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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.

 

Stevia (Truvia, PureVia, SweetLeaf, OnlySweet, Stevia In The Raw)

  • 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? A sweet extract of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Stevia itself does not raise blood sugar, but it’s usually combined with a bulking agent so that it pours like sugar. The bulking agent erythritol doesn’t raise blood sugar either, but other bulking agents might. Read each product label closely.

Sweetness factor: 200 to 300 times as sweet as sugar

Take note: Until December 2008, stevia and its derivatives could be sold in the U.S. only as a dietary supplement. But in 2008, the FDA affirmed a highly purified form of the stevia plant, called Rebaudioside A (a.k.a. Rebiana or Reb A), as a generally recognized as safe ingredient (GRAS). This form of stevia (Reb A) is sold under different brand names like Truvia and PureVia. The FDA did not, however, change the previous ruling on whole-leaf stevia or other stevia extracts.

Our taste test: At the time of our tasting, none of the FDA-affirmed stevia-derived sweeteners (e.g. Truvia, PureVia) were on the market, so all of our tasting was done with stevia sold as dietary supplements. The overall sweetness of stevia rated well in hot and cold tea, but most tasters detected an unpleasant aftertaste that was described by one taster as “corroded tin can.” The sweetness, texture and appearance of the cookies sweetened with stevia were “unacceptable.”

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