If you enjoy sweet foods and beverages, but want to curb your sugar intake, non-nutritive sweeteners (NNS) offer a safe and delicious alternative. Swapping out sugar for NNS is one way to reduce sugar and empty calories. Plus, non-nutritive sweeteners are a great option for people with diabetes to satisfy sweet cravings while maintaining blood sugar control.
The term non-nutritive refers to the facts that these sweeteners provider zero to very little calories and no other nutrients. Although sugar does not provide nutrients, it does provide calories so, therefore, is not considered non-nutritive. Some popular non-nutritive sweeteners include:
While all NNS are safe for humans and do not cause serious health problems, there are differences among them in terms of taste and use. Let’s take a closer look at two common sweeteners – sucralose and stevia.
Sucralose has been widely used in North America for over 30 years and was approved as a sweetener in food in the U.S. about 25 years ago. It is a modified form of sucrose that maintains sweetness without breaking down in the body as a source of calories or sugar. Steviol glycoside, the sweet compound from stevia leaves, has been Generally Recognized as Safe as a non-nutritive sweetener in food for about 15 years.
While both sucralose and stevia are sweeter than sugar, sucralose is sweeter and, therefore, relatively little sucralose can be used to reach desired levels of sweetness. In addition, stevia and sucralose may be used in baking, cooking and hot beverages. Both sucralose and stevia are available in granulated, powder and liquid form. The NNS aspartame is not heat stable so it cannot be used for cooking and baking.
Sucralose has been widely studied for its potential impact on human health particularly in areas of cancer, reproductive health, gut health and weight concerns. It has been evaluated and deemed safe in recommended daily intake levels (about 23 packets per day) by the U.S. FDA, the European Food Safety Authority and other regulatory bodies.
The overall consensus is that non-nutritive sweeteners offer a safe alternative to sugar to help support health goals. While it’s okay to consume some sugar, eating too much sugar can raise blood pressure, increase chronic inflammation and risk of heart disease, contribute to diabetes, cause dental concerns and leads to unintentional weight gain. While honey and maple syrup, for example, are often positioned as “healthier alternatives” to sugar, they are metabolized in the body just like regular sugar.
Here are five tips to cut back on unwanted added sugar:
- Read the Nutrition Facts food label for ingredient sources and amounts of added sugar. Keep total daily added sugar intake to no more than 24 grams for women and 35 grams for men. Those with diabetes may choose to further reduce added sugar intake.
- Choose food products that are labeled as having no-added-sugar.
- Satisfy sweets cravings with foods and beverages containing non-nutritive sweeteners such as sucralose or stevia.
- Avoid or limit sugar-sweetened beverages. Instead opt for flavored water, fruit-infused water, unsweetened tea and seltzer.
- Try using fresh fruit and sugar alternatives in cooking and baking to add sweet taste without the added sugar.
LeeAnn Weintraub, MPH, RD