Ask an Expert

Do you have questions about low-calorie sweeteners? Want to learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle? You asked and we listened. Our resident Registered Dietitians answered the most popular questions about low-calorie sweeteners, as well as aspartame, sucralose and stevia— take a look below.

 

Why are some food and beverage companies removing aspartame from their products? Does this mean it’s not safe?

That decision has nothing to do with the safety of aspartame. It is one of several sweeteners approved by the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, with a long history of use around the world, and is found in more than 6000 products. There has been no change in its safety status.

The truth is, food companies reformulate their products all the time for a variety of reasons — to satisfy our changing taste preferences or to reach a different consumer audience and to stay competitive in their market sector.  A quick look at the number of yogurts in your grocery store makes it easy to see how competitive sales are for that product. If a company offers something new or different, it just might capture your attention and make you reach for their brand instead of one of the others, and that’s a sale for them!

What is the best sugar substitute for people who have diabetes?

Choose the one you like best!

While they all taste sweet, they don’t all taste the same, so picking the one you like best makes sense. However, all of the FDA approved sweeteners, such as aspartame, sucralose, stevia and saccharin, are recommended for people with diabetes since they don’t raise blood glucose or insulin levels, and when used to replace sugar they can help lower carbohydrate intake at meals.

How many packets does it take to replace one cup of sugar in a recipe?

A simple answer cannot be provided because it’s not the same for every sweetener. Our advice is to check the conversion charts on the product or website to be sure you get it right. And keep in mind that the amount of sweetener needed to replace a cup of sugar when using the packets is not the same as when using the bulk products

Could I completely eliminate sugar if I switched to artificial sweeteners?

The answer is yes, you could, but it wouldn’t necessarily be easy. That’s because sugar is found in many foods for reasons other than making them taste sweet, so you’d have to carefully read ingredient lists for all sources of added sugars and prepare from scratch any foods that aren’t available without added sugars.

Does aspartame cause headaches?

The FDA reviewed more than 200 research studies done on aspartame to see if it had any side effects, and found no evidence that it causes headaches – even when consumed in amounts that greatly exceed recommended levels.  People get headaches for many reasons, and most are caused by non-diet factors like stress, lack of sleep, and environmental allergies, so it’s important to find out what’s triggering yours so you can properly deal with it.

Which sugar-substitute is healthy & good for me since there are so many options on the market? I am presently using Splenda.

Splenda (a brand name) also known as sucralose is a great option.  The short answer to your question is to choose the one you like best!  The longer answer is that while all sugar substitutes taste sweet, they don’t all taste the same.  Everyone perceives taste differently so what might appeal to one person might not appeal to someone else. The good news is that all of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved sweeteners, such as sucralose, are safe, can help lower carbohydrate intake at meals, and do not raise blood glucose or insulin levels.  This is important for people with diabetes who need to manage and control the amount of carbohydrate they consume in order to help control their diabetes.

I heard from my doctor that Splenda or sucralose is extremely harmful to the liver especially over a period of time. Has there been extensive studies conducted on sucralose and the liver?
Before sucralose was approved, it was extensively and thoroughly tested.  In the U.S. , all food ingredients including sugar substitutes such as sucralose must undergo rigorous safety testing to ensure that they are safe for all people, even the most vulnerable populations such as the elderly, children, pregnant and breastfeeding women.  The majority of sucralose is not absorbed and leaves the body totally unchanged in the feces.   The small amount that is absorbed is excreted unchanged in the urine.  Sucralose has not been shown to build up in the liver or other organs in the body.  Thus, there is no reason as to why sucralose would be harmful to the liver.
I have been using sucralose for about a year now to help manage prediabetes. I use it every day in my coffee & oatmeal. Recently, however, I saw that the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is linking sucralose to leukemia and other blood cancers. Is this true and should I refrain from using sucralose?

