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Sweet Solutions: The Best Sugar Substitutes

AGAVE NECTAR continued...

Health Rx: Agave nectar's benefits are still under debate. "It doesn't raise the blood sugar as rapidly as sugar," says Sandon. "And although it has more calories than sugar--about 20 calories per teaspoon--agave nectar is sweeter, so you can use less of it." There is some concern about agave's high fructose content, however; some experts wonder if it will have the same metabolic effect as high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has been blamed for increasing rates of obesity. But experts still don't know whether the large quantities of HFCS we're consuming are partly responsible for America's obesity problem, or whether HFCS just happened to enter the American diet at the same time as negative lifestyle changes that led to weight gain.

The bottom line, say experts: We all could afford a little less sweet in our lives. "If you're eating a lot of foods that have these alternative sweeteners in them, that means you're still probably eating a lot of cookies, cakes, and other processed foods that aren't good for you," says Sandon. "We need to get back to eating more whole foods. Sugar substitutes are not a substitute for a healthy diet."

The Scoop On the Most Popular Sweeteners

Rumors persist about the health hazards of artificial sweeteners such as Sweet'N Low, Splenda, and Equal, but several food-safety groups and regulatory bodies, including the FDA, have consistently deemed them safe for consumption.

Sweet'N Low (saccharin) has fewer than four calories in each 1⁄4-teaspoon packet, which is as sweet as two teaspoons of sugar. It's best used in tea, coffee, or other drinks as it reacts differently to baking than sugar does, leading to differences in the volume and texture of foods.

Splenda (sucralose) is 600 times as sweet as table sugar; one packet is as sweet as two teaspoons of sugar. Though sucralose is made from a sugar molecule, it's chemically altered in a lab so it passes through the body unmetabolized. Splenda has no calories and is heat stable, so it's ideal for use in baking.

Equal (aspartame) has the sweetness of two teaspoons of sugar in each 1⁄4-teaspoon packet. Use it only in recipes designed specifically for Equal.

 

Originally published on November 1, 2008

 

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