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A Buyer's Guide to Sugar Substitutes

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

Erythritol (ZSweet, Sun Crystals) continued...

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.

Sweetness Factor: 200 to 300 times as sweet as sugar

Take Note: Until December 2008, stevia and its derivatives could be sold in the U.S. only as a dietary supplement. But in 2008, the FDA affirmed a highly purified form of the stevia plant, called Rebaudioside A (a.k.a. Rebiana or Reb A), as a generally recognized as safe (GRAS) ingredient. This form of stevia (Reb A) is sold under different brand names, such as Truvia and PureVia. The FDA did not, however, change the previous ruling on whole-leaf stevia or other stevia extracts.

Our Taste Test: At the time of our tasting, none of the FDA-affirmed stevia-derived sweeteners (e.g., Truvia, PureVia) were on the market, so all our tasting was done with stevia sold as dietary supplements. The overall sweetness of stevia rated well in hot and cold tea, but most tasters detected an unpleasant aftertaste that was described by one taster as "corroded tin can." The sweetness, texture and appearance of the cookies sweetened with stevia were "unacceptable."

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