Sugar is attributed to several health repercussions when taken in excess. On the advice of nutritionists and dieticians, people are rapidly turning to sugar alternatives. These are specifically known as sugar substitutes or sweeteners.
See, compared to sugar, sweeteners can have more health benefits when used correctly. These health benefits range from improved dental health to being an aid in losing weight. Artificial sweeteners like stevia and aspartame appear to be the next big thing in sweet nutrition. Knowing this, which is the better alternative of the two?
What Is Stevia Made From?
Stevia is technically manufactured from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Technically because the leaves are not the primary ingredient for creating the stevia product. It is the sweet-tasting compounds (glycosides) extracted from the leaves that are used.
They are extracted, dehydrated, and then purified to produce the plant-based sweetener known as stevia. This product is usually distributed and sold under several brand names like Truvia, PureVia, and SweetLeaf. Stevia is also available in different varieties like dry powder and liquid versions.
Additionally, manufacturers are gradually incorporating it into new products. Some of them include:
- Vitamin Water Zero.
- Coca-Cola Life.
- Capri Sun Sport.
- Low-calorie ice creams like Breyer’s Delight and Halo Top.
What Is Aspartame Made From?
Aspartame is an artificial sweetener manufactured from phenylalanine and aspartic acid. These two are amino acids that occur naturally. Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid which means it can only be found in food. Aspartic acid, however, is produced by your body.
On the downside, when your body breaks down aspartame, methanol is produced. Excess methanol can be dangerous for you. Even small amounts can be harmful when combined with free methanol (5). But you need not worry. It’s very difficult to reach the recommended maximum intake of methanol, even among high consumers of aspartame like children.
Stevia Vs. Aspartame Taste
So how does the stevia extract vs aspartame compare when it comes to taste? Let’s find out.
Stevia is between 200-300 times sweeter than ordinary table sugar (14). Also, you only need about 20% of the land, and far less water to produce a sweetness similar with other sweeteners. Yet it has one caveat, a licorice aftertaste.
Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than ordinary sugar (1). Additionally, aspartame-based sweeteners contain filler agents that reduce the intensity of their sweetness. Aspartame doesn’t have intense aftertastes and can be used to enhance flavors.
So when we look at stevia sweetener vs aspartame, we have an evident winner when it comes to taste and that’s aspartame. Next is the stevia vs aspartame effect on your overall well-being. How does their consumption affect your physical and mental health? Keep reading to find out.
Stevia Vs. Aspartame Health Effects
To know which of the two artificial sweeteners is the best for you, it’s important you understand how each affects your health. First off, we look at aspartame. Here are some of its potential health effects:
Aspartame And Your Appetite
Artificial sweeteners like aspartame might significantly increase your appetite. With an increased appetite, you’ll be inclined to eat more, which may result in weight gain. This review conducted in 2013 showed similar results linking increased food consumption and non-nutritive sweeteners (2).
Your signaling processes which are triggered when eating foods with calories may be disrupted by sweeteners like aspartame. These processes are responsible for alerting your body when food enters your gut and then again when it’s time to stop eating. Whenever you take aspartame, your body expects a certain amount of calories from the sweet taste (2).
When it doesn’t get this amount, it unlearns the association between calories and sweet taste. Eventually, even high-calorie sugary foods will not be able to trigger satiety or feelings of fullness. As a result, you end up having an increased appetite and overeating (2).
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Aspartame And Your Metabolism
When your appetite control system is interfered with, you’ll be more susceptible to metabolic conditions like type 2 diabetes (2). This is mainly because your body won’t respond to dietary sugars when they enter your gut.
A review was done in 2016 that aimed to explore how low-calorie sweeteners like aspartame were linked with metabolic diseases. It was discovered that the diversity of gut bacteria among frequent and long-term users of sweeteners were significantly interfered with. There’s a possibility that this interference can result in glucose intolerance and, by extension, type 2 diabetes (11).
The glucose intolerance is significantly higher in people with diabetes. Based on this study, there’s a very limited impact if you have a healthy weight (3). Limited, however, does not mean nonexistent. You therefore may want to avoid overconsumption to be on the safest side.
