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Artificial Sweeteners

If you're trying to lose weight, avoiding sugar seems to be one of the best ways to reduce your calorie intake. Many dieters use artificial sweeteners and artificially sweetened foods as a way to cut sugar without eliminating all things sweet. Today, artificial sweeteners are found in a variety of foods like beverages, ice-creams, baked foods etc. but what exactly are these artificial sweeteners and what is their role in the diet?

Artificial sweeteners are a type of sugar substitutes which means any sweetener used instead of normal table sugar. These are synthetic substitutes but can also be made from some natural herbs. Some examples are aspartame, saccharin, sucralose etc.

Uses for artificial sweeteners

  • Artificial sweeteners are widely used for special situations like
    • Diabetes management: Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners generally don't raise blood sugar levels because they are not carbohydrates. But it’s important to always check with your doctor or dietitian about using any sugar substitutes if you have diabetes
    • Weight control: Artificial sweeteners have virtually no calories which make them appealing to include in weight loss diets. Also, you need only a fraction as compared to the regular sugar. However, the type and amount of sweetener to be used needs to be checked with a doctor or a dietitian
    • Avoiding tooth decay: Sweeteners also do not contribute to tooth decay, as they are not broken down to acid by bacteria in the mouth

Common Sweeteners Approved for Use in India by FSSAI (Indian regulatory body):

The 4 most common artificial sweeteners used in food industry are: Aspartame, Acesulphame K2, Saccharin and Sucralose.

Aspartame is a high-intensity, artificial, non-nutritive sweetener which is being marketed under various brand names like Equal, Nutrasweet, Spoonful, Indulge, Equal-Measure etc. Aspartame can be found in variety of products like instant breakfasts, gelatin desserts, soft drinks, beverages, tabletop sweeteners, cereals, laxatives, tea beverages, sugar-free chewing gums etc.

Acesulfame potassium is a calorie-free sugar substitute (artificial sweetener), also known as Acesulfame K. Acesulfame K is 200 times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar), as sweet as aspartame, about 2/3 as sweet as saccharin, and 1/3 as sweet as sucralose. In carbonated drinks, it is almost always used in conjunction with another sweetener, such as aspartame or sucralose.

Over the last century, Saccharin and its salts have been used in a variety of beverages, foods, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. Its primary function is to provide sweetness without adding calories.

Sucralose is an artificial sweetener which can be used in baking or in products that require a longer shelf life. Sucralose is used as a replacement for, or in combination with, other artificial or natural sweeteners, such as aspartame, acesulfame potassium or high-fructose corn syrup.

Also, there are sugar alcohols like sorbitol, Mannitol and Xylitol which are provide lesser calories and are less sweet than sugar. They are mostly used to sweeten commercial foods labelled sugar free or no added sugar.

There are different sets of regulations for use of artificial sweeteners in different foods as per FSSAI (Indian regulatory body).

While artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes may help with weight management, they should be used only in moderation. Often, natural sweeteners are promoted as healthier options than processed table sugar or other sugar substitutes. However, even these often undergo processing and refining. Egs. include fruit juices and nectars, honey, molasses, and maple syrup.

Just because a food is marketed as sugar-free doesn't mean it's free of calories. If you eat too many sugar-free foods, you can still gain weight if they have other ingredients that contain calories. Intake of artificial sweeteners in moderation under the guidance of a doctor or a dietitian is the key.