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A Buyer's Guide to Sugar Substitutes

What you need to know about Splenda, aspartame, stevia and other sugar substitutes.

WebMD Feature from "EatingWell"

A Buyer's Guide to Sugar SubstitutesAccording to a recent survey, seven out of 10 adults say they want to reduce or avoid added sugars. To do so, they’re turning to sweeteners that deliver zero or minimal calories. Data from Mintel, a market research group in Chicago, shows that while sales of caloric sweeteners like sugar have been declining in recent years, sales of "diet"-friendly substitutes have skyrocketed, increasing by about 50 percent from 2000 to 2006.

Here’s a list of common sugar substitutes—both "artificial" and "natural"—to consider if you want to avoid sugar:

Sucralose (Splenda)

Sold as a "tabletop sweetener" (packets used mostly to sweeten beverages)

Commonly added to packaged foods and beverages

Heat-stable; can be used for baking

What Is It? A compound made by combining sucrose (table sugar) with three chlorine molecules. The body doesn’t digest or derive calories from sucralose.

Sweetness Factor: 600 times as sweet as sugar

Take Note: There has been legal controversy over the Splenda slogan, "Made from sugar so it tastes like sugar." Critics claim it falsely implies that the substitute—which was approved as an additive by the FDA in 1998—is natural, which it is not.

Our Taste Test: Tasters found Splenda pleasantly sweet in hot and cold teas, but some noted an objectionable metallic aftertaste. Cookies made with Splenda rated well for sweetness but poorly for texture, appearance and aftertaste. However, Splenda Sugar Blend for Baking, which is a 50/50 blend of sugar and sucralose, rated better on all counts.

Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)

Sold as a "tabletop sweetener" (packets used mostly to sweeten beverages)

Commonly added to packaged foods and beverages

What Is It? A compound made by combining two amino acids— phenylalanine and aspartic acid—with a methyl ester that becomes methanol, a by-product of carbohydrate fermentation. FDA-approved in 1981, aspartame is digested, but because such small amounts are used to sweeten foods, its calories are negligible.

Sweetness Factor: 180 times as sweet as sugar

Take Note: People with a rare condition known as phenylketonuria (PKU) cannot break down phenylalanine, so it can accumulate to toxic levels; thus, people with PKU must avoid all foods containing phenylalanine, including aspartame.

Our Taste Test: Some tasters found it to have a nice level of sweetness in hot and cold tea; others called it too sweet and "fake" tasting. Most detected a bitter aftertaste.

Saccharin (Sweet’N Low, Sweet Twin)

Sold as a "tabletop sweetener" (packets used mostly to sweeten beverages)

Commonly added to packaged foods and beverages

What Is It? A compound containing sulfur and nitrogen that provides no calories because the body cannot break it down.

Sweetness Factor: 300 times as sweet as sugar

Take Note: Saccharin, first discovered in 1879, has a long, controversial history. The FDA re-approved saccharin for limited use as a food additive (in beverages and some processed foods) in 2000.

Our Taste Test: All but one taster rated it as "unpleasantly sweet." Most commented that, in tea—hot and cold—saccharin tasted "artificial" and had a bitter aftertaste.

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