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A Buyer's Guide to Sugar Substitutes

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

Xylitol (XyloSweet)

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

Heat-stable; can be used for baking

What Is It? Chemically classified as a sugar alcohol, xylitol’s chemical structure resembles both sugar and alcohol but isn’t a true form of either. Since xylitol is a naturally occurring food compound, it is "Generally Recognized As Safe" (GRAS) by the FDA and, therefore, exempt from the approval process mandatory for artificial substitutes regulated as food additives.

Sweetness Factor: Same as sugar

Take Note: The body absorbs xylitol, but not fully—that’s why the sweetener provides 2 calories per serving and also why it causes digestive problems for some people. People trying to control glucose levels shouldn’t eat foods containing xylitol with abandon. The American Diabetes Association advises people with diabetes to count half of sugar-alcohol grams as carbohydrates. Studies show that xylitol, which is often added to gums and mints, may also help reduce cavities by reducing acid in the mouth. Xylitol is very toxic to dogs.

Our Taste Test: Tasters rated the sweetness level as "very acceptable" with only a few detecting a mild, yet not unpleasant, aftertaste in hot and cold tea. The sweetness rated well in baked cookies, but most described the appearance and texture of the cookies as unappealing and too soft.

Erythritol (ZSweet, Sun Crystals)

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? Naturally found in melons and pears, erythritol is another sugar alcohol. The body fully absorbs erythritol (unlike xylitol) but can’t break it down, so it provides (virtually) no calories and does not produce a glycemic response.

Sweetness Factor: 60 to 80 percent as sweet as sugar

Take Note: Because it’s absorbed, erythritol is less likely to cause gastric distress than xylitol. In Sun Crystals, erythritol is combined with cane sugar for a product that delivers 4 calories per teaspoon and registers a slight glycemic response.

Our Taste Test: In hot and cold tea, ZSweet and Sun Crystals earned good to excellent sweetness scores. Cookies baked with ZSweet received poor scores for texture and appearance and had mixed ratings for overall sweetness. Tasters also noted an unexpected cool sensation when eating the cookies. Sun Crystals is not currently available in a baking product.

Stevia (Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf, OnlySweet)

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 sweet extract of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Stevia itself does not raise blood sugar, but it’s usually combined with a bulking agent so that it pours like sugar. The bulking agent erythritol doesn’t raise blood sugar either, but other bulking agents might. Read each product label closely.

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