Sweeteners: Low-Calorie Options
Many low-calorie sweeteners are now available. This article features information on a few of the newest sweeteners to the commercial market.
SweetLeaf® and Truvia®
Both SweetLeaf and Truvia are made from the stevia herb, a plant that is native to northeast Paraguay and a member of the chrysanthemum family. SweetLeaf contains only stevia. Truvia contains both stevia and a sugar alcohol.
Stevia currently is grown many places, including Paraguay, Brazil, Japan, China, Colombia, southern Ontario, Mexico, and India. Stevia consumption has occurred outside of the United States for decades. In fact, the first documented use of stevia was in 1887 by the scientist Antonio Bertoni. Stevia is 30 times sweeter than sugar in its unprocessed form and 250 to 300 times sweeter once it is purified.
SweetLeaf and Truvia contain 0 calories. Both of these products are used for cooking and baking, and both products’ Web sites feature a recipe section. Truvia offers a conversion chart on its Web site for cooking and baking purposes—¾ teaspoon (tsp) Truvia=2 tsp sugar.
The World Health Organization and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have deemed stevia safe in moderate amounts. Stevia is now added to many beverages, including soda and juice products manufactured by the Coca-Cola Co. and Odwalla. Stevia is used in gum, yogurt, pickles, dried seafood, fish and meat, vegetables, condiments, frozen foods, and confectionaries.
Whey Low products are made from a blend of fructose, sucrose, and lactose, which are blended to interact in a way that is not completely absorbed in the body. Therefore, Whey Low products contain 5 calories/1 tsp. Whey Low products are available in granular, brown (Whey Low® Gold), and powdered sugar replacement varieties. Whey Low® Type D is a granulated sugar substitute, which is marketed specifically to people with diabetes, because it has no more than 20% of the glycemic index of glucose. In addition, a Whey Low product for ice cream is available, specially formulated for making homemade dairy ice cream. A Whey Low maple syrup product also is sold.
Substitution is reported as excellent in most recipes. Whey Low is used in equal amounts to the sugar called for in a recipe. However, it is recommended that when using Whey Low granular, that you reduce the oven temperature by 10° F and that you use the shortest cooking/baking time called for. Whey Low Type D also requires a decreased baking temperature, but will require a longer baking time in some cases. You also can use Whey Low granular as a tabletop sweetener and for mixing in cold drinks.
The product Web site states that the unabsorbed sugars and the starch of Whey Low stimulate the growth of healthful gut bacteria, and that the unabsorbed lactose and other carbohydrates may enhance calcium absorption. The makers of Whey Low state that, “No side effects have been observed in the clinical tests performed to date, and no observations of side effects of any kind were reported by participants in the Consumer Survey.”
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol found in many foods, including beets, mushrooms, oats, berries, and corn. Xylitol also is naturally produced by the human body during metabolism. It is produced commercially from birch and other hardwood trees, as well as fibrous vegetation. Xylitol tastes as sweet as sugar, but contains 40% fewer calories than sugar (2.4 calories/1 gram (g), compared to 4 g for sugar). Xylitol is absorbed slowly, and does not stimulate insulin or increase blood sugar.
Used in human food since the 1960s, xylitol today is approved for use in 35 countries. Some testers have reported that you can substitute xylitol for one-half of the sugar in some recipes for baked goods. Xylitol often is used in sugar-free gum, because it prevents bacteria from growing and sticking to teeth, reduces plaque formation, and increases salivary flow. It also is used in gumdrops, hard candies, chewable vitamins, pharmaceuticals, and oral health products. Xylitol has a minty, cool taste that is not appropriate for all food products.
Consumption of large amounts of xylitol can result in abdominal discomfort, gas, and diarrhea. The FDA has considered xylitol safe for human ingestion since 1986.
Agave is produced from desert plants and known as “maguey” in Mexico. Agave is the same plant that is used to make tequila and mescal. Agave nectar is a liquid sweetener that actually contains more calories than sugar, 20 calories/1 tsp compared to 15 calories/1 tsp for sugar, but it is so sweet that much less is needed to reach the same sweetness as sugar. Approximately ¼ cup (C) provides the sweetness of 1 C of sugar.
Agave nectar is excellent for making beverages. You also can use it as a substitute for cane syrup, maple syrup, inverted sugar, or molasses in any recipe. Agave nectar comes in many varieties, from light to dark, and is used in both sweet and savory dishes. Agave nectar is considered safe for normal consumption, but some experts state that pregnant women should use it with caution, because some species contain steroids that could lead to miscarriage.
The high-fructose content of agave nectar (approximately 90% fructose) is of some concern, because some people believe that an increased consumption of fructose is to blame for part of America’s obesity epidemic. Another concern is that the demand for agave may soon exceed the supply.
References and recommended readings
About Whey Low. Whey Low Web site. www.wheylow.com. Accessed May 20, 2014.
Feldman D. Low-calorie sweetener xylitol: facts and info. The Diet Channel Web site. www.thedietchannel.com/lowcalorie_sweetener_xylitol_facts_and_info. Published August 27, 2008. Accessed May 20, 2014.
From nature, for sweetness. Truvia Web site. www.truvia.com. Accessed May 20, 2014.
Low calorie sweeteners. Food Insight Web site. http://www.foodinsight.org/Hot-Topics/Low-Calorie-Sweetener/tabid/1371/Default.aspx. Accessed May 20, 2014.
Size up your sweetener options. Diabetes Forecast Web site. http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2009/jul/size-up-your-sweetener-options.html. Published July 2009. Accessed May 20, 2014.
The sweetness your family craves. The natural goodness they deserve.® SweetLeaf Web site. www.sweetleaf.com. Accessed May 20, 2014.
Xylitol. Calorie Control Council Web site. www.caloriecontrol.org/xylitol.html. Accessed May 20, 2014.
Review Date 5/14