Other possible health risks claimed to be linked with overconsumption of aspartame include heightened risks of (15):
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD).
- Multiple Sclerosis.
- Congenital Disabilities.
Specific groups of people should avoid using aspartame, given the mentioned health hazards. Seek alternatives to aspartame if you have these conditions:
This is a metabolic disorder that is genetic and is therefore inherited. Phenylalanine, an essential amino acid, increases in your body when you have this condition (15). Simply put, people with PKU cannot effectively regulate phenylalanine levels in their bodies.
Compared to daily food sources like meat, aspartame has lower amounts of phenylalanine. This, however, is not an incentive for uncontrolled consumption. People with PKU are always advised to keep an eye on their daily intake of phenylalanine.
Tardive Dyskinesia (TD)
Tardive Dyskinesia is a neurological disorder that results in erratic, uncontrollable movements in your face and body. Usage of antipsychotic medicine over extended periods is usually the cause of TD. Studies suggest that phenylalanine can trigger movements that are similar to TD (15).
Aspartame And Your Body Weight
Aspartame contains similar amounts of calories compared to ordinary sugar (4 calories). However, it is about 200 times sweeter than normal sugar (1). This means that you’ll need tiny quantities of it when sweetening your foods and drinks. This could ultimately reduce your calorie intake.
Recent studies, however, find no link between low-calorie sweeteners and effective weight management. Instead, long-term studies show that there’s a connection between increased weight circumference and weight and regular users of low-calorie sweeteners. Additionally, the Body Mass Index (BMI) of those who consumed non-nutritive sweeteners was modestly increased (10).
Your BMI is an important figure as it’s a determinant of healthy weight. Those who have BMI’s that are within the obesity categories are more likely to develop metabolic conditions. Not only that, the study indicated that long-term users were at higher risk of cardiovascular events (10).
Aspartame And Your Immune System
A recent review indicates that aspartame may have significant effects on the immune system. Specifically, significant overconsumption of aspartame could lead to inflammation and increased oxidative stress. Additionally, aspartame may affect multiple organs like the heart, liver, kidneys, and brain. The findings were, however, primarily centered around animal studies (12).
That being said, is aspartame bad for you? While it may be considered a better alternative to sugar, aspartame can be just as bad when taken in excess. If you do opt for it, remember to use it moderately and occasionally.
That being said about aspartame, let’s now take a look at stevia. Here are the possible health implications of consuming stevia:
Stevia And Diabetes
Research indicates that stevia doesn’t add any significant number of calories or carbs to your diet. They also neither affect your insulin sensitivity nor how your body responds to blood glucose. This then allows people with diabetes to use it safely (16).
Stevia And Weight Management
Being overweight or obese can be caused by several factors. Some of these causes include physical inactivity and excessive intake of energy-dense foods and drinks. The latter typically have very high fat and added sugar contents.
Americans get about 16% of their total calorie intake from added sugars. This has been associated with weight gain and reduced control of blood sugar levels (4). Stevia has no sugar content and a tiny amount of calories if any. This means you can use stevia as part of your weight loss diet safely without compromising on taste.
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Stevia And Blood Pressure
Some glycosides in stevia are known to dilate blood vessels. Additionally, they increase sodium excretion and urine output in your body.
This study concluded that stevia could potentially aid in lowering your blood pressure. This can be attributed to the cardiotonic actions of the stevia plant. Cardiotonic action will ideally regulate your heartbeat while normalizing your blood pressure (7).
However, more research is still needed to give better understanding of how stevia affects blood sugar regulation.
Stevia And Pancreatic Cancer
Stevia has several sterols and antioxidant compounds like kaempferol. Some studies indicate that kaempferol may inhibit pancreatic cancer cell growth and migration (9). Pretty impressive, right?
Stevia And Allergies
The European Food Safety Committee (EFSA) did a literature review in 2010 of the link between stevia and allergies. The review aimed to determine if there was a need to be concerned about allergic reactions triggered by stevia.
The conclusion was that “ steviol glycosides are not reactive and are not metabolized into reactive compounds.” What this essentially means is that the glycosides being evaluated shouldn’t cause allergic reactions by themselves when taken in foods (8).