Up until recently, CSPI regarded sucralose as safe. The study on which CSPI is basing their revised recommendation is an outlier (e.g., studies that do not agree with the majority of scientific studies) and does not conform to recommended guidelines for evaluating cancer risk. It is important to note that no major health or regulatory agency (including the US FDA and the European Food Safety Authority) have changed their recommendations regarding sucralose based on these study findings. In addition, the National Cancer Institute stated in their 2009 fact sheet that there is no evidence of cancer and an association with sugar substitutes such as sucralose.

Does sucralose cause gastrointestinal problems such as excessive gas, acid reflux or irritation of stomach?

Gastrointestinal issues are not only uncomfortable, they can also be very serious, which is why it is important to discuss any gastrointestinal symptoms with your healthcare provider. That said, sudden increases and large quantities of foods or ingredients that are only partially digested but are fermented by bacteria in the large intestine can result in gastrointestinal symptoms such as excessive gas However, sugar substitutes such as sucralose are not fermented and have a low risk of gastrointestinal symptoms.

Does sucralose make you gain weight?

Sugar substitutes such as sucralose do not contain calories and therefore cannot cause weight gain.  Research has shown that sucralose does not cause an increase in cravings of sweet foods and beverages and does not lead to excess weight. In fact, sucralose can help you reduce calories, thereby managing your weight.  It’s important to remember that sugar substitutes such as sucralose are one tool (and not a magic bullet) to help you maintain and/or lose weight.  Using sucralose or other sugar substitutes is not a license to over-indulge in other areas of the diet.  In fact, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) an organization of 70,000 plus registered dietitians, “Using sucralose in either an energy-restricted or ad libitum diet will affect overall energy balance only if the sucralose is substituted for higher-energy food or beverages.”

However, foods and drinks sweetened with sugar substitutes such as sucralose provide a sweet taste without the calories, which allows you to enjoy some of your favorite foods and beverages without indulging in higher calorie options. A variety of other lifestyle modifications such as exercise, portion control, increased fruit and vegetable consumption, etc., are also important. Further, a study done in children with sucralose found that sucralose can be helpful in decreasing or maintaining weight, especially when other lifestyle changes are included.

I have heard that sucralose causes Multiple Sclerosis-like symptoms. What were the findings of sucralose on the central nervous system?

As previously noted, sucralose has undergone extensive and conclusive safety assessments which have spanned the last 20 years, including evaluation of any effect on the central nervous system.  Research shows that sucralose is a safe ingredient and conclusions from studies indicate the following:

  • No known side effects
  • Not toxic: No adverse effects seen in test animals, even in amounts equivalent in sweetness to 40+ pounds of sugar per day for life
  • No effect on carbohydrate metabolism
  • No effect on short- or long-term blood glucose control or on serum insulin levels

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) states, “It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that consumers can safely enjoy a range of nutritive and nonnutritive sweeteners when consumed within an eating plan that is guided by current federal nutrition recommendations, such as the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and the Dietary Reference Intakes, as well as individual health goals and personal preference.”

I have been drinking at least 3 cans of lemon diet cola for at least 4 years. I heard last night that Stevia causes cancer. How should I proceed? I made an appointment with my doctor but that is a month away, I have thrown out the three cases I had at I am home. Are other products tainted? I have not seen Stevia printed on any other cartons. Please let me know as I am concerned.

Does Stevia sweeteners cause cancer? My Wife said she heard it on TV.

Stevia has GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status with the FDA, deeming it safe for the general population. A food ingredient has to go through a substantial amount of study to be granted GRAS status. In researching safety of stevia, any links to cancer are explored. Current research does not support that stevia causes cancer. While not an exhaustive list, the support includes a recent review published in Food and Chemical Toxicology, and the American Cancer Society opinion that also supports that stevia appears to be safe when used in moderation. While hearing a story on the news can certainly cause some alarm, it sounds like the story did not capture the whole picture.

Does the sweetener stevia have any chemicals in it?

The sweetening component of stevia is actually an extract called rebaudioside so you may also see this term related to stevia. When grocery shopping, you can purchase pure stevia or other variations. Many brands have crafted stevia blends (in which stevia is blended with another ingredient) to make it easier to use while providing a sweet taste. When you are in the shopping aisle, I would suggest reading the ingredient list to determine the blend that works best for you. It may also be helpful to taste several varieties as the blends will all sweet taste but may taste differently.

