Studies have shown that exceeding the daily recommended intake of sugar can contribute to weight gain and lead to obesity. Many processed foods contain "empty calories." These products contain sugar that supplies energy (calories) without providing nutrients. Because obesity can precipitate health-related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, the best preventive measure is to maintain a healthy body weight. To this end, many individuals restrict their intake of sugar through the use of artificial sweeteners.
I will preface the information presented in this article by acknowledging the fact that the use of artificial sweeteners is highly controversial. Many health professionals have authored books addressing the subject and a plethora of information can be found on the Internet. My position here is not to promote the use of artificial sweeteners but, rather, to provide information on how the different artificial sweeteners perform in cooking and baking when used to replace sugar.
Sugar, or glucose, is an important component of a healthy diet as it provides a source of quick energy. Carbohydrates are the best source for the body's glucose needs and can be found in fruits, vegetables, and grains. The body needs at least 50-100 grams of carbohydrates each day. Dietary guidelines recommend that sugars should account for no more than 25% of the day's total energy intake. On 2000 calories a day, this would equate to 500 calories (125 grams).
Sweeteners can be categorized as nutritive and nonnutritive. Nutritive sweeteners provide energy (about 4 calories per gram). These include table sugar, brown sugar, honey, and corn syrup. Nonnutritive sweeteners are sometimes referred to as artificial sweeteners. These products provide a sweet taste but contain almost no calories and no carbohydrates. Many individuals who are diabetic use nonnutritive sweeteners because they do not affect blood sugar levels.
Aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are the most common nonnutritive sweeteners used in home cooking and baking. Unlike aspartame and saccharin, sucralose is made from sugar yet contains no calories as it passes through the body unabsorbed. Based on research to date, sucralose appears to be the safest of the "artificial" sweeteners. Table 1 provides a comparison of these three artificial sweeteners.
It should be noted that using Splenda? Granular to replace sugar may affect certain properties in baked goods. For instance, cakes may not rise as high, cookies may not have the same crunchy texture, and the browning of the product will be reduced. For guidelines on baking with Splenda?, visit the company website (http://www.splenda.ca).
Here are some tips to producing a successful product when cooking and baking with artificial sweeteners.
When two different classes of artificial sweeteners are combined, the result is a much sweeter taste than it is when one kind is used alone in cooking. For example, a recipe calls for 6 packages of saccharin. Try using only 3 packages but use 2 different kinds, such as 1 package of saccharin (heat stabile) and 2 packages of aspartame (very little aftertaste).
Aspartame can be added just after baking by sprinkling it on top of pies, cakes, or cookies. It is slowly absorbed into the cooling product and the sweet taste is retained.
Since 1 teaspoon of sugar has only 4 grams of carbohydrates, using a small amount of sugar in a recipe can help reduce the need for artificial sweeteners while increasing tenderness and browning. For diabetics, usually 1 teaspoon of sugar per serving is acceptable. However, individuals should follow the recommendations of their health care professionals.
The bottom line is to use artificial sweeteners judiciously. To quote the authors of "Defeating Diabetes," "Artificial sweeteners are not 'health foods.' There is no evidence at all that they aid in the weight loss battle or improve overall blood sugar control. If you use them, be careful not to exceed the acceptable daily intakes. Better still, use them only occasionally."
Dr. Koukel is the Juneau District Agent for the Home Economics Programs of the UAF Cooperative Extension Service.