With the marketplace often crowded with a great many varieties of artificial sweeteners, it is easy to feel the allure of baking with low calorie and calorie-free sugar replacements. Before employing sugar substitutes, it is important to investigate the benefits and potential side-effects of using artificial sweeteners.
Artificial Sweeteners Defined
An artificial sweetener is a group of compounds – natural or chemical – that is designed to mimic the taste and sweetness of sugar without costing as many calories as real sugar. Also popular for consumption by diabetics, artificial sweeteners can often offer the taste of sugar without the risk of causing a rise in blood sugar levels (although it is important to realize some sugar substitutes do contain carbohydrates which can raise blood sugar).
Artificial Sweetener Choices
The United States FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has approved four low-calorie sweeteners, each with an established ADI (Acceptable Daily Intake). Those four sweeteners are Aspartame, Saccharin, Acesulfame K and Sucralose. While sweeteners like Aspartame aren’t used in the world of baking (Aspartame is the sweetener most commonly found in diet soda), a sugar substitute like Sucralose is most easily recognized by its popular brand name of Splenda. Likewise, Saccharin is more recognizable when it’s called Sweet”N Low and Acesulfame K is usually referred to as Sweet One or Sunnett.
Potential Health Concerns
The United States Federal Government’s ADI for each of their approved artificial sweeteners is designed to be at least 100 times less than the smallest amount that might cause health issues. This means the FDA suggests you would need to eat 100 times the limit of 9 to 12 packets of Saccharin a day to be in danger of potentially risky health issues. It is doubtful anyone would ever consume 900 to 1200 packets of Sweet’N Low in a single day, but the limits are there to keep consumers safe nevertheless.
Although long-term studies of artificial sweeteners such as Splenda have yet to occur given the product has only been on store shelves for a few years, as with any artificial substance, the best approach is to use it in moderation, as you would any product that is lacking a significant and studied history.
Natural vs Artificial
While the potential for long-term health concerns can certainly enter into any decision regarding artificial sweeteners, there are many natural sugar substitutes that can be used in place of real sugar, especially in baking. Apple juice concentrate or honey can be used in place of artificial sweeteners or real sugar in many recipes. If you choose to employ honey in your baking, remember that your ingredients should be mixed at room temperature to keep the honey less sticky, and to prevent it from becoming hard and difficult to mix.
It is also important to note that if you are otherwise able to consume real sugar, eating foods that have been baked with it is never harmful if consumed occasionally or in appropriate quantities. Paying attention to phrases such as “serving size” or “recommended serving” means you can eat a few cookies every once in a while without your diet being completely derailed.