Artificial Sweeteners are low-calorie or calorie-free chemical substances that are used instead of sugar to sweeten foods and drinks, and if you are trying to “Eat Clean” they should be avoided. But what if you just want a little sweetness in your coffee?
Artificial sweeteners are found in thousands of products, from drinks, desserts and ready meals, to cakes, chewing gum and toothpaste. Some of the most common sweeteners approved for use in the UK are:
- acesulfame K
- stevia (steviol glycosides)
Both Cancer Research UK and the US National Cancer Institute have said sweeteners don't cause cancer.
"Large studies looking at people have now provided strong evidence that artificial sweeteners are safe for humans," states Cancer Research UK. All sweeteners in the EU undergo a rigorous safety assessment by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), before they can be used in food and drink.
As part of the evaluation process, the EFSA sets an acceptable daily intake (ADI), which is the maximum amount considered safe to consume each day over the course of your lifetime.
You don't need to keep track of how much sweetener you consume each day, as our eating habits are factored in when specifying where sweeteners can be used.
Are sweeteners healthy?
Sweeteners may be safe, but are they healthy? Food manufacturers claim sweeteners help prevent tooth decay, control blood sugar levels and reduce our calorie intake.
EFSA has approved the health claims made about xylitol, sorbitol and sucralose, among others, in relation to oral health and controlling blood sugar levels.
They are a really useful alternative for people with diabetes who need to watch their blood sugar levels while still enjoying their favourite foods. Like sugar, sweeteners provide a sweet taste but what sets them apart is that, after consumption, they don't increase blood sugar levels
However .It has been suggested that the use of artificial sweeteners may have a stimulating effect on appetite and, therefore, may play a role in weight gain and obesity.
Sugar alternatives: What to use instead
How do you add flavour and sweetness to your cooking using less sugar?
According to NHS guidelines, added sugars should not make up more than 10% of the energy or calorie intake you obtain from food and drink every day.
This is on average 70g for men and 50g for women. So what are the alternatives to cooking with processed table sugar available?
Honey is a naturally sweet liquid made from the nectar of flowers and collected by honey bees. It comprises 80% natural sugars, 18% water and 2% minerals, vitamins, pollen and protein.
Honey is slightly higher in nutrients than processed table sugar but it still contains calories. Unlike table sugar, honey also has antibacterial properties and has been used as a natural remedy for over 5000 years. When cooking, try replacing half the amount of sugar with honey, which can add sweetness and flavour to food and drink.
Agave is a sweetener that comes from several species of the agave plant in Mexico and consists mostly of glucose and fructose. The syrup is about 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar and has a similar consistency to honey.
It is often used as an alternative to sugar given it has a much lower glycemic index than that of sucrose. Agave is commonly used as a vegan alternative to honey as it is made from a plant
"Xyl" is the Greek for wood and Xylitol was first made from Finnish birch trees in the early 1900s. It's naturally produced by most living things including trees, fruits, plants, animals and even people, xylitol being the alcohol form of xylose.
But it has recently taken off as a sweetener as xylitol has 40% fewer calories than sugar, 75% less carbohydrates and a low GI (of 7), and it also is thought to inhibit the bacteria in the mouth that causes tooth decay.
Fruit contains a simple sugar called fructose along with fibre, vitamins and minerals. To increase your intake of fibre, you could try replacing table sugar with pureed fruit to sweeten yoghurt and cakes like in banana bread
Fruit peel is also full of antioxidants and can be grated into smoothies or used to tenderise meat. Try making muesli with chopped apples
Manufactured from corn, dextrose is a form of glucose, a monosaccharide, or "simple" sugar.
The Oxford Dictionary of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology says dextrose is the traditional name used in pharmacy for d‐glucose "the dextrorotatory component of invert sugar".
Dextrose can be bought in liquid or powder form and is gaining in popularity as a sugar substitute as it is considered by some to be the "good" part of sugar, the glucose.
Some athletes use powdered dextrose after exercise to boost energy levels in muscle - as it will quickly raise blood glucose levels. It has a high glycemic index rating of 100.
Stevia is a natural sweetener made from the leaves of the stevia plant (Stevia rebaudiana Bertoni), which is native to Paraguay, and mostly grown there and in Brazil.
Steviol glycosides are high intensity sweeteners, 250-300 times sweeter than sucrose, and it comes in liquid or powder form. It has no calories, contains no sugar or carbohydrates and boasts a glycemic index of 0, making it attractive to dieters.
Stevia comes from the stevia plant and has been added to Sprite lemonade by Coca-Cola. Until a few years ago, stevia was mainly known among industry insiders, but as such an attractive sweetener, it is a growth ingredient.
Coconut palm sugar
Produced from the sap of the coconut palm's flower buds, coconut palm sugar has a glycaemic index rating of 35, much lower than refined sugar. It has also been found to contain amino acids, potassium, magnesium, zinc, iron and B vitamins.
Coconut palm sugar's higher in b minerals and it's great in sweet baking whatever it is, and by using it, it's not quite as bad for you. It can be used in the same ration as refined table sugar in recipes