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Are These Three New Sweeteners Safe or Scary?

08/06/2015 12:55 EDT | Updated 08/06/2016 05:59 EDT
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Germany, Munich, Mature woman holding stevia and sugar substitute

If I were sugar, I would be taking cover and either looking for a new job or finding a safe way to retire. Maybe partnering with newer, better versions of sweetness would be worth investigation because, everywhere I would look, the future will look grim. I would be reading the tea leaves and know that my days were numbered as North Americans continue to reduce their consumption of soda pop and governments crack down on how I am labelled. There is nowhere to go but down and out.

Even the healthy food icon store Whole Foods got splashed by allegedly renaming sugar as "evaporated cane juice" as a disguise and mislabelling the amounts in yogurt. Soft drink manufacturers are finding "sugar free" ways to reformulate and other types of beverages to peddle. Everyone is removing sugar from their coffee, tea and cereal topping choices and opting for honey, maple syrup or raw sugar (ahem, evaporated cane juice).

And with good reason. While no one thing can be blamed for the obesity crisis, sugar sure does own a lot of the blame. The minimum required amount of added sugar that a body needs each day is exactly zero which makes perfect sense since sugar alone comes with no nutrients. There are recommended amounts of carbohydrates and allowable extra calories from treats but the truth is that there is no nutritive value and therefore no requirement for sugar. Of course, you do need the nutrients that come with other carbohydrates in their natural state like in blueberries or apples. In addition, most grains, starchy vegetables (like potatoes, corn, carrots...) convert the carbohydrates directly to glucose which fuels your muscles and brain. But this glucose comes encased in trace amounts of fat, plus fibre and vitamins that require your body to break it down. Having to do that work makes your body more effective at using the sugar slowly and purposefully (this is measured as the glycemic index).

If I were sugar trying to remain relevant, this may be where I would hide next. I would encase myself in added fibre and "good fats" to be able to claim that I am low on the glycemic index. Just watch out for the wolf in sheep's clothing. In the meantime, a few up and comers will likely take the spotlight:

Xylitol

Xylitol contains only part of the sugar molecule and part of the alcohol with none of the fructose gives this sweetener some edge over plain old sugar. It has the same sweet taste but only half of the calories and can boast that it is low on the glycemic scale so it doesn't spike insulin levels. It measures just like sugar so it is great for baking and some science shows that it actually changes the nature of the chemistry in the mouth to reduce cavities.

Stevia

Stevia is a refined herb has been around for a while but is just poking its nose into the food and beverages that we are so loathe to give up completely. Having no calories at all, it does a good job of reducing the calories but, if some of the science is right, there may be a downside. Just like aspartame and the like, the sensation of sweetness on the tongue without any calories forthcoming, your body may not be fooled and go looking for the calories anyway.

Neotame

Recently (2002) approved for use by the FDA , it hasn't found its use in foods just yet. Made by the Aspartame people to be more effective as a sweetener at lower doses, there may be decent reason why this one isn't getting wide support.

Here is the catch. Every single sweetener has its downside and the goal always was, and still needs to be, reduction of all the foods that contain added sugars. Think about it, caramel macchiato and chocolate chip cookies are still extras regardless of how they are sweetened.

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