Sugar (sucrose) has 16 calories per teaspoon and is found naturally in fruit. Americans eat approximately165 pounds of sugar per person per year. It offers no nutritional benefits. The consumption of sugar leads to obesity and tooth decay and contributes to diabetes. Sugar substitutes include both natural and artificial sweeteners.
Among the natural sweeteners that the FDA recognizes as being generally safe for consumption are fruit juices and agave nectar, honey, molasses, and maple syrup.
Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes but may be derived from naturally occurring substances, including herbs or sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners are also known as intense sweeteners because they are many times sweeter than regular sugar. Artificial sweeteners are found in products marked “sugar free” or “diet” and are preferred by those who are diabetic or who want to reduce their caloric intake. Artificial sweeteners are widely used in processed foods, including baked goods, soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, candy, puddings, canned foods, jams and jellies, dairy products, and scores of other foods and beverages.
Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food additives. They must be reviewed and approved by the FDA before being made available for sale.
Agave nectar is derived from the agave cactus and has a taste and texture similar to honey. It is sweeter than sugar as it contains more fructose.
Aspartame (Equal, Nutrasweet) This sweetener contains the sugars fructose and glucose from processed corn syrup. It contains 17 calories per teaspoon. Aspartame was discovered in 1965 by James M. Schlatter at the G.D. Searle company (later purchased by Monsanto). He was working on an anti-ulcer drug and accidentally spilled some aspartame on his hand. When he licked his finger, he noticed that it had a sweet taste. It is an odorless, white crystalline powder that is about 200 times as sweet as sugar and can be used as a tabletop sweetener or in frozen desserts, gelatins, beverages, and chewing gum. When cooked or stored at high temperatures, aspartame breaks down into its constituent amino acids. This makes aspartame undesirable as a baking sweetener.
Honey is made by bees using nectar from flowers. Honey bees transform nectar into honey by a process of regurgitation and evaporation. They store it as a primary food source in wax honeycombs inside a beehive. According to a cave painting from Valencia, Spain, hunters began collecting honey from wild bees nests over 8,000 years ago. Honey contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, and studies suggest it may not raise blood sugar as fast as other sweet products. It contains 21 calories per teaspoon. Honey is rich in antioxidants and includes vitamins B6, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, and certain amino acids.. The minerals found in honey include calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, potassium, sodium and zinc.
Honey can contain small amounts of bacterial spores that can produce botulism toxin. Because of that, honey shouldn’t be given to children less than 1 year old.
Maple syrup is made from the sap of the Sugar Maple tree, although it can also be made from other maple species as well. In cold climates, these trees store starch in their trunks and roots before the winter; the starch is then converted to sugar that rises in the sap in the spring. Maple trees can be tapped by boring holes into their trunks and collecting the exuded sap. The sap is processed by heating to evaporate much of the water, leaving the concentrated syrup. Maple syrup was first collected and used by the indigenous peoples of North America. The practice was adopted by European settlers, who gradually refined production methods. Technological improvements in the 1970s further refined syrup processing. Maple syrup is similar to sugar with respect to calorie content, but is a source of manganese, zinc, calcium and sodium. It contains 52 calories per teaspoon.
Molasses, or black treacle, is a viscous by-product of the refining of sugar cane or sugar beets into sugar. Molasses is used in making rum, stout and porter, in dark rye breads and is a supplement in livestock feeds. It is a good source of calcium, magnesium and iron. It contains 58 calories per teaspoon.
Rebiana is derived from the leaves of the stevia plant, a shrub that grows in South and Central America. Rebiana is deemed the natural alternative to artificial sweeteners. It has 0 calories. Stevia has been widely used as a natural sweetener in South America for centuries and in Japan since 1970, due to its unique characteristics of zero calories and the fact that it does not raise blood sugar levels.
Saccharin (Sweet ‘N Low)
Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener and was originally synthesized in 1879 by Remsen and Fahlberg. Its sweet taste was discovered by accident. It has 0 calories. In a 1960 study saccharin showed that high levels of saccharin may cause bladder cancer in laboratory rats. In 1977, Canada banned saccharin due to the animal research. In the United States, the FDA considered banning saccharin in 1977, but Congress stepped in and placed a moratorium on such a ban.
Sucralose is a chlorinated sugar that is about 600 times as sweet as sugar, although it has 0 calories. It is used in beverages, frozen desserts, chewing gum, baked goods, and other foods. Unlike other artificial sweeteners, it is stable when heated and can therefore be used in baked and fried goods.
Sugar Alcohols (Sorbitol, Xylitol)
Sugar alcohols (polyols) are carbohydrates that occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, but they also can be manufactured. They’re often used in sugar-free foods marketed to diabetics, because they contain fewer carbohydrates than table sugar. Sugar alcohols have 10 calories per teaspoon, and they don’t cause tooth decay like table sugar.
Harvard School of Public Health