I have read that low-calorie sweeteners add to belly fat supposedly because they are not natural, the body does not process them like food, but stores them as fat. Is this true? Also, I have read that Stevia, because it is a natural substance, from a plant, does not contribute to belly fat like the others do.

What contributes fat overall is taking in more calories than we need. Low-calorie sweeteners do not contribute to body fat but actually aid in reducing excess calories to help lose or manage body weight. Stevia is one of those sweetener options. You’re right, Stevia is an extract from the stevia leaf and when our bodies metabolize stevia it does not get absorbed but is excreted it in our urine. Therefore, we are taking in negligible calories when consume stevia – making it virtually calorie free, and a good choice if you are looking to reduce body fat. Improvements to your diet and physical activity habits can help reduce your overall body fat and your overall health. However, any claims that a food or supplement specifically targets a region of body fat are likely untrue. People store fat in different areas of their body for many reasons. Rather than trying to target a specific area, most people are more successful at reducing overall body fat stores while physical activity can be used to improve the tone and size of the muscles and can change your overall body shape.

Does Stevia neutralize calcium intake?

Stevia does not inhibit the absorption of calcium and it can be a good option as a sweetener in foods that are calcium sources like milk and yogurt.

I understand that some Stevia products have a bad taste or after taste. Which brands more palatable?

We all have different taste preferences, so which brand is the most palatable is pretty subjective. This is one of the reasons we see so many different stevia options on the market. To find the brand and product that works best for you I would suggest reaching out to the manufacturers for free samples; or asking your local grocer if they provide samples. See which version your taste buds prefer.

Are cookies made with stevia sold in stores? If so, what brand, and what stores sell them?

Food product options are going to vary by store and region. To see if stores in your area sell cookies containing stevia I would ask your local grocer what they have available. Also, many stores have a specialty section where you can commonly find available stevia products. If you are unable to find stevia cookies in your area, there are many recipes online for baking stevia sweetened cookies at home. Since stevia is freezer stable, you can double your batch and freeze some for later.

What is the difference between regular stevia and Stevia in the Raw?

There are numerous brands that make sweeteners using stevia and Stevia in the Raw is simply one of these products made by the company In The Raw.

Can stevia be used like sugar in retarding fruit spoilage? For instance -- cutting strawberries in half and sprinkling layers in a jar w/sugar will keep them in the fridge for longer than it ever takes my family to eat them! Will stevia work this way?

Pure Stevia does not have the same properties that sugar does in preventing spoilage. However, there are products available that blend Stevia with pure cane sugar for a lower calorie option to pure sugar to prevent browning.

If I wanted to substitute Stevia for pure cane sugar in baking, what would the ratio of Stevia to sugar be?

The ratio of stevia to sugar can vary between products and brands. To determine the right ratio for the product you have at home, I would check the packaging for the equivalents or go the manufacturer’s website.

I have started a ketogenic diet. I am also a restaurant owner. I’m loving the whole concept. I am trying to learn more about using stevia in some of my recipes. For example, I have a recipe that I use 3/4 cup of sugar in a sorbet. Can I use liquid stevia, stevia extract or a powder/granule style of stevia.

Stevia can be used in many recipes to reduce the carbohydrate content of many foods and beverages. Whether you use liquid, granular, or powdered stevia will likely depend on the type of recipe and the other attributes that sugar is contributing. For example, liquid stevia may be better in liquid products while powdered stevia may provide the texture necessary for many baked goods. It is important to remember that Dietary Guidelines recommend most Americans consume 45-65 percent carbohydrates so a ketogenic diet may not be advisable.

faq2Do you have questions about low-calorie sweeteners? Want to learn more about maintaining a healthy lifestyle? You asked and we listened. Our resident Registered Dietitians answered the most popular questions about low-calorie sweeteners.