Change is the only constant factor in this ever-changing world… fashions change, trends change, rules change and technologies change. In this changing paradigm, only one thing has remained consistent and that is the human being's unquenchable craving for tasty food. Any person, be it a child or an adult will only eat what is on his plate if it pleases his palate. Along with hunger pangs, the taste buds have to be appeased. The hunger for taste and the trend for junk food have led to expanding waistlines and unwanted bulges and paunches. All these factors have brought about another change…more and more people want to opt for healthier food choices but without any compromise in taste. One option that can offer you the best of two worlds that is sweetness and wellness …are the sugar substitutes. They are the right choice for you if you want to manage your weight, limit your inches and regulate your blood sugar levels.
Let's understand sugar and sugar-substitutes
Sucrose is derived from natural sources such as sugar cane and sugar beets, and then processed. Sugar provides sweetness with calories. It contains 4 calories per gram, which means one teaspoon (ie 5 gms) contains 20 calories. The latest data says men shouldn't consume more than 120 calories from sugar and women not more than 100. However, it is not just the calories, but the high glycemic nature of sugar which is the problem. This means that a calorie from sugar directly causes insulin spikes which will make you gain weight faster than calories from other foods.
Sugar substitutes are the new age health elixirs because by adding them to sweets, pastries and goodies you can indulge in what you are accustomed to without any compromise in wellness.
Some sugar substitutes are natural ingredients used in the kitchen like honey, jaggery, brown rice syrup, molasses and maple syrup etc. You can blend them into your regular recipes for a guilt free sweet spree. But if that does not satisfy you, use the sugar substitutes available.... but only after you have evaluated their pros and cons thoroughly.
A food additive which has a similar taste as sugar and has fewer calories in comparison to sugar is called a sugar substitute or a low calorie sweetener.
Some sugar substitutes are synthetic, and some are natural. High-intensity sweeteners are a class of artificial sweeteners, which are many times sweeter than the common table sugar or sucrose. Hence, a small amount of the sweetener is required to sweeten food.
Sugar substitutes are helpful for people trying to manage their weight and conditions like diabetes. They also help against tooth decay.
Here are some of the commonly used sugar substitutes and their Acceptable Daily Intakes (ADI):
Aspartame: Aspartame is 200 times as sweet as sugar and can be used for making desserts and even used as a tabletop sweetener. It is not heat stable and hence cannot be used for baking and cooking. ADI: 50 mg/ kg body weight.
Acesulfame-Potassium: Acesulfame- potassium is 200 times as sweet as sugar. It is heat stable and hence can be used for heating and cooking purpose. But Acesulfame has a marked aftertaste. ADI: 15 mg/ kg body weight. (slightly bitter after taste)
Saccharin: Saccharin is 300 to 400 times sweet as sugar and is used to sweeten dietary foods and dietary beverages. Saccharin was the first artificial sweetener to be discovered. Besides its benefits, studies dating to the 1970s linked saccharin to bladder cancer in laboratory rats. Because of those studies, saccharin once carried a warning label that it may be hazardous to your health. It also imparts a bitter after-taste.
Stevia: Stevia is a natural sweetener derived from stevia plant. The sweetness comes from two compounds in the plant called steviol glycosides and rebaudiosides, and they are up to 250 to 300 times as sweet as sugar. It has zero glycemic index and contains zero calories, and is therefore becoming very popular as a sugar substitute. It is considered very safe since it is derived from a natural plant. ADI: 0-4 mg/ kg body weight.
Sucralose: Sucralose is 600 times as sweet as sugar and is used in beverages, frozen desserts, chewing gum, baked goods, etc. It is heat stable and can be used for cooking and baking purpose. ADI: 5 mg/ Kg body weight. Recent study has implicated sucralose and aspartame in causing elevated sugar levels. It may also cause gas and bloating.
Fructose: Fructose is a simple sugar that is found in fruit and vegetables. It is about 1.7 times as sweet as ordinary sugar (sucrose). In addition it has a lower glycemic index, only 25 and for this reason it can be used, in small amounts by diabetics. It is also heat stable, so can be used in cooking and baking.
Isomalt: Isomalt is a sugar alcohol (polyol). It has a good flavor. It has 2.1 calories per gram, 53% of sugar. It also has a very low glycemic index, only 2 as compared to 65 of sugar. It has an excellent taste and has an appearance and texture very similar to sugar. It is heat stable and is suitable for cooking and baking.
If taken in large amounts, it can cause a laxative effect.
Xylitol: This is found in foods such as beets, berries, and corn. Xylitol tastes almost as sweet as sugar but is only partially absorbed by the body. Xylitol prevents bacteria from causing plaque to stick to teeth, that is why it can help prevent tooth decay. It can also cause stomach-aches, gas, and diarrhea if you have too much of it.
Maltitol: Maltitol is a sugar alcohol (polyol) with very similar properties to sugar but less calories. It has 2.4 calories per gram and a low glycemic index of 35. Like other sugar alcohols it has a slightly laxative effect if consumed in large quantities.
So, when you wish to indulge in sweet treats without any health threats, read through the label carefully and understand what you are consuming.