Sugar Substitutes, Health, and Baking
Copyright © December 11, 2019 by Robert Wayne Atkins, P.E.
All Rights Reserved.
The following is not medical advice nor is it a medical recommendation.
Please consult a licensed medical professional to have your medical questions answered.
Before you experiment with a sugar substitute you should discuss it with your doctor because your doctor is knowledgeable about your health, and your medical history, and any prescription medicines you may be taking. Your doctor can advise you of any potential problems that you may experience with a specific sugar substitute.
The impact of sugar substitutes on a person’s health may be influenced by the quantity consumed and the time of day it is consumed. Sugar substitutes may adversely impact intestinal bacteria (flora), and increase the risk of glucose intolerance and metabolic disorders.
The consumption of some artificial sweeteners may increase your cravings for sweets and carbohydrates. Artificial sweeteners may increase your appetite and lead to the accumulation of fat on your body and an increase in your weight.
All the different sugar substitutes have their own unique sweet taste. Therefore you may have to experiment with several different sugar substitutes until you find one that has a sweetness that you enjoy. You may also discover that you prefer one type of sweetener in your coffee and a different type of sweetener in your baked goods. In addition, it takes different amounts of the different sweeteners to achieve the same final result. Therefore you will need to follow the specific instructions that accompany each type of sweetener and use the recommended amount of that sweetener to achieve the desired result.
Aspartme was discovered by accident in 1965 by James Schlatter while working as a chemist for G.D. Searle & Company. When submitted for FDA approval in 1975 the FDA found serious deficiencies in Searle’s operations and practices. In 1980 the FDA concluded there was no relationship between aspartame and brain damage. However, the FDA did not approve aspartame in 1980. Later in 1981 aspartame was approved for use in a few foods. In 1983 it was approved for use in soft drinks. In 1996 is was approved as a general purpose sweetener. Aspartame is a combination of the two amino acids aspartic acid and phenylalanine. The human body can produce aspartic acid but phenylalanine must be obtained from food. When the body digests aspartame it breaks it down into methanol. Methanol is naturally present in very small quantities in some foods. However, in large quantities methanol may be harmful to the body. The human body converts methanol into formaldehyde which is then oxidized into formic acid. The amount of formaldehyde is trivial and theoretically it should not cause any harm to the body. Aspartame is approximately 200 times sweeter than table sugar so only a small amount is needed to achieve the desired degree of sweetness. In the year 2020 the internet contains approximately the same number of articles that praise aspartame as articles that condemn aspartame. This allows each person to make up his or her mind on whether or not aspartame is safe or not safe.
Saccharin (Necta Sweet)
Saccharin was discovered by accident in 1879 at John Hopkins University by a researcher named Constantine Fahlberg. In 1884 he obtained a patent and he began to mass-produce saccharin. In 1911 President Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt made the following official comment: "Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot." Sales for saccharin increased significantly during World War II because sugar was rationed. Sales increased again in the 1960s and 1970s when people gradually became "weight and sugar conscious." Saccharin is an artificial sweetener that is about 300 to 400 times sweeter than table sugar so only a very small amount of saccharin is needed to achieve the desired level of sweetness. It is made by oxidizing o-toluene sulfonamide or phthalic anhydride which results in a white crystalline powder. In high concentrations saccharin may have a bitter aftertaste. Saccharin has no calories. It also has no nutrients. It is safe for diabetics to consume because saccharin does not impact blood sugar levels. It contains no carbohydrates and the human body cannot breakdown or absorb saccharin so it is expelled from the body unchanged. Therefore saccharin does not contribute to tooth decay or cavities. Saccharin is stable and it has a shelf life of many years. Studies on rats in the 1970s resulted in saccharin being banned in 1977. This was at approximately the same time that the artificial sweetener aspartame was first being introduced into the market. (Do you suppose this was just a convenient coincidence or could it have been intentionally orchestrated?) A careful and impartial review of the saccharin studies of the 1970s revealed that they were seriously flawed. Subsequent studies systematically reputed the original studies and those studies resulted in the removal of warning labels from products that contained saccharin in 2000 by the Department of Health and Human Services. In 2001 the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that saccharin was safe for human consumption. In 2010 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) declared that saccharin was not a potential hazard to human health. Saccharine has been declared safe for human use by the World Health Organization (WHO) and by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Saccharine can be used to sweeten beverages, or sprinkled on foods like table sugar, or used in baking recipes. However, only a very small amount is needed when compared to table sugar. Saccharin is sold under the brand names Necta Sweet, Sweet 'N Low, and Sweet Twin. Some of these brands may also contain dextrose (glucose) in addition to saccharin so you should read the ingredient label. (Necta Sweet does not contain any dextrose or lactose.) Saccharin is available in granular and liquid form in many grocery stores where table sugar is sold. According to the FDA adults and children can consume saccharin in moderation without risk.
