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A Buyer's Guide to Sugar Substitutes

The good, the bad and the unacceptable.

According to a recent survey, seven out of 10 adults say they want to reduce or avoid added sugars. To do so, they’re turning to sweeteners that deliver zero or minimal calories. Data from Mintel, a market research group in Chicago, shows that while sales of caloric sweeteners like sugar have been declining in recent years, sales of “diet”-friendly substitutes have skyrocketed, increasing by about 50 percent from 2000 to 2006. And since 66 percent of Americans are overweight and 20.8 million have diabetes, even many health experts are advocating the use of these sugar substitutes.

 

Erythritol (ZSweet, Sun Crystals)

  • Sold as a “tabletop sweetener” (packets used mostly to sweeten beverages)
  • Commonly added to packaged foods and beverages
  • Heat-stable; can be used for baking

What is it? Naturally found in melons and pears, erythritol is another sugar alcohol. The body fully absorbs erythritol (unlike xylitol) but can’t break it down, so it provides (virtually) no calories and does not produce a glycemic response.

Sweetness factor: 60 to 80 percent as sweet as sugar

Take note: Because it’s absorbed, erythritol is less likely to cause gastric distress than xylitol. In Sun Crystals, erythritol is combined with cane sugar for a product that delivers 4 calories per teaspoon and registers a slight glycemic response.

Our taste test: In hot and cold tea, ZSweet and Sun Crystals earned good to excellent sweetness scores. Cookies baked with ZSweet received poor scores for texture and appearance and had mixed ratings for overall sweetness. Tasters also noted an unexpected cool sensation when eating the cookies. Sun Crystals is not currently available in a baking product.

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