Friday, May 18, 2007

Sugar - Aspartame - Splenda - Stevia - Molasses: Choosing a Sweetener That's Right for You

Just a few years ago, there were very few choices to sweeten your food and beverages. Now, our supermarket aisles are literally filled with tons of natural and artificial sweeteners. All these choices make it harder to decide what's right for you and your family. Here is an overview of some of the top sweeteners on the market.


Sugar is, by far, the most popular sweetener worldwide. It has been used for many years to make foods more appetizing. However, processed sugars are being used more and more, and are causing adverse health problems. Excessive consumption of sugar is linked to obesity and tooth decay. Eating sugar also triggers your body's insulin response and can leave you feeling tired, sluggish, and craving more sugar.

Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)

Aspartame is probably the most common artificial sweetener. It is the key ingredient in NutraSweet and Equal. It is also used to sweeten many diet products like cookies and colas. While the FDA and many medical associations claim aspartame is entirely safe, others have suggested it may cause or increase health problems ranging from headaches, dizziness, and blurred vision to more serious problems such as severe depression, brain tumors, and multiple sclerosis. Both sides cite extensive scientific research to back their claims.

Sucralose (Splenda)

A newer sweetener called sucralose or Splenda has recently been working its way into restaurants and homes. Splenda is being advertised as being made from sugar, giving the impression it's as safe as sugar. While there isn't extensive research to prove Splenda is unsafe, there really hasn't been any extensive research done on this product.

While sugar is used in the production of Splenda, the conversion process is quite extensive. Sucralose is no more natural than aspartame. Preliminary research done on sucralose has shown that it causes a shrunken thymus gland, enlarged liver and kidneys, diarrhea, pregnancy complications, and other problems in rodents. The product is considered safe because these problems only occurred with large doses.


Nothing is sweeter than sugar, right? Actually, a natural sweetener called stevia is. It comes from the stevia plant and is about 300 times sweeter than sugar. This means, you can use a lot less to get the same sweetening power. Plus, stevia contains no calories. It can be used for the same purposes as sugar, including sweetening beverages and baking.

While stevia is only approved as an herbal remedy in the U.S., countries like Japan have been using it for years with no adverse side effects.


While some of the sweeteners I've already mentioned may or may not be bad for you, molasses is actually good for you. Blackstrap molasses is a natural byproduct that comes from refining sugar. Unlike sugar, which is basically empty calories, molasses contains iron, copper, manganese, potassium, and magnesium. While molasses doesn't have the same taste as other sweeteners, it provides you with fuel to help you look and feel better.

While there is disagreement on the safety of artificial sweeteners, why bother taking the chance when there are safe, natural alternatives? While sweeteners like stevia may be more expensive, the health of your family is worth the extra cost.



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