CAPSULE REPORT: Nearly 200 million Americans consume sugar-free or low-calorie products at some point, according to the Calorie Control Council. About half of those are frequent users, consuming an average of four of products every day that contain sugar substitutes, a.k.a. artificial sweeteners, a.k.a. manmade sweeteners. Diet sodas make up 29% of the $70-billion annual U.S. soft drink sales, and the percentage is rising, according to Beverage Digest; other beverages, candy and sweet foods, and even frozen meals contain sugar substitutes. Almost every one has been shown to cause cancer in lab tests, but the data are often flawed. With looming obesity, many people would prefer to take their chances with the non-caloric sweeteners. Here, we provide an overview of nutritive sweeteners, or “real” sugars, and the non-nutritive, artificial sweeteners. This is Page 1 of an 11-page article. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.
A recent U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey found that the average American consumes the equivalent of 160 pounds of sugar a year—53 heaping teaspoons of sugar a day. This represents a 30 percent increase in consumption over the early 1980s, and is due in large part to sugar additives in so many prepared and processed foods. To learn more, and see shocking visuals of how much sugar is buried in our foods, visit SugarStacks.com.
People who are dieting, trying to avoid excess sugar or needful of avoiding it for medical reasons seek sugar substitutes in both prepared foods and as tabletop sweeteners. A broad portfolio of sweeteners is used in today’s prepared and manufactured foods, including a dozen or more that fall into the category of low-calorie or no-calorie (a.k.a. zero calorie). With new products brought onto the market regularly, it can be hard to tell the players without a scorecard. (We’ve created the scorecard in subsequent pages of this article, including the glossary.
“Sweeteners” includes both natural products like cane sugar, honey and molasses, which derive principally from plants or other natural materials; as well as artificial sweeteners made through chemical processes, like aspartame, saccharine and sucralose.
Natural sweeteners have nutritional value (they produce energy when metabolized by the body) and are technically known as nutritive sweeteners.
Non-nutritive sweeteners are produced in the lab (i.e., are chemicals). Consumers also call them artificial sweeteners. Non-nutritive, or artificial, sweeteners were created specifically for their lack of calories. While most of the nutritive (natural) sweeteners are as caloric as regular table sugar, one group, the sugar alcohols, is metabolized differently, has significantly lower calories and is used to create many reduced-calorie foods.
Table sugar, or sucrose. Photo by Sanja G. Jenero | SXC.
Nutritive (Natural) Sweeteners
We’ll begin by taking a look at the nutritive group.
These sugars vary widely in their flavor, degree of sweetness and glycemic value. Agave, fructose and some honeys, for example, are lower-glycemic sugars and can be tolerated by some diabetics (plus, honey is sweeter than sugar so less is needed). If you’d like to find a more “beneficial” form of sugar for regular use, consult with your healthcare professional.