There are so many sweeteners these days it can be difficult to know which one to choose. Following is a guide to help you decide.
Sugar, Splenda, Truvia, artificial sweeteners, raw sugar … There are so many sweeteners these days it can be difficult to know which one to choose. Following is a guide to help you decide.
Sugar or sucrose is a natural granular substance distilled from either sugarcane or sugar beets. White sugar is processed a couple of times to remove the molasses content and make the sugar white. Raw sugar is taken after the first process and has a higher moisture content and a higher molasses content. It's good to sprinkle on foods for an extra crunch, but it may throw off a recipe if used in baking. Brown sugar comes from the same sources and gets its color from the addition of molasses to white sugar. Powdered sugar is white sugar that has been ground multiple times into a fine powder. Powdered sugar usually has about 3 percent cornstarch added as a stabilizer. One teaspoon of sugar has 16 calories. It's recommended that we limit our sugar intake to just 6 teaspoons to 9 teaspoons a day.
Agave liquid, agave nectar or agave syrup is a sweet extract from agave, a cactus plant that also gives us tequila. Most agave products are highly processed. They can be found in health food stores and larger grocery stores. Agave is 25 percent sweeter than sugar, so you use less. It doesn't spike the blood sugar as quickly as table sugar does. It has a honey flavor, which makes it good to add to tea or yogurt.
You can use agave in baking as a substitute for sugar in equal amounts, but add additional flour or cornstarch to counteract the extra liquid. This substitution would actually add calories, rather than reducing them. One teaspoon has 20 calories.
Stevia is an all natural, no calorie sweetener derived from the leaf of the stevia plant, which is an herb. Other names for stevia include rebiana, Truvia, PureVia or Sun Crystals. Stevia is sold alone as a diet sweetener and can be found in some soft drinks and food products. It is OK to bake with at medium temperatures, using a conversion chart. The benefit of using it in baking may be limited, however, because you must make up for the lost volume of sugar using additional fruit puree or milk. Some stevia products are blended with maltodextrin, resulting in about 1 calorie per teaspoon.
High fructose corn syrup or HFCS is an extremely sweet liquid made from corn starch. It is commonly found in many processed foods, baked goods and condiments. It is not the same as table corn syrup and cannot be purchased for home use. One teaspoon of HFCS has 18 calories.
Saccharin is a calorie free synthetic sweetener that contains sodium, hydrogen and oxygen. Also known as Sweet 'N Low, it is found in Tab soda, some medications and toothpastes. You also can purchase packets or liquid versions to add to your food or beverages.
Saccharin was linked to bladder cancer in the 1970s and carried a warning label. Since then, the FDA has determined that it is a safe sweetener and has removed the warning. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar and may have a metallic aftertaste. Its intense sweetness may make you crave sugary treats. You can use saccharin in baking, but there will be some detrimental effects on texture, taste and browning.
Aspartame is another calorie free, synthetic sweetener. Brand names are Nutrasweet and Equal. Commonly found in diet drinks and sugar-free gums, aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Aspartame breaks down with heat, so don't use it for baking. Some people report headaches or other side-effects from aspartame consumption.
Sucralose is sugar that has been chemically changed so our bodies cannot absorb it, resulting in zero calories. Known as Splenda, sucralose has 2 calories per teaspoon. Sucralose is the sweetener most often found in sugar-free cereals and baked goods, diet soft drinks and sugar-free frozen desserts.
Splenda is readily available in individual packets or in bulk packaging for baking. It is 600 times sweeter than sugar and may make you crave sweeter and sweeter foods. It does hold up to heat when baking, but a Splenda blend works best for baking. These have 20 calories per teaspoon — more calories than sugar — but you only need to use half as much as regular sugar in a recipe. There have been reports of abdominal discomfort in some people.
All of the artificial sweeteners listed above have been designated by the FDA as generally recognized as safe for daily use throughout a lifetime. For a healthy diet, though, use of sugar and artificial sweeteners should be kept at a minimum.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.