Artificial sweeteners are artificially prepared agents that are used in food items to mimic the taste of sugar. These are mainly recommended for patients with diabetes or obesity who need to cut down on calories coming from sugar. An artificial sweetener is also known as a sugar substitute as it can be included in several sweet items in place of sugar and it does not raise blood sugar levels.
There are several artificial sweeteners available in the market as well as online which may lead to confusion in selecting the right one. It is wise to select only the ones that are recommended as safe for use by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), US. Herewith is a list of different types of artificial sweeteners, their sources and pros and cons which you should know if you are planning to add them to your daily routine. Also, it is important to state that these artificial sweeteners should be consumed in moderation as a number of scientific researches are still under progress in this area.
1. Stevia: Stevia is a natural sweetener which is obtained from plant named stevia rebaudiana. Stevia leaves or crude stevia extracts are not considered safe for consumption directly and hence they are processed and purified. After purification, they can be added to almost all food items and hence, it is widely used and has gained much popularity. But it is safe when used in moderation. On the other hand, some people may notice a bitter aftertaste of stevia while some may notice nausea, bloating and stomach upset too, hence this is not advisable for patients with GI (gastro intestinal) tract disturbances. Some people may develop allergic reactions to stevia, this is mainly due to steviol glycosides, hence people with allergies to plants of the Asteraceae family should avoid stevia.
2. Monk fruit: The name monk fruit comes from Buddhist monks who were the first ones to cultivate this fruit in the 13th century. This is a mountain fruit and is mainly found in South east Asia including China and Thailand. In India, its cultivation has recently begun in Kullu of Himachal Pradesh. Monk fruit is a natural sweetener and its sweetness is due to a component known as mogroside. It does not have any side effects however, just like stevia, it too may taste unpleasant due to its aftertaste. It is available in multiple forms like powders, liquids and granules but is most expensive of all sweeteners.
3. Sucralose: It is an artificial sweetener made from sucrose, it does contain calories but very few. It is heat-stable and hence this property makes it extremely versatile for sweets/ desserts, etc. It is easily available and not expensive. However, few health concerns associated with it make it challenging and calling for the need of more researches to prove its benefits than risks.
- Aspartame: Aspartame is another sugar substitute which has been known since a long time and is easily available worldwide. Unlike sucralose its major drawback is that it cannot be used in baking as it cannot tolerate high temperature. It is unsafe for people with phenylketonuria – a rare genetic disorder.
- Saccharin: It is a widely available artificial sweetener and is used to sweeten many drinks, beverages, sweets and desserts for diabetics. It is safe for use and does not cause any GI trouble or disturbances.
- Acesulfame-K: It is a low-calorie sweetener and usually it too has an aftertaste which may be less appealing. It is readily available but is unsafe for patients with electrolyte imbalances and patients with kidney disease especially on dialysis.
- Tagatose: It is actually a form of fructose (fruit sugar). It is safe for diabetics and also for pre-diabetics or ones aiming for weight loss. However, its downside is that it is not very easily available and at the same time is expensive.
- Neotame: It is another low- calorie artificial sweetener and its strength is that it can tolerate higher temperatures making it a good choice for baking. It can also be used in making healthy smoothies and sugar free ice-creams.
Few points to consider before opting for artificial sweeteners:
- It is best to avoid sugar and sugar substitutes in daily routine for patients with diabetes.
- In case of sugar cravings, it is advisable to try some fruits like strawberries, sweet lime, oranges, muskmelon, etc or dried fruits like raisins, dates, anjeer, etc before opting for artificial sweeteners.
- You should talk to your doctor before opting for an artificial sweetener. Thereafter, you should talk to your dietitian and she can help you select an appropriate sweetener and suggest recipes accordingly.