By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column
Honestly, who doesn't have a sweet tooth? We are born that way -- liking the taste sensation of sweetness. We have scores of taste buds dedicated only to tasting sweetness.
And boy, do we like our sugar. Within a year's time, Americans basically eat their weight in sugar. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2002 the average American consumed 146 pounds of sugar (including sugar, corn sweeteners, honey, and syrups).
Most of us who are trying to keep extra pounds off want to have our cake and eat it, too: We want the sweetness of sugar but without the calories. The way I see it, if we are trying to cut calories from sugar, we have a couple of options:
Lots of us are going for Option 2. The amount of artificially sweetened products consumed by Americans has doubled in just 10 years. Artificial sweeteners come in handy if you are trying to reduce your calories from sugar, if you have diabetes and are trying to maintain normal blood sugar -- and if you happen to like the taste of diet soda because regular soda is too darn sweet.
I'm in this last group. I simply do not like the taste of regular soda, so I enjoy one can of diet cola (caffeine free) a day -- usually in the afternoon.
But Can They Really Help With Weight Loss?
A Harvard Medical School study reported similar results in 1997. Researchers told obese women to either consume aspartame-sweetened foods or eliminate them for 16 weeks of a weight-reduction program. What happened? The women who were consuming the artificial sweetener lost significantly more weight and regained significantly less weight during the maintenance and follow-up phase.
Which One Is Right for You?
With so many artificial sweeteners out there these days, how do you know which one to buy? Here's how they differ, and the pros and cons of each type.
Splenda contains the artificial sweetener sucralose along with maltodextrin, which adds bulk so Splenda can be substituted cup-for-cup for sugar in recipes. Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar. To make sucralose, they take a cane sugar molecule and substitute three hydrogen-oxygen groups with three chlorine atoms.
Baking tip: After experimenting with Splenda in recipes, I have found the results are usually successful when I use half sugar and half Splenda.
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I actually use all of the different artificial sweeteners. I use Splenda, Equal, Sweet-N-Low.
Which one do you prefer?
I had problems with sucralose. I have an enlarged right kidney, due to several blockages (which surgery has fixed). When my kidney was blocked, I used to get a peculiar kind of chills. I learned to associate those chills with kidney damage. When I first became prediabetic, I used sucralose, and got those chills whenever I consumed it. Since then I've used stevia or NOW stevia glycerite. At restaurants I settle for saccharine.
Splenda/Sucralose fer shurrre. Mostly because I can cook with it, but also because I've never noticed an aftertaste. Aspartame has done one good thing for me, it's broken my Co-Cola habit. Nasty stuff! *shudders* (I know they make Coke with Splenda, too, but it still doesn't taste like "the real thing," and I've gotten to the point now where even the sugary kind tastes wrong.)
I just put a little Splenda (or generic Sucrlose) in my tea, and smile.
PS: I have discovered through trial and error that the granular sucralose that you're supposed to be able to use "measure for measure" instead of sugar is a little too sweet. If the recipe calls for 1 cup of white sugar, I use 3/4 or 2/3 cup of granular Splenda. Works fine. (I'm very fond of baked egg custard made with sucralose, with a lot of nutmeg or mace on top...high protein & practically no carbs. Comfort food #1.)
PPS: That WebMD site has a "Food Frauds" (or something) slide show that is still obsessing on fat and calorie content instead of simple carbohydrates such as high fructose corn syrup as a cheap sweetener in processed foods and soft drinks. *sigh*
The first thing I look for on a label anymore is the carb content.