenylalanine and aspartic acid, which are two amino acids, which is then combined with methanol, is low in calories (4 calories per gram) and contains no carbohydrates so it will not promote tooth decay. Aspartame is known as NutraSweet® and is also the sweetening ingredient in Equal®. It is used as a tabletop sweetener, in foods and beverages as well as chewing gum and some vitamin and cold preparations. It is approximately 200 times sweeter than sucrose (sugar). When aspartame is heated or stored for long periods, it can lose some of its sweet taste, so add it at the end of cooking; and always check expiration dates on products. For example a can of diet soda that is just packed will differ in sweetness and taste than one that has been stored for a year. Aspartame contains phenylalanine, an amino acid and as a result, people with PKU, a rare genetic disorder that keeps your body from metabolizing phenylalanine properly (every infant is now screened for PKU at birth) need to be careful about consuming aspartame. 

Sucralose (Splenda): Approved for use in 1998, Sucralose is marketed in stores as Splenda® and has no calories. Sucralose is a sugar substitute that is 600 times sweeter than sucrose and is not perceived by the body as a carbohydrate. This sweetener starts out as a cane sugar molecule then substitutes three hydrogen-oxygen groups with three tightly bound chlorine atoms, which make it inert (not broken down), it has no calories and the body does not recognize it as a carbohydrate. It produces no glycemic response. It will not cause tooth decay and has no calories. Sucralose retains its flavor when cooked, but like saccharin, does not add volume to baked goods. 

Acesulfame potassium (Sunette): Abbreviated on food labels as acesulfame K, this sugar substitute was approved for use in the United States in 1988 and marketed under the name Sunette®. It is 200 times sweeter than sugar, has no calories does not promote tooth decay and produces no glycemic response. Acesulfame K can be used as a tabletop sweetener as well as in hot or cold foods and drinks. Like sucralose and saccharin, it does not provide volume and therefore may not work well in some baking recipes. 

Neotame: This is the most intense sweetener to date, with a sweetness of between 7,000 and 13,000 times that of sucrose, and one of the more recent additions to the low-calorie sweetener list. Its use was approved for foods and beverages in the United States in 2002 and is a derivative of dipeptide, and made of amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. It is quickly metabolized and considered very versatile since it works well in both hot and cold foods and as a tabletop sweetener. There are currently no commercially available products made with neotame in the U.S., though many are in development.

Stevia: Stevia rebaudiana, or commonly known as stevia, is an herb in the Chrysanthemum family; and grows as a small shrub in parts of Paraguay and Brazil. Indigenous people of these countries were consuming parts of the stevia plants long before European explorers and settlers “discovered” them. The plant material between the veins of the leaf contains the sweet compounds, which are up to 250-300 times as sweet as sugar. Stevia’s safety has been debated for years and in December 2008, the United States Food and Drug Administration, permitted Rabiana (Reb A), a derivative of the stevia plant safe for use in foods. Truvia and PureVia contain this sweetener as do some diet beverages. 

It is important to note that a loophole in the FDA regulation is that the amount of calories can be rounded down to the nearest 5-calorie value. In the case of the artificial sweeteners which contain no calories, the bulking agents (such as dextrose and maltodextrin) which are used to balance the amount of sweetness to create the appropriate quantity of granules, an average 4 calories per teaspoon is added that will not show up on the package or in the Nutrition Facts panel.

So which one is the right sweetener for you? believes that when it comes to a table top sweetener, the differences are more about personal taste preferences than anything else, although we do recommend you try Stevia if you haven’t yet. We also remind you to consume as many fresh foods and minimally processed foods as possible with little or no added sugars, and if there is an added sugar, look for those foods that list sugar (rather than another type of sweetener) as the ingredient.