Sugar substitutes are ingredients that replace sugar to add sweetness to foods without added calories. They are often found in products such as cookies, beverages, and yogurt. Which product is best for you is dependent upon your personal taste preferences, and your current state of health.
Saccharin (Sweet N’ Low, Sugar Twin)
Saccharin was one of the first artificial sweeteners on the market, and its safety has been called into question over the years. The FDA has determined that as long as consumption is not excessive, saccharin is safe to use for the general public.
Pros: It is about 300 - 500 times sweeter than sugar without the calories. It is also one of the cheapest and easiest to find of all the sugar substitutes.
Cons: In the past, saccharin has been linked to bladder cancer in laboratory animals. However, after further research, it was found that the process which caused cell damage was specific to mice, and does not appear to occur in humans. Moderate intake is still recommended, with the FDA recommending a maximum intake of 9 - 12 packets of the sweetener per day. Pregnant women, however, should avoid saccharin completely because it has been shown to cross the placenta and remain in fetal tissue.
Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener made by combining two amino acids (the building blocks of protein).
Pros: Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly studied food ingredient and has been found to be safe for human use in moderation. Products that contain aspartame are more easily identified because of an FDA mandate that labeling must indicate its presence in a food.
Cons: Those who have a rare genetic condition called phenylketonuria, or PKU, must avoid one of the components of aspartame. It is not stable for use in cooking.
Splenda is a non-caloric sweetener that is actually made from sugar. However, it has a chloride molecule attached, which makes it unable to be absorbed into the body.
Pros: Sucralose is one of the few artificial sweeteners that is stable when heated, so it can be used in baking and cooking. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar.
Cons: Sucralose belongs to a class of chemicals called organochlorides, of which some types are toxic or carcinogenic. The presence of the chlorine molecule may reduce the risk of toxicity, but some groups still question its safety. Sucralose has a lower acceptable daily intake than other sugar substitutes, with the FDA recommending a maximum of the equivalent of six cans of diet soda a day.
Stevia (PureVia and TruVia)
These newer products have been recently approved by the FDA for general use. The sweeteners are made from an extract of the South American herb called stevia, which was previously sold as a dietary supplement, not a food.
Pros: Overall, the herbal ingredient has been used for many years in other countries and generally appears to be safe. Stevia has about 300 times the sweetness of sugar, and its taste lasts longer than that of sugar. It can be used in cooking.
Cons: At this time, it is not well studied for use in pregnancy or during breastfeeding or in children. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends further testing before recommending its use. Stevia also may have a bitter aftertaste when consumed in high concentrations.