It seems worthwhile to run down a list of pros and cons of sugar and the most common artificial sweeteners. So, here goes:
Sugar- table sugar is sucrose. It tastes just like sugar because, well, that's what it is. It can be a factor in obesity, diabetes and coronary artery disease. Certainly it leads in a very direct way to tooth decay, and in that case it's all about the frequency of eating or drinking foods that are high in refined sugars. Yet it's natural and if used in moderation is something we gain a great deal of enjoyment from. The moderation is the tricky part.
Saccharine- This is in the brand Sweet n Low. It was first produced in 1878 at John's Hopkins University. To many, it tastes sweet but not in an entirely pleasant way. The health effects of saccharine have been controversial since the start.
USDA scientist Harvey Wiley, 1908, to President Theodore Roosevelt: "Everyone who ate that sweet corn was deceived. He thought he was eating sugar, when in point of fact he was eating a coal tar product totally devoid of food value and extremely injurious to health."
President Roosevelt's famed heated response: "Anybody who says saccharin is injurious to health is an idiot."
Since the 1960's many studies have attempted to link saccharin to cancer, particularly bladder cancer. This has been demonstrated in rats yet the application of these findings to humans has been questionable. It seems that no study has definitively linked saccharine to human cancer.
Since saccharin is not a sugar molecule, it has negligible calories, it does not predispose to diabetes and it does not cause cavities.
Aspartame- This is Equal and Nutrasweet. Aspartame is an amino acid (one of the building blocks of proteins and certainly not anything related to a sugar) which just happens to taste astonishingly sweet. Also steeped in controversy, everything from its rapid FDA approval in 1974 to the question of whether it, too, is implicated in cancer seem to be sources of ongoing debate. (So far as I know, however, President Nixon never called anyone an idiot over the matter.) Testing has been very thorough and over 90 countries approve its use.
(Still, in this author- and occasional user's- personal view, the fact that a protein tastes as sweet as a refined carbohydrate is pretty darn weird.)
Again, since aspartame is not a sugar molecule, it has negligible calories, it does not predispose to diabetes and it does not cause cavities.
Sucralose- This is Splenda. Sucralose is simply the mirror-image molecule of sucrose, our old friend table sugar. Here's how to think of this product:
Look at your right hand. Let it represent natural sucrose or D-sucrose which is a "D" sugar. "D" stands for "Dextro" or "right". (Not in all contexts though. No one says, "I'm dextro and you're wrong!") Anyway your left hand then represents sucralose or L-sucrose which is an "L" sugar. "L" stands for "Levo" or "left".
In 1981 my organic chemistry professor, the aptly named G.N.R. Smart PhD, explained to us that L-sugars could be made but the process was not cost-effective; he stated that if a company could make L-sucrose on a commercially viable scale it would be a highly profitable venture. Brilliant! This is precisely what Tate & Lyle accomplished in the early 1990's.
I hope that Dr. Smart had bought stock.
Differences from natural sugar? Health concerns? Natural sucrose dissolves in water to form a clear solution, sucralose looks cloudy. Sucralose also does not attract water and so baked goods can seem a bit drier when made with it. The taste of sucralose is percieved by many people to be closer to natural sugar than the other products mentioned above, but a percentage of people find its taste to be objectionable. There are no known instances of President Clinton calling anyone an idiot over this substance either. Sucralose is the only artificial sweetener ranked as "safe" by the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest. The majority of sucralose ingested is not absorbed by the GI tract, so 70-80% is excreted unchanged in the feces and 20-30% is metabolized and passed in the urine. Some concern has been raised about an immunological effect of sucralose on the thymus. Once again many studies on this topic have been completed and to date no harmful effects have been found.
Since sucralose is a mirror-reversed sugar molecule, it has no calories (the body doesn't recognize it as food), it does not predispose to diabetes and it does not cause cavities.
Now why would I make a meshuggeneh comment like that? Yet? What's with the yet?
Well, as many people use sucralose as a sweetener over many years, we're passing tons of a potential food source past the oral bacteria that crave sugar just as much as we do. Sooner or later, it's entirely possible that a spontaneous mutation will allow the cavity-causing germs in our mouths to feast on L-sugars. Once that happens cavities might come from sucralose just as readily as they do from sucrose and its kin. For now, though, you're safe, dentally anyway.
Which one do you think fills this container in my pantry?
I mean, you have to chose, and I always say, "When it comes to health and nutrition, there's no free lunch..."