Sucralose was discovered in 1976. Splenda was released in 1998. Sucralose is not a sugar even though it is advertised as being "made from sugar." It is a zero-calorie chlorinated artificial sweetener where 3 hydrogen-oxygen groups are replaced with chlorine. In simple terms, sucralose is chlorinated sugar. As chlorine gradually accumulates inside our bodies, chlorine may result in a variety of health problems. Although pure sucralose has no calories, Splenda contains the sugar glucose (dextrose) and the starch maltodextrin so it contains about 3.4 calories per gram. Maltodextrin may cause blood sugar spikes in some people. Sucralose is between 400 to 700 times sweeter than table sugar and this means that only a tiny amount of it is needed. In addition, it does not have a bitter aftertaste like some artificial sweeteners. Sucralose may reduce the friendly bacteria in your intestines without impacting the harmful bacteria. This can have a negative impact on your digestive system. As of the year 2020 it is not clear if sucralose increases, decreases, or has no impact on blood sugar and insulin levels. Studies on different groups of people have yielded conflicting results. Sucralose may be stable up to 350°F (120°C) and it might be safe to use in baking up to this temperature. However, it will decrease the baking time and the finished volume of the baked good. In addition, at temperatures higher than 350°F (120°C) sucralose breaks down and it may then interact with other ingredients with the result being that it may increase the risk of cancer.
Stevia is a sweet herb that is called stevia rebaudiana and it can be grown in a home garden. It is considered safe to consume in its natural form. The leaves are harvested and then dried. The dried leaves can be steeped in hot tea to sweeten it. Or the dried leaves can be ground into a powder and then 1 teaspoon of the powder can be added to 2 cups of water and boiled for about 12 minutes and then strained through some cheesecloth to yield a sweet syrup. In the USA the FDA has not approved whole leaf stevia in processed foods primarily due to the lack of scientific research information about its short-term and long-term health impact. Whole leaf stevia and stevia extract may not be safe to consume during pregnancy primarily due to the lack of research on its effects. However, in Asia and in South America stevia leaves have been used for medicinal purposes and as a sweetener for centuries. Stevia leaves contain several sweet compounds. The two most important sweet compounds found in stevia leaves are stevioside and rebaudioside A (Reb-A). Both compounds are hundreds of times sweeter than sucrose (table sugar). In the USA the FDA has approved one refined form of stevia as being safe to use. On an ingredient label it may be listed as stevia extract or as stevia rebaudiana. The commercially processed stevias available in grocery stores, such as Stevia in the Raw and Truvia, do not contain the entire stevia leaf. Instead they are made from a refined stevia extract called rebaudioside A (Reb-A). Rev-A is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Most of the commercially processed stevias are blends of Reb-A and other sweeteners, such as sugar alcohol (erythritol), or sugar glucose (dextrose), or the starch maltodextrin. Maltodextrin may cause blood sugar spikes in some people. Many of the stevias also contain "natural flavors" which may be highly processed chemicals and they are not healthy. Commercially processed stevias contain almost no calories. Some commercial brands of stevia may be used in place of sugar in baking but you should follow the baking instructions for the type of stevia you purchase. However, stevia may add a licorice aftertaste to your baked goods. Reb-A stevia may help to reduce bad LDL cholesterol, increase good HDL cholesterol, reduce triglycerides, and reduce the risk of some types of cancer, such as breast, leukemia, lung, and stomach cancers. Stevia is stable up to 392°F (200°C) and it can be used in baked goods that are baked below this temperature. Some people like the taste of stevia and some people do not.
Sugar alcohols are sweet but they are not classified as sugars even though they are referred to as "sugar alcohols." Sugar alcohols do not contain any alcohol (ethanol). Sugar alcohols can cause gas, cramping, and diarrhea in some people. However, in some people these symptoms are temporary and they pass as the person's system gradually becomes accustomed to sugar alcohols. On a nutrition label sugar alcohols may be listed as: erythritol, glycerol, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol, xylitol, and a few other less common names. Some sugar-free foods may contain sugar alcohol in addition to better known artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (NutriSweet) or sucralose (Splenda).
- Erythritol is a sugar alcohol that is naturally present in some plants. It contains approximately 6% of the calories of sucrose (table sugar) and it contains about 70% of the sweetness. It may have a mild aftertaste and if consumed in quantity it may cause digestive problems. It does not cause spikes in blood sugar or insulin levels and it has no impact on cholesterol or triglyceride levels.
- Xylitol is a sugar alcohol. It has almost the same sweetness as sucrose but it only has about 65% (2.4 per gram) of the calories of sucrose. It doesn’t cause spikes in blood sugar or insulin levels. If consumed in large amounts it may cause digestive problems. It is extremely toxic to dogs so you should not store it, or foods that contain it, where a dog can get to it because it could kill the dog.
Summary and Recommendation
Based on all the information presented in this article, saccharin is the one sweetener that has performed well in research studies since the 1980s. It does not appear to have any unhealthy long-term side effects. The human body cannot breakdown or absorb saccharin so it is expelled from the body unchanged. Saccharin does not contribute to tooth decay or cavities. Saccharin can be safely added to baked goods. The FDA has stated that adults and children can consume saccharin in moderation without risk. Therefore saccharin might the best choice for a sweetener because it has no calories and it does not cause the health problems attributed to table sugar.
Saccharin is sold under the brand names Necta Sweet, Sweet 'N Low, and Sweet Twin. Some of these brands may also contain dextrose (glucose) in addition to saccharin so you should read the ingredient label. Necta Sweet does not contain any dextrose or lactose.
Necta Sweet is sold in the following two sizes. Both of the following sizes of Necta Sweet tablets quickly dissolve in water.
a. 1/4 Grain per tablet which is equivalent in sweetening power to 1 teaspoon of sugar.
b. 1 Grain per tablet which is equivalent in sweetening power to 4 teaspoons of sugar.
Grandpappy's e-mail address is: RobertWayneAtkins@hotmail.com