Thursday, January 13, 2011

It's Time For a Round Up: Oh So Sweet...

I must admit that I am a coffee addict. Not in an unhealthy way, as I only drink it once a day in the morning. But boy, if I don’t get my coffee within 30 minutes of waking up, let’s just say, stay away. As soon as the Starbucks Barista calls my name, excitement fills my body. For me, 1% or skim milk is just fine, and then I look at all my sweetening options and ponder…Blue? Pink? No, yellow is better. Wait, maybe I should use the more natural white sugar. Oh, but then there is brown sugar too- I guess brown is healthier since brown bread is better than white bread...

Making this decision at anytime of the day is a challenge for me, but before my morning coffee…just impossible. So here is my Round Up to make all of your mornings easier:

Why Have You (or Have You Not) Done a Good Thing?

1. Team Blue AKA Equal, Main Ingredient: Aspartame

Why is it calorie free? Digested normally, but because of its intense sweetness, the amounts used are virtually calorie-free.
FDA Approved: yes
Comparison to Table Sugar: 160-220 x sweeter
Acceptable Daily Intake: 50 mg/kg/day (i.e can safely consume up to 2,750 mg/day for 120 lb person)
1 Packet has: ~38mg
1 12oz diet soda has: ~225mg
Can it cause cancer? No, according to most current scientific research

Judges Say…
OK in moderation. While it may seem impossible to consume a dangerous amount, a 40 lb child (upper limit= ~900mg) would only have to consume 4, 12oz diet sodas (@ 225mg each=900mg) to reach the limit. However, Aspartame is one of the most thoroughly tested food ingredients and is considered extremely safe.

2. Team Pink AKA Sweet’N Low, Main Ingredient: Saccharine

Why is it calorie free? Slowly absorbed, digested, rapidly excreted by the kidneys.
FDA Approved: yes
Comparison to Table Sugar: 200-500 x sweeter
Acceptable Daily Intake: 5 mg/kg/day (i.e can safely consume up to 275 mg/day for 120 lb person)
1 Packet has: ~20mg
Can it cause cancer? No. In 1977 a Canadian study found that saccharin may lead to cancer in rats, however, the dose they were given was extremely high, above any feasible amount. Since then, all scientific research has supported the safety of saccharin in the above specified doses.

Judges Say…
OK in moderation, would consume less that equal.

3. Team Yellow AKA Splenda, Main Ingredient: Sucralose
Why is calorie free? It’s actually not, but in the US you can claim no calories for products than contain less than 5 calories per serving
FDA Approved: yes
Comparison to Table Sugar: 600 x sweeter
Acceptable Daily Intake: 0-15 mg/kg/day (i.e can safely consume up to 825 mg/day for 120 lb person)
1 Packet has: ~12 mg
Can it cause cancer? No, according to most recent scientific research.

Judges Say…
OK in moderation, great for lower-calorie baking because it is the most heat stable sweetener and it comes in granulated form.

4. Team Green AKA Truvia, Main Ingredient: Stevia, herb derived from South American trees. Contains the sugar alcohol, erythritol and “natural flavors”

FDA Approved? Not Completely… Stevia itself is not approved by the FDA, however, certain highly refined stevia preparations (i.e. Truvia) are generally recognized as safe (GRAS). Although stevia leaves and extracts are not approved by the FDA, they can be sold as supplements, since the supplement industry is completely UN-regulated!
No Acceptable Daily Intake due to lack of research:1 packet of Truvia= 3 g stevia

Judges say…
OK in moderation, although sugar alcohols have potential to have a laxative effect, AKA bloating and diarrhea.

5. Team White AKA Sugar, Main Ingredient: 50% Glucose + 50% Sucrose

Comes From: processing sugar cane or beets. First it is Brown Sugar, then it is refined and the yellow-brown pigments are removes to form white table sugar. SO…white and brown sugar are the same, nutritionally speaking. But, brown sugar would be more natural, since it less refined.
*Molasses is the least refined.

1 packet= ~1tsp= ~16 calories.

Recommendations: consume no more than 100-300 “Discresionary calories” to be used for added fats, sugars, and alcohol. So, if you use half on sugar, that would be less than 9 tsp

6. Team Agave Nectar, Main Ingredients: Complex forms of fructose (fructosans), which when heated, are broken down into fructose. The color and richness depend on amount of filtration after heating.

Comes from: Agave plants are crushed, the sap is collected, and then heated to 140 degrees for >30 hrs to develop the sweet syrup.

Judges say…

BE WARNED. Although Agave Nectar has gotten much hype lately for being “natural”, “raw”, and “healthy”, the truth is; it mainly (>70%) Fructose. That’s more than high fructose corn syrup (HFCS)!
What’s the problem with fructose? Nothing, when it is found naturally in fruits! However, when it is found in extremely high amounts (such as HFCS and agave nectar) it causes a whole host of problems. While glucose is absorbed all over the body, fructose is mainly absorbed in the liver, think of all that work for one little organ! And, excess carbohydrate in the liver (mainly from fructose) is converted to fat for storage.

7. Team Honey
Basically, honey has the same nutrition profile as regular table sugar.
Calories: 20 per tsp
However, it is extremely natural, especially the NYC honey you can buy at the green market!
*NOTE: Honey is not suitable for children less than 1

Benefits of sugar substitutes: weight control, blood sugar control for people with diabetes, and potential protection against dental carries or cavities

Potential Harmful Effects: stomach pain, bloating, potentially leading to diseases at extremely high doses, but mostly were are bodies really made to digest artificial and processed sweeteners? I’ll leave that decision to you…

My general recommendations:

1. The FDA approved artificial sweeteners are fine to consume in moderation (even when pregnant or breastfeeding). However, if you do not consume much added sugar in your diet, there should be no problem with a few tsp of normal sugar (including table sugar, molasses, or honey).

2. I would avoid agave nectar.

3. If use sugar frequently throughout the day, I would alternate between the real thing and sugar substitutes. My order of substitutes would be as follows: 1)Truvia & Splenda, 2) Equal and Sweet’N Low

Hopefully this helps to clear up some confusion, I know it did for me! Moderation is key, for sugar, sugar substitutes, and ALL foods, in general!

--Samantha Jacobs, RD

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