Sugar and Sugar Substitutes
Saccharin, aspartame, sucralose. Which sugar substitute is best?
It used to be that we didn't have much choice. When we went to the supermarket, we could find various formulations of saccharin, and then aspartame and more recently, sucralose.
Stevia, which comes from a South American plant, has been used as a sweetener for years in other countries, including Japan, but couldn't be used in the United States except as a "supplement," sold along with vitamins instead of in the sugar aisle at the grocery store.
I've described all these sugars in more detail in my book The First Year Type 2 Diabetes, and I won't repeat that information. Instead I'll describe a few of the newer sweeteners.
Recently, there seems to be a flood of new products on the sugar shelves. This is partly because the FDA has finally approved some stevia products for use as sweeteners, and some of the "big boys" in the food manufacturing world have jumped on the stevia bandwagon.
Two big boys on the sugar shelf are products combining stevia extracts with the sugar alcohol erythritol, a sugar alcohol that has fewer calories than the other sugar alcohols like maltitol, xylitol, lactitol, sorbitol. Unlike the other sugar alcohols, erythritol doesn't cause gas.
The major new sugar substitute products are made by Cargill for Coca Cola (Truvia) and the Whole Earth Sweetener Company for Pepsi Cola (Purevia). I found both these products at a grocery store in the small town where I shop.
Truvia contains only erythritol, stevia extract (rebiana), and "natural flavors," which they don't indicate. Purevia contains erythritol, stevia extract (which they call Reb A), isomaltulose (a slowly digested carbohydrate with the same number of calories as sucrose), a little cellulose, and "natural flavors." They also don't describe what the "natural flavors" are.
I've tried them both, and Truvia seemed a little sweeter than Purevia, but they're both basically the same except that Truvia doesn't contain the isomaltulose.
Other stevia products that don't contain erythritol are now appearing on the supermarket shelves along with the other sugars, instead of only in health foods stores next to the vitamins.
One of the first to be accepted by the FDA was Sweet Leaf. It isn't cut with erythritol, but with inulin, a fiber.
Unfortunately, none of the sugar substitutes are cheap. For example, a pound of regular sugar costs about $1 a pound. A pound of erythritol costs almost $9.
We won't know for decades which of these many products is the safest. But at least the explosion in new sugar substitutes gives us more choice in finding a sweetener that we can tolerate. Read labels when you buy a sweetener so you know exactly what you're getting. Find what works for you and then enjoy it.
For a fuller discussion of this topic see here.