Sugar is a popular part of many typical American foods. Unfortunately, it does not contribute many vital nutrients and is chock-full of calories. In fact, one of the key health recommendations from the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is that people should significantly reduce the number of calories they consume from added sugars. Over the years, people have explored various ways to sweeten foods without so many empty calories and have tried various sugar substitutes. Sugar substitutes are sweetening agents that have fewer calories than sugar. There are two types of sugar substitutes -- caloric and non-caloric. Caloric sweeteners have calories and nutrients, but are much sweeter than sugar, which means people need to use less of them. Non-caloric sweeteners cannot be processed by the body, which means that they do not contribute any calories at all.
Meet Caloric Sweeteners
Sugar: Sugar is a sweetening agent that contains 15 calories per teaspoon. It is also known as sucrose, and is most commonly derived from sugar beets and sugar cane.
Agave: Agave sweetener is about 1.5 times sweeter than sugar and comes from the agave plant. It also dissolves well in cold liquids and is less viscous than honey, which makes it perfect for sweetening cold beverages.
Honey: Honey is produced by honey bees as they process plant nectars. It is about twice as sweet as sugar and is a common sugar substitute. Honey is not safe for children under one year of age because it may contain spores that cause infant botulism. However, it is safe for everyone else and even contains antioxidants and even small levels of nutrients (like B vitamins).
Sugar Alcohols: Sugar alcohols have about half as many calories as sugar. They are common ingredients in many sugar-free candies, gums, and soft drinks. Unfortunately, when they are consumed in excess, they can cause digestive distress.
Monk Fruit: This new fruit is 150 times sweeter than real sugar and is becoming popular in natural foods like Kashi. It is vegan and it’s not chemically derived (like aspartame etc).
Aspartame: Aspartame is a low calorie sweetener that is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. Though there had been some concern that aspartame was linked to certain cancers, a study by the National Cancer Institute revealed the lack of any such link. Aspartame is sold as NutraSweet and Equal, and also plays a role in many other products.
Meet Non-Caloric Sweeteners
Sucralose: Sucralose, aka Splenda, is a very stable, calorie-free sweetener that is made from actual sugar. It can replace sugar in just about any recipe or preparation because it acts the same way under the same conditions. This predictability widens its range of applications significantly.
Saccharin: Saccharin is one of the oldest non-caloric sugar substitutes. It has been used as a sweetening agent for over a century!
Stevia: Another old-timer, stevia is derived from a tropical plant in South America. It is a great non- caloric sweetener that can be used effectively on everything except meat and poultry.
Truvia: Truvia is made from the stevia plant and is one of the best- selling sugar substitutes on the market today. It is usually sold in packets, each of which is considered as sweet as two teaspoons of sugar. It is considered a natural, non- nutritive sweetener.
Acesulfame K: Also known as acesulfame potassium, acesulfame K is 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is extremely stable, even at high temperatures, which makes it great for baking projects.
Neotame: This calorie-free sweetener is made up of two different amino acids. It is around 30 times sweeter than aspartame and thousands of times sweeter than sugar.
Meet Sweetener Blends
Sugar Lite: Equal has combined acesulfame K, sugar, and aspartame to create its latest sweetening blend. You can use it to replace the same volume of sugar for only half the calories. It has 384 calories per cup and costs about $2.00 per pound.
Splenda Sugar Blend for Baking: This product combines sugar and sucralose to create a more stable baking sweetener. It has 20 calories per teaspoon, but is so sweet that you only need to use half as much. That means that you should use a half cup of Splenda Sugar Blend for every full cup of sugar that a recipe requires. This blend costs $1.57 per pound and also has 384 calories per cup.
Stevia Blends: Stevia blends combine stevia extract with erythritol to produce a product that looks like sugar but that is twice as sweet. It has 38 calories per cup and, just like the Splenda Sugar Blend, you should use half a cup of it for every full cup that a recipe requires.
Stephanie Ronco has been editing for Food and Health Communications since 2011. She graduated from Colorado College magna cum laude with distinction in Comparative Literature. She was elected a member of Phi Beta Kappa in 2008.