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How Sweet Is It?

It's human nature to like foods that taste sweet. But, as any dentist can tell you, sugar is bad for your teeth. It's also loaded with calories, which can lead to unhealthy weight gain. Because excess weight is linked with diabetes, heart disease, and other serious health conditions, cutting back on sugar is a smart move for many people. Luckily, there are other ways to satisfy your sweet tooth.

Naturally sweet options

If you're trying to cut down on refined sugar without using artificial sweeteners, try fruits. They add flavor, as well as fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Fruit also contains calories, so keep that in mind if you are watching your weight. If you have diabetes, fruit and other naturally sweet foods can cause fluctuations in your blood sugar. Here are some ideas for adding fruit to your meals:

  • Add banana slices or berries to unsweetened breakfast cereal.

  • Top fresh fruit with a spoonful of yogurt for dessert.

  • Use all-fruit spread on your toast.

Spices also can help bring out sweet flavor in foods without contributing calories:

  • Mix ginger with a fruit glaze to top fresh fruit.

  • Try cinnamon with hot cereal.

  • Enhance flavor in cookies and rice with nutmeg.

  • Add cinnamon, ginger, or nutmeg to coffee before brewing.

  • Sprinkle ginger over cooked carrots or cinnamon over sweet potatoes.

Artificial sweeteners

Another option is to replace sugar with a low-calorie, artificial sweetener. You can buy products that contain one or sprinkle some on what you eat or drink. These sugar substitutes are many times sweeter than sucrose, or table sugar, so a tiny amount goes a long way.

Here's some information on nonnutritive sweeteners:

Acesulfame-K

This is one of the few low-calorie sweeteners that can be heated without losing sweetness, which makes it great for baking. It has been available to the public since 1988; it is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Granulated forms make measuring easy. It's also in some candies and imitation dairy products. Sunett and Sweet One are two brand names.

Aspartame

Aspartame is a low-calorie sweetener added to a variety of foods and drinks, including soft drinks, breakfast cereals, and yogurt. It is made from two amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Aspartame is digested the same way fish, meat, chicken, and other protein foods are digested. Approved by the FDA in 1981, it is one of the most rigorously studied food ingredient. Aspartame is about 180 times sweeter than sugar. Brand names include NutraSweet and Equal.

Neotame

Neotame, a general purpose sweetener, was approved by the FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. This sweetener may be used in a wide variety of food products. Depending on its food applications, neotame is approximately 7,000 to 13,000 times sweeter than sugar.

Saccharin

This is the most popular low-calorie sweetener in the world; it has been in use for more than a century. It's about 300 times sweeter than table sugar (sucrose). If you've used Sweet 'N Low, you've tasted saccharin. It's also in some diet drinks and processed foods. In the late '90s, a warning label appeared on products that contained saccharin because large amounts of it caused cancer in lab rats. The National Institutes of Health has stopped listing saccharin as a potential carcinogen. Later studies on animals and people had shown that saccharin was not a major risk factor for cancer.

Stevia

Stevia is a sweetener that has been used in South America for hundreds of years. It is 30 times sweeter than sugar and does not add to caloric intake. It is great for diabetics because it does not affect blood glucose levels.  

Sucralose

Like acesulfame-K, sucralose stays sweet when heated, so you can cook with it. You can use the granulated form like table sugar. Sucralose came on the market in 1998; it's about 600 times sweeter than sugar. This sweetener is starting to appear in breakfast cereals and other prepared foods, too. Common brands include Splenda.

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