People with diabetes need to watch what they eat, including the use of artificial sweeteners. There is a variety of sweeteners to choose from, including Sucralose, saccharin, and aspartame, as well as Stevia, Neotame, and Monk fruit. Get the facts about old and new artificial sweeteners for people with diabetes.
The Basic Facts about Old and New Artificial Sweeteners
People with diabetes need to limit their intake of sugar and try to eliminate high fructose corn syrup for improved blood sugar control. This can be difficult since there are so many food choices especially if they have sweet cravings. Artificial sweeteners help curb these cravings without adding sugar, calories and carbohydrates to your diet. The majorities of artificial sweeteners go through the body without being digested and add no calories to your daily diet. The exception to this is aspartame. The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has tested and approved saccharin, acesulfame potassium, and aspartame, as well as Neotame and Sucralose. The FDA has also established a daily intake that can be used without risk. Often artificial sweeteners are added to sugar-free candy and sugar-free chewing gum, packaged snacks, and diet soda. Some are available in a granular form to add to tea or coffee as well as in baking and cooking. Let’s consider the older artificial sweeteners first, such as Sucralose, saccharin, and aspartame.
Getting Sweet on Sucralose
Sucralose is heat stable so it can be used for cooking and baking. It retains its sweetness when used in both in hot and cold foods. It comes in a granular form and tablets under brand names such as Splenda. People associate Sucralose with a yellow packet. Often it is found in processed, sugar-free foods.
Saccharin for Over a Century
Saccharin is the oldest artificial sweetener since it has been used in a liquid form for over a century. It is recognized in a pink packet with brand names such as Sweet ‘N Low, Necta Sweet, and Sugar Twin. The FDA dismissed tests done in the 1970s that linked saccharin to bladder cancer. People who are pregnant or breastfeeding may be advised to avoid saccharin. Like Sucralose, saccharine can be used in baking and cooking, as well as preserving and canning.
The Straight Skinny about Aspartame
Aspartame is recognized in a blue packet with brand names such as Equal and Nutrasweet. It is not heat stable and loses sweetness with heat; aspartame is used less often for cooking and baking. Despite having a warning label hundreds of studies have shown the use of aspartame is safe. It does contain phenylalanine, an ingredient that should be avoided by people with PKU (phenylketonuria). Aspartame is up to 200 times sweeter than sugar with about 4 calories per gram. It may cause an aftertaste, headaches and neurological symptoms. Researchers have linked aspartame to cancer in mice including kidney, leukemia and lymphoma. Talk to your doctor or dietitian about the use of artificial sweeteners to help you make an educated choice. Consider the new artificial sweeteners such as Stevia, Neotame and Monk fruit.
Stevia in the Green Packet
Stevia is a newer type of artificial sweetener that often comes in a green packet with brand names such as Truvia, PureVia, and A Sweet Leaf. It comes from the Stevia plant and is 300 times sweeter than sugar. Stevia is designated as a GRAS (generally recognized as safe) food by the FDA. It can come in granular, liquid, and tablet forms. Adjustments should be made when Stevia is used for cooking and baking due to a lack of weight and moisture. Stevia has zero calories and may have a rather bitter aftertaste. One study showed Stevia may reduce hypertension and another revealed it could improve metabolic syndrome and boost glucose tolerance.
Neotame can be up to 8,000 times sweeter than sugar. Like aspartame, Neotame has phenylalanine. Often food manufacturers use Neotame which is moderately stable when used for cooking. Because it is not marketed directly to users, there are no colorful packets or specific brand names associated with this artificial sweetener.
Monk fruit has been used as a sweetener in China for many years. It is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar and has zero calories. Because it contains antioxidants, a study showed it could have benefits for people with diabetes and cancer. Much like Stevia, Monk fruit is designated as a GRAS product by the FDA. It can be used in baking, but often cakes come out rather dry. Monk fruit is being marketed as Nectresse. Note that this product from Splenda also contains sugar, erythritol, and molasses. Erythritol is a sugar alcohol discovered in the 1800s that is also used as a type of sugar substitute. Users can shop around at health food stores to find Monk fruit with no additives.
Artificial sweeteners are best to use occasionally rather than all the time as they can increase food cravings and reinforce the need for sweet-tasting foods. Use them in moderation to reduce the urge for sweet foods and beverages. The wisest choice is a balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meat and fish and low-fat dairy goods. It is still a better choice to use sugar substitutes compared to Agave, brown sugar, honey or white sugar when you have diabetes.
Is stevia really an artificial sweetener? Isn’t it just an alternative sweetener made from a plant?
Surfing the web on sweeteners can be so confusing. You read one article about studies being conducted showing an artificial sweetener is safe then read another claiming it’s not. The FDA puts their stamp of approval on a product and others claim the information is wrong.
What is a diabetic to do?
Artificial sweeteners may minimize glucose spikes but because they are chemical based and may cause harm to your organs and overall metabolism.
It’s difficult to say “use artificial sweeteners minimally” when they are in so many food and beverage products. In my opinion, stay away from artificial sweeteners. When I coach my diabetic clients, we talk about quality sweeteners in small quantities.
One way to avoid, is to stay away from processed foods and sugar-free type beverages. Reach for whole foods and drink a lot of water. When you need to “sweeten” for baking or adding in beverages, try erythritol or xylitol in small amounts. For some people, used in large amounts, these may cause gastric issues. Stevia can be an option, however, be mindful of what it is mixed with. I prefer it mixed with erythritol.