Artificial Sweeteners have been around more than 100 years, and surprisingly most of them were discovered by accident while researching and experimenting for something else.
But in recent years, there has been a sharp rise in the usage of Non Nutritive sweeteners, due to more people wanting to make healthier choices, to lose weight or to tackle type 2 diabetes, some just follow the herd and go with it.
Although, are they worth the hype? or are they just another trendy fad, which gains popularity but does not possess any health benefits. Let’s go over some of the popular ones.
Founded accidentally by a chemist named James Schlatter in 1965, While working on a drug for gastric ulcers. Aspartame is actually a protein consisting of aspartic acid and phenylalanine which are naturally occurring amino acids.
It contains the same amount of calories as refined sugar which is 4 calories per gram. Although its 200 times sweeter than sugar, meaning it must be used in minuscule amounts to get the same desired sweetness as one gets from 1 teaspoon of refined sugar.
Safety – It has been deemed safe to consume by numerous regulatory agencies around the world. However once digested, it breaks down into methanol, which can be harmful if consumed in large amounts.
It’s important to note that fruits and vegetables have naturally occurring methanols as well. But in minimal amounts. Hence you would need to consume a large amount of aspartame for it cause harm to the body.
Another sweetener that was discovered by accident by Constantin Fahlberg in 1879, making it the first artificial sweetener ever produced.
It is 200 times sweeter than refined sugar, which again means you only need to use a small amount for sweetening your tea, coffee.
Its popularity rose quickly in the 19th century since sugar was related to obesity and diabetes and weight gain, A lot of people quickly started replacing saccharin with refined sugar.
The only downside of saccharin is that it produces a bitter, metallic after taste, this is why its often mixed with aspartame to balance out its taste and used in beverages.
Can it be used for cooking? – Saccharin is not stable under heat, hence it doesn’t make it a good choice for cooking, however, due to its chemical structure, it can be kept in storage for long periods of time
Safety – Saccharine has been under criticism in the 1970s for possibly causing bladder cancer when consumed in large quantities, Although it was later deemed safe by the FDA.
Because the studies in which saccharine was found cancerous was done in rodents and since human have a completely different digestive system compared to rats, its results do not apply here.
Sucralose is made from three hydrogen-oxygen groups with three chlorine atoms.
it’s commonly found in chewing gum, diet drinks. It is around 600 – 1000 times sweeter than refined sugar, making it a popular choice among people seeking a proper alternative for sugar.
Due to its complex structure, 85 % of sucralose remains unabsorbed and goes directly to the kidneys to get excreted out in the urine. Sucralose can also be used for baking.
Safety – Overall it’s safe to consume but can differ from person to person in terms of gut health. Some have also reported having side effects such as bloating, diarrhea, and rashes. It’s also possible that some people might be allergic to it.
One study showed that after 12 weeks of consumption the good gut bacteria was significantly reduced and didn’t reach optimal levels even after the consumption was stopped, pointing to possible negative effects.
However the tests were conducted on rodents, hence nothing can be said definitively regarding its effects on humans.
Compared to other artificial sweeteners, Stevia stands out the most, since it’s not made up of chemicals. Instead, its extracted from the plant Stevia Rebaudian.
Its 200 – 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia contains steviol glycosides, which are absorbed differently by the body.
Glycosides are also known to dilate blood vessels, which results in improved blood flow, which makes it ideal for patients with high blood pressure.
Suitable for Cooking? – Compared to other artificial sweeteners, Stevia is very stable under heat, making it ideal for cooking. Although using too much of it can produce a slightly bitter aftertaste. For which you can use Honey, Corn Syrup, or Fruit Juices.
However, it might take a few tries before you get the grasp of using the right amount of stevia for cooking.
Safety – Stevia has been considered safe for consumption. It’s important to keep in mind that some of Stevia product may be blended with Dextrin and Maltodextrin to disguise its licorice aftertaste. Which might not be suitable for some people, especially for diabetics.
Effects on Diabetics
Aspartame -Study results showed no particular benefit for individuals in terms of weight management. Further studies also concluded that it did not raise blood sugar. However, there haven’t been enough studies conducted in this matter to definitively deem it good for diabetic patients.
Saccharin – While saccharine has been shown to increase blood sugar level after consumption, A study has deemed it had no effect on the liver, making it safe for diabetics to consume and even for people who are obese. Saccharine consumption did not make their condition worse.
Sucralose – It is safe to consume for diabetics since it does not have any effect on blood sugar level, however, keep in mind, Some forms of Sucralose like Splenda might contain Maltodextrin which has a glycemic index of 105.
That would not be suitable for a diabetic person. Therefore it’s important to dig deep into the added ingredients before buying sucralose in sachets.
Stevia – It has basically no effect on blood sugars and the body’s insulin response, making it a good choice for diabetics.
Since it’s extracted from a plant source, it also contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties making it an overall healthy choice for not just for diabetics but also for anyone looking for a replacement of refined sugar.
Although make sure the stevia extracts are from whole-leaf stevia and don’t contain added sugars.
Remember – Switching your sugar alone wont help you manage your Diabetes if the other aspects of your lifestyle are not in alignment with it. Which includes Excessive Drinking, Eating too much Carbs and Not getting enough exercise.
Bottomline – Which one is the better option?
Out of all the above-mentioned sweeteners, Stevia is the more preferable option since it derives from a natural source and has a lot of health benefits attached to it.
However the other sweeteners are not necessarily bad, It can also depend on your taste, digestibility, and overall effect on your health.
Some might not mind the bitter after taste of saccharin, some might prefer it to have a taste exactly like refined sugar. For some, it could also cause gastric problems. Although rare, still a possibility
Hence you might have to do a bit of trial and error and see which one fits better to your liking and also for other aspects such as cooking and overall health.