Not even the most purified forms of stevia extract are likely to cause allergic reactions. Furthermore, there’s no recorded case of allergic reactions to stevia since 2008, when high purity products were introduced into the market (13).
So, what about side effects? Does stevia have any? Safety studies, including current ones, have designated stevia extract free of side effects (6). However, some stevia products contain sugar alcohol. So individuals with sugar alcohol sensitivity can experience:
- Abdominal cramps.
So is stevia good for you? Yes, it’s fine. As long as you use it in moderation, there’s nothing to worry about. It is important to note that whole stevia is not recommended for use. If you have to consume stevia, ensure you get the high-purity processed variants.
When it comes to the potential effects on your health, stevia vs aspartame, stevia appears to be the better alternative. Is stevia safe? To a large extent, yes. Is aspartame safe? When taken moderately, it can be an alternative to sugar.
Simply put, if sugar vs aspartame vs stevia were to be ranked, stevia would emerge as the better alternative in our opinion. However, both are safe when consumed in moderation.
Stevia Vs. Aspartame Safety Regulations
Stevia has been approved by various health organizations and authorities worldwide. Some of them include:
Food And Drug Administration (FDA) Approval
High-purity glycoside extracts have been granted the designation Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) in the United States since 2009. However, the FDA still doesn’t authorize consuming stevia leaves and crude extracts.
European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Approval
The EFSA authorized using steviol glycosides as a food additive in 2011. This body designates it as safe for everyone’s consumption.
Other organizations that consider stevia safe for use include: JECFA governed by the WHO, FEMA in the US, FSSAI in India, FSANZ in New Zealand, and AFFSA in France.
Aspartame, on the other hand, has also gained approval for use by several health authorities and organizations worldwide. The FDA has cleared using aspartame as a sweetener in both food and drinks. Also, the EFSA conducted a review of hundreds of studies and ruled that aspartame is safe for consumption.
Other international organizations that have cleared aspartame for use include:
- United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
- American Heart Association.
- World Health Organization.
- American Dietetic Association.
Stevia Vs. Aspartame: The Verdict
Stevia and aspartame are both great alternatives to sugar. Of course, only when you take them in the right way. That means you don’t get to over-consume them. However, when using them correctly, which of the two sugar substitutes is better for you? Ultimately this will depend on your fitness goals and preferences.
See, aspartame tastes better than stevia, doesn’t have significant aftertastes, and can greatly enhance your food’s flavor. On the other hand, stevia is believed to have more potential health benefits and is in some ways considered a safer sugar substitute. If you’re not so particular on taste, stevia looks like a better option for your fitness goals.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Additional Information about High-Intensity Sweeteners Permitted for Use in Food in the United States (2018, fda.gov)
- Artificial Sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements (2013, cell.com)
- Aspartame intake is associated with greater glucose intolerance in individuals with obesity (2016, cdnsciencepub.com)
- Dietary Guidelines for Americans (2010, health.gov)
- Dietary methanol and autism (2015, sciencedirect.com)
- Effects of stevia, aspartame, and sucrose on food intake, satiety, and postprandial glucose and insulin levels (2010, nih.gov)
- Efficacy and tolerability of oral stevioside in patients with mild essential hypertension: A two-year, randomized, placebo-controlled study (2003, sciencedirect.com)
- Food additives (2019, food.gov.uk)
- Kaempferol Inhibits Pancreatic Cancer Cell Growth and Migration through the Blockade of EGFR-Related Pathway In Vitro (2016, nih.gov)
- Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies (2017, cmaj.ca)
- Reshaping the gut microbiota: Impact of low calorie sweeteners and the link to insulin resistance? (2016, sciencedirect.com)
- Revisiting the safety of aspartame (2017, academic.oup.com)
- Steviol glycosides safety: are highly purified steviol glycoside sweeteners food allergens? (2014, pubmed.gov)
- The truth about sweeteners (2019, nhs.uk)
- What are the side effects of aspartame? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)
- What is stevia? (2018, medicalnewstoday.com)