Until recently, some of the most popular sugar substitutes on the market were Sucralose (Splenda), Acesulfame K (Sweet One or Sunnett), and Aspartame (Equal or NutraSweet). Sugar substitutes gained popularity as a way to enhance the sweetness of foods and beverages, without the same blood sugar effects or calorie content of table sugar; both of which are a positive side effect for anyone with diabetes or looking to manage weight. However, the market has expanded recently to include some “natural” sugar substitutes that can offer the same positive effects. Here’s a look at some sugar substitutes on the market today:
Erythritol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in fruits and vegetables like grapes (wine too!), pears and mushrooms. It is produced by a fermentation of yeast with sugars from either corn or wheat and is 70% as sweet as sugar with about half the calories. Pure erythritol can be substituted in baking and cooking; but changes in texture can be an issue so erythritol blends may be more favorable or palatable for those uses. Popular brands include Swerve and Wholesome (pure erythritol) or Pyure and Truvia (erythritol and stevia blends). Unlike sugar alcohols like xylitol, sorbitol or mannitol, consuming erythritol does not have a laxative-like effect because it is absorbed before it reaches our intestinal bacteria; so it does not cause the same bloating or gas as other sugar alcohols can (although over-consumption may cause stomach pain or nausea). Another positive side of erythritol – the bacteria in our mouth do not digest this compound either, so consuming it may decrease tooth decay and cavities!
Stevia, a plant from the sunflower family, is a sugar substitute available in both liquid and powder forms and came on the market in the U.S. around 2008, although the plant has been around for hundreds of years. Brand names for stevia blends and pure stevia include SweetLeaf, Truvia, Stevia in the Raw, PureVia and Splenda Naturals Stevia Sweetener. Stevia has no effect on blood sugar and some research has showed stevia substitution can help with weight loss and reduce incidence of cardiovascular disease. Like erythritol, stevia may reduce the incidence of tooth decay and cavities as the plant has an antibacterial effect on oral bacteria. Stevia is more than 200 times sweeter than sugar, so much less is needed as a substitute. To some, stevia may have a “bitter” aftertaste and when used in cooking or baking textural differences may occur, so blends with erythritol or sugar are common. Stevia uses much less land, water and energy to produce the same amount of sweetener than beet or cane sugars, and it is already found in a number of processed foods to help lower calories from sugars (Dannon Oikos Triple Zero Nonfat Greek Yogurt, Silk Light Soymilk, Coca-Cola Life, Pepsi True).
“Natural” low calorie sugar substitutes is a growing area of interest for food manufacturers and home cooks alike. Whether you are looking to shed a few pounds, have been diagnosed with diabetes or you are just curious about “natural sugar substitutes,” these ingredients are growing in popularity and variety and are here to stay. Part two of this series will look at allulose and monkfruit, so stay tuned for the scoop on more sugar substitutes!