Fake Sugars

Cane sugar, glucose, honey, fructose and dextrose are sugars traditionally used to sweeten a wide variety of foods. Sugars added to foods are known to provide just calories without any other vitamins and minerals.

To address this consumer need for sweetness without the calories, food scientists have developed several alternative sweeteners that help reduce calories and yet provide a sweet taste.

The low-calorie sweeteners currently approved for food use include aspartame, saccharin, acesulfame-k and sucralose.

Aspartame: Used in many foods and beverages and also as a tabletop sweetener. Aspartame also provides 4 calories per gm like sugar but is 200 times sweeter than sugar, so very little of it is required to sweeten foods. It is made up of two amino acids - aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Aspartame breaks down upon heating and therefore loses its sweetness. This limits its use in food preparation. Long-term usage of aspartame is considered safe. People with the metabolic disorder 'phenylketonuria' are advised against the use of aspartame to help control their total dietary intake of the amino acid, phenylalanine, which is also naturally found in milk and meat.

Saccharin: The oldest of low calorie sweeteners, saccharin provides no calories. It was once taken off the approved list by the US FDA as it was shown to cause bladder cancer in rats at very high dosages, but scientific review of recent studies have shown it to be safe for consumption without causing any cancer.

Acesulfame Potassium: Used in many prepared foods such as candies, chewing gums, dry beverage, dessert, dairy products, and also as a table top sweetener. It contains no calories, and is heat stable. In combination with other low- calorie sweeteners, it has a synergetic effect, which helps to improve taste and stability of low calorie foods and beverages.

Sucralose: The only low calorie sweetener that is made from cane sugar. It is approximately 600 times sweeter than sugar. It also provides no calories and is highly stable under a wide variety of processing techniques.

Sugar alcohols: Sugar alcohols like mannitol, sorbitol and xylitol are carbohydrates that provide just 2 -3 calories / gram, compared to 4 calories / gram for sugar. Sugar alcohols are used mainly in diet drinks and diabetic jams. Since sugar alcohols are not completely digested in the human digestive tract, they get fermented in the large intestines by bacteria, and can cause gas, abdominal discomfort, and diarrhea if consumed in large amounts.

Are these low calorie sweeteners really safe for health?
Alternate sweeteners approved for food uses are safe and no known side effects for artificial sweeteners have been documented. Yet nutrition experts feel that sweeteners whether natural or 'fake' can be a part of healthy diet if they are used in moderation. It is definitely good news for weight watchers and diabetic individuals who can now enjoy their sweet foods with low calorie sweeteners without worrying too much about calories.


However, alternate sweeteners are not recommended as a regular part of the diet for healthy, growing children as they need more calorie dense foods to support growth and activity.

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