BY CAROLYN O’NEIL
Have you noticed how crowded the restaurant sugar bowl is getting? It’s a multicolored collection of little packets in pink, blue, yellow and green. Even sugar comes in two colors: white and brown. And some places add a packet of honey to the mix.
Sweeteners were invented to taste like sugar without all the calories. For instance, every time you choose a diet soft drink instead of the real thing, you consume 150 fewer calories.
But choosing a non-caloric sweetener for your morning coffee saves only 15 calories when you give up a teaspoon of sugar.
The weight control effect of substituting really depends on how much sugar you usually consume.
Dr. Adam Drewnowski, director of the Center for Public Health Nutrition at the University of Washington, agrees.
“Low-calorie sweeteners and reduced-calorie products are not magic bullets, which means using these products will not result in automatic weight loss. Instead, people looking to lose or maintain weight can use low-calorie sweeteners in addition to other tools (such as portion control) to help manage their calories,” he said.
It’s best to apply two top strategies in good nutrition — use in moderation and consume a variety of sweeteners instead of depending on just one.
Saccharin: Discovered in 1879, it’s the granddaddy of all sweeteners, the most controversial and probably most familiar as Sweet ’n Low in those little pink packets. In the 1970s, foods containing saccharin had to carry a label warning that the sweetener was found to cause cancer in laboratory animals. But based on further studies, the National Cancer Institute reported that saccharin did not cause cancer in humans, and in 2001 the saccharin warning label was removed.
Aspartame: Best known as Equal in the little blue packets, this noncaloric sweetener approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 1981 is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It’s deemed safe by the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the FDA based on a detailed review of more than 100 studies. Heat causes aspartame to lose its sweetness, so baking with it doesn’t work.
Sucralose: Approved in 1999, Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar. Known as Splenda, in the yellow packets, it’s made from sugar but has no calories because it’s not digested. Because this sweetener is heat stable, it can be used in baking.
Stevia: The latest to enter the scene, stevia is becoming more available in green packets of Truvia. Made from a sweet herb (Stevia rebaudiana), stevia in liquid form has long been available in health food stories and some vegetarian restaurants, but the powdered version is new.
The real thing
Honey: You can use a bit less honey than sugar. That’s because honey is made of fructose sugars, which are twice as sweet as sucrose. Honey is dense, however, so it has 22 calories per teaspoon compared to sugar’s 15. Honey, especially dark honey, provides the same antioxidant punch as many fruits and vegetables.
Turbinado sugar: This is raw sugar that has been steam-cleaned to remove impurities. It’s usually a blond color with a slight brown sugar flavor. It has the same 15 calories a teaspoon as white sugar.
Maple syrup: Produced from the sap of the sugar maple tree, maple syrup has 50 calories per tablespoon.
Carolyn O’Neil is a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Dish on Eating Healthy and Being Fabulous!” E-mail her at carolyn@carolyn oneil.com.