Sweet deception: the skinny on sugar substitutes
Published Wednesday, August 6, 2014 6:00AM PDT
***Story originally aired March 11, 2014***
The sweetener market has exploded in North America, raking in more than $10 billion a year. That growing popularity has several brands vying for a bigger piece of the market, trying to lure in those who have a sweet tooth, but don’t want all of the calories of sugar.
"It can save us some calories and still allows us to have a food that we love or a beverage that we love and it tastes almost the same. Why not give it a try and see if it works?" said dietician Maria Thomas.
Grocery store shelves are filled with sugar alternatives, ranging from natural, no-calorie sweeteners to non-nutritive, artificial sugar substitutes. We took a look at some of the most popular options.
Stevia is a no-calorie plant based sugar substitute that's been used to sweeten food for centuries. It grows in Paraguay and Brazil and is 200 times sweeter than sugar.
Sweeteners like Sugar Twin have been around for decades and are made with a chemical called aspartame.
"It's made from amino acids. It's been around for over thirty years. It's been tested like crazy, and it's generally considered quite safe," said Thomas.
The sweetener Splenda is made from sucralose. It’s 600 times sweeter than sugar and can be used for baking.
A natural sweetener called Xylitol can also be found on store shelves. It’s made from birch and poplar trees. It looks like sugar, tastes like sugar, but it is low calorie and even claims to prevent cavities.
A new company called Xyla is mounting an aggressive public relations campaign to sell its new line of products with Xylitol.
"It's low glycemic and safe for diabetics. It's 40 per cent less calories and 75 per cent less carbs than sugar," said Julie Reid, director of sales, Xylitol Canada.
Many dentists recommend chewing gum sweetened with xylitol, because unlike sugar, the natural sweetener can't be broken down by the bacteria in your mouth.
"Those bacteria can't grow and thrive and produce acids that cause the holes in your tooth or cause the tooth decay," said dentist Dr. Geoff Gillespie.
But it's not all good news. Too much xylitol can cause gastro intestinal distress like diarrhea.
So if you're looking to cut sugar from your diet, what's the safest sweetener option?
"All of the sweeteners that are approved for use in Canada have to go through rigorous testing, and they are considered safe," said Thomas.
Still, a lot of people are leery of artificial sweeteners and they may not be a wise choice if you’re trying to lose weight.
A 2004 study in rats found that low calorie sweeteners caused the animals to overeat, possibly because of a disconnect between the perceived sweetness and the expected calories from sugar. The author of that study suggested people who use artificial sweeteners may also suffer from health problems linked to excess sugar, like metabolic syndrome, which is a precursor to diabetes.
And a note of warning: Xylitol can cause vomiting and dizzyness if ingested by pets. In some cases, it can be fatal.