The Low-down on Artificial Sweeteners

The holidays and all the sweet treats they bring may be a distant memory, but spring can bring on sugar shock, too. How many chocolate bunnies, jelly beans and King cakes will you try to resist this year?

You may wonder if there isn’t a better way to enjoy sweets without all the calories. Artificial sweeteners can seem like the logical choice. They’re sweet, readily available, have zero to few calories and don’t have an impact on your blood sugar. But are they too good to be true?

Sweetening Safely

There are so many artificial sweeteners on the market, you might feel overwhelmed by the choices. What’s the difference between those pink, blue and yellow packets, and which ones are safe?

Saccharin, commonly sold as Sweet ‘N Low®, has been around since 1879. It’s one of the more controversial artificial sweeteners, due to studies in the late 1950s that suggested it caused cancer in animals. While the Food and Drug Administration wanted to ban saccharin in 1977, the product was kept on the market with a safety warning. In 2000 a study by the National Toxicology Department found that saccharin did not cause cancer in humans, and the warning was removed from packaging.

Aspartame, such as NutraSweet® and Equal®, is added to many diet and sugarfree products. It was approved by the FDA in 1981. While it is approved as a safe food additive, people with phenylketonuria (or PKU) have trouble breaking down the phenylalanine in aspartame, and should not consume these products.

Sucralose, sold as Splenda®, is one of the newer artificial sweeteners, and was FDA approved in 1998. It is heat stable, and can be used for baking. Sucralose is made by combining table sugar with chlorine.

Xylitol, erythritol and sorbitol are sugar alcohols, and are recognized as generally safe by the FDA. Xylitol and sorbitol do contain some calories – two per serving – while erythritol does not. All sugar alcohols can cause a laxative effect if eaten in large doses. Studies show that gum and mints containing xylitol can help reduce cavities.

Enjoying Everything … in Moderation

If you like the taste of artificial sweeteners, they can be a safe addition to a healthy diet. However, just like fat and real sugar, they should be consumed in moderation. For more information on nutrition, contact your health care professional.

BAKING WITHOUT SUGAR

Baking without sugar can be a challenge, because sugar is often necessary to obtain the right texture of baked goods. You need to use a heat-stable artificial sweetener, such as saccharin or sucralose. Try the following sugar-free recipe for a sweet indulgence. Some other options for lower-sugar treats are substituting applesauce, maple syrup or fruit juice for some, or all, of the sugar.

SUGAR-FREE CHEESECAKE

INGREDIENTS
Crust:
1 cup crushed sugar-free cookies, such as Murray® Sugar Free Gingersnaps or Shortbread
2 tablespoons Splenda® granulated
2 tablespoons melted butter
Filling:
3 (8-ounce) packages regular or fat-free cream cheese
1¼ cup Splenda
4 eggs
1½ teaspoon lemon juice
1½ teaspoon vanilla
1 pinch of salt

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine crust ingredients in a bowl, and press into a spring form pan. Bake for 5-8 minutes, until crust is browned.

Beat cream cheese and sweetener with a mixer until smooth. Add eggs one at a time until combined. Slowly add lemon juice, vanilla and salt. Beat until well combined. Pour over crust and bake 60 minutes, or until center is set.