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Blog Nutrition Zero Calorie Sweetener: Is It A Good Substitute For Refined Sugar?

Zero Calorie Sweetener: Is It A Good Substitute For Refined Sugar?

best zero calorie sweetener

We all love sweet foods. However, they can reduce your satiety, which can ultimately lead you to overeat. This is probably why most dietitians advise you to reduce your sugar consumption. But just how easy is it to do this?

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See, this is where sweeteners come in. They offer a better taste with little to no calories. Zero-calorie sweeteners can help you reduce the amount of sugar you consume in your diet. However, how safe is it for your health? Keep reading to find out.

What Is Zero Calorie Sweetener?

Zero calorie sweeteners are sugar substitutes that provide the same if not sweeter taste compared to sugar. The bonus? They come with no calories. This eventually helps you in your weight management plans.

They are generally made from sugar alcohols or obtained from plants and herbs. Interestingly, they were initially used by diabetes patients to help keep their blood sugar levels in check. However, over the years, they have become pretty popular among the general public.

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 How Good Is Zero Calorie Sweetener For Diet?

So, just how good are these zero calorie sweeteners? Next, we look at some of the best sugar substitutes for your diet.

Stevia

Stevia is one of the best natural zero calorie sweeteners that have been approved by health authorities worldwide. It is technically obtained from the leaves of the stevia rebaudiana plant. Sweet tasting compounds known as glycosides are extracted and used to manufacture them.

The compounds are extracted, after which they are dehydrated and purified. The resultant plant-based sweetener is known as stevia. The product can be found in multiple varieties, like the liquid and dry versions.

They can be found in the market under different trade names, including:

  • Truvia
  • PureVia
  • Rebiana
  • Reb-A.

Manufacturers are also gradually using stevia as a sweetener in new products. Some of them include:

Pros

Growing the stevia plant needs a relatively small amount of water. This, therefore, makes it a more sustainable alternative. Stevia is also a naturally sourced product that has been around for quite some time. It’s, therefore, something that you can even grow in your kitchen garden since it doesn’t require much expertise.

One of the things that make stevia really convenient is that it has few predators. This then translates to a reduced need for pesticides to protect it. Stevia is many times sweeter than a similar amount of sugar. It can therefore be used in small quantities when baking or cooking.

Studies indicate that replacing sugar with stevia can lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes (7).  It’s available in liquid, powder, and granular form.

Stevia leaf may be of help in controlling cholesterol levels, according to a study done in 2009(6). The study found that stevia reduced LDL (low-density lipoprotein) “bad” cholesterol while increasing HDL (high-density lipoprotein) “good” cholesterol with no adverse effects (9).

Cons

Many people don’t like how stevia tastes. However, you can try different brands to find the taste that you want. Stevia also tends to be more expensive than other sweeteners.

For people with diabetes, stevia is generally safe, but they should steer clear of brands that have dextrose. For some consumers, stevia products that contain sugar alcohols may lead to digestive problems, including diarrhea.

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Monk Fruit Sweetener

This fruit is a small round fruit that resembles a gourd and is grown mostly in Southeast Asia. Monk fruit sweeteners are extracted from the fruit, and it is about 150 times sweeter than sugar.

Pros

It has zero calories, no carbs, and no fat. It’s also safe to use for children, breastfeeding women, and expectant mothers.

Monk fruit sweetener is available in multiple forms, including liquid, powder, and granular. Additionally, it derives its sweetness from compounds known as antioxidant mogrosides, making it a naturally low-glycemic sweetener.

Although it is unclear how,  research on animals indicates that monk fruit extract may inhibit the growth of cancer cells (16). Also, multiple studies suggest that monk fruit has been traditionally used to treat sore throats, perhaps due to anti-inflammatory properties (1).

Cons

Growing monk fruit is difficult, and hence it has to be imported at a high cost. It also has a fruity taste that some people dislike and a disagreeable aftertaste.

Saccharin

This is a white crystalline powder made in the lab by oxidizing phthalic anhydride or o-toluene sulfonamide. Its market name is Sweet’N Low.

Pros

It doesn’t have any carbs and has zero calories. It’s about 300- 400 times sweeter than sugar, so only a small amount is enough to get a sweet taste. Most food manufacturers use saccharin because it’s stable and is safe to use even after staying for years in storage.

Cons

Saccharin has an unpleasant aftertaste. Multiple studies also report that using saccharin could alter gut bacteria (21).

Read More: Natural Sweeteners For Those Who Are Stuck In A Vicious Sugar-Binging Cycle

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Aspartame

In the market, it’s sold as NutraSweet or Equal. Aspartame is manufactured using aspartic acid and phenylalanine, which are both amino acids occurring naturally. Aspartic acid can be produced by your body. Phenylalanine, however, is an essential amino acid. That means it can only be found in food.

Pros

Aspartame has been approved by major regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration(FDA), World Health Organization(WHO), and the American Dietetic Association(ADA).

Cons

It is very toxic to people with phenylketonuria because their bodies cannot properly process phenylalanine (15). People using schizophrenia medications should also avoid it (12). It’s not recommended for use in baking. 

Additionally, aspartame is one of the most studied artificial sweeteners available on the market. Many of these studies seem to link it with metabolic conditions and weight gain. Also, when aspartame is broken down by your body, methanol is generated.

Too much methanol can be dangerous for your body. In fact, even small quantities can be bad if combined with free methanol found in many foods. The silver lining? It’s hard to hit the maximum recommended limit of methanol by consuming aspartame. Not even high consumers like children do.

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Sucralose

Sucralose is probably one of the best tasting zero calorie sweeteners out there. It is created using sugar in a chemical process, resulting in three hydrogen-oxygen groups swapped with chlorine atoms. Its most common brand name is Splenda.

Pros

It’s about 400-700 times sweeter than table sugar, so you need very tiny amounts to get the sweet taste. Unlike most other sweeteners, sucralose doesn’t have an unpleasant aftertaste. Sucralose can be used for baking.        

Cons

A study found that sucralose increases blood sugar and insulin levels in people who do not consume sweeteners regularly (18). Research also indicated that sucralose begins to break down at high temperatures and react with other cooking ingredients (17).

Additionally, another study found that heating sucralose with glycerol produces chloropropanols. Chloropropanols are thought to increase the risk of cancer (20).

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zero calorie sweetener side effects
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Neotame

Neotame is sold under the brandname Newtame. It’s a white crystalline powder made using the dipeptide that consists of aspartic acid and phenylalanine.

Pros

Neotame is around 30-40 times sweeter than aspartame and about 10,000 times sweeter than table sugar. A very small amount of neotame is sufficient to provide a sweet, tasteful flavor in foods.

The group of 3,3-dimethylbutyldehyde prevents the release of phenylalanine, making it safe for people with phenylketonuria to consume. It also dissolves quickly in liquid and can be used for both cooking and baking.

Cons

It is difficult to use the correct amount required for sweetening because it’s very sweet.

Acesulfame Potassium

In the market, it is sold under brand names such as Sunett and Sweet One.

Pros

It is about 200 times sweeter than table sugar. The body doesn’t digest or store acesulfame potassium like other foods but rather takes it in. It then expels it unchanged through urine.

Unlike aspartame, it remains stable even when subjected to high temperatures, and hence it is recommended for baking purposes.

Cons

It has a sour aftertaste, which is why it is mixed with other sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose. Some studies claim acesulfame potassium may cause harm during pregnancy when consumed in excess. However, most of these studies were done using concentrations of acesulfame potassium that were much higher than typical human consumption (19).