5 Fast Facts About Low-Calorie Sweeteners

  1. Most artificial sweeteners are pretty bad for you.

A recent study, as well as many studies before, showed that certain artificial sweeteners (sucralose, saccharin, and aspartame, better known as Splenda, Sweet N Low and Equal, respectively) can contribute to metabolic disorders because of the way they affect intestinal microbiota, or the “good” bacteria in your gut. Turns out those tiny little bacteria can really affect your health!

Food

At first glance it kind of looks like “die Coke”

  1. Lots of nonnutritive sweeteners, including “all-natural” ones, are full of carby fillers.

Lately, we’ve been using xylitol and erythritol/rebiana blend instead of any of those other artificial sweeteners because they’re a bit healthier, at least as far as we know! Xylitol is actually naturally-occurring and beneficial for dental health, and erythritol and rebiana are also naturally-occurring. Nowadays a lot of people are using stevia too, which so far has been shown not to be harmful, but it is important to make sure that your stevia isn’t full of carbohydrate fillers since it can really add up. Our stevia (the aforementioned erythritol/rebiana blend) is free of fillers like maltodextrin and dextrose, which are really just regular carbs, AKA what you’re trying to avoid when you use zero-calorie sweeteners!

Equal ingredients: dextrose (sugar) with maltodextrin (sugar), aspartame and acesulfame potassium (zero-calorie sweeteners)

Equal ingredients: dextrose (sugar) with maltodextrin (sugar), aspartame and acesulfame potassium (zero-calorie sweeteners)

  1. Speaking of “all-natural,” those product claims mean pretty much nothing.

The term “natural” is totally unregulated. You can call anything natural and it won’t mean it occurs in nature or that it’s healthy or that it isn’t made out of horse manure. Here’s an example: remember Splenda’s tagline, “Made from sugar so it tastes like sugar?” Well, they weren’t lying. Sucralose, the sweet zero-calorie part of Splenda, does indeed start with sucrose, regular table sugar, but it’s not like you could make sucralose in your kitchen. I’m no chemist, but essentially sucrose (sugar) is converted into sucralose (Splenda) by replacing some atoms with chlorine atoms. If that sounds like a little tweak to you, just remember that a tiny change at the molecular level leads to a huge change on a macroscopic level. Hydrogen, for example, is a very volatile chemical on its own but add some oxygen and boom, you’ve got water. So essentially, even though Splenda originally comes from sugar, it’s not even close to being the same!

It is important to remember, though, not to be afraid of eating something because “it’s got chemicals.” Everything is made of chemical components! I mean, just look at all these chemicals in a banana! Splenda isn’t bad because it’s made of chemicals; it’s bad because of the impact it has on your body.

100% natural, right?

100% natural, right?

  1. Less than five is pretty much zero, right?

Yeah, they’re about the same, according to the FDA. As long as a product has under 5 calories per serving, it can say it has zero calories per serving. You might be thinking, who cares? It’s just five calories. But remember that those serving sizes are often puny, and that if you’re using a ton of something and thinking of it as nothing, it can all add up pretty quickly.

A one-gram packet of Splenda has 3.6 calories. For comparison, one gram of sugar has 4 calories. Not a big reduction, right? That’s because all carbs have four calories per gram, and that yellow packet is actually mostly dextrose and maltodextrin (simple carbs) and just a tiny bit of sucralose. If you’re using, say ten packs of Splenda per day (not unheard of if you’re a big coffee drinker!) and not accounting for it in what you eat, you’ll gain almost four pounds of fat in a year, just from something that’s supposedly zero-calorie.

  1. Luo Han Guo: the New Stevia?

A few weeks back I was eating a Quest bar and I happened to read “luo han guo” in the ingredients list. I was pretty shocked because luo han guo, or monkfruit, is used in traditional Chinese medicine, so what is it doing in a healthy low-carb protein bar? Turns out that luo han guo is like stevia in that it’s from a plant and it’s sweet yet zero-calorie. So now it’s being used as a nonnutritive sweetener!

I ordered some oatmeal from MyOatmeal.com the other day and found that monkfruit was listed as a sweetener option, so you bet that’s what I chose! As far as I can tell it doesn’t seem to have any weird aftertaste or anything, so that’s good.

Screen Shot 2014-10-02 at 4.59.33 PM

Luo han guo

Word of warning, however: I saw it in my local Safeway, but when I looked at the ingredient list it turned out that the main ingredient was sugar and that each packet was so small that it still counted as zero calories. So tricky! That’s actually pretty dangerous because if a diabetic person used a bunch of it thinking it was zero carb then they could be seriously harmed.

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Chinese monkfruit tea

Takeaways

Always check ingredient lists! I know I definitely need to learn this. My mom has bought bad products so many times only to have me tell her that it’s full of trans fat/refined starch/sugar/radioactive waste when she sees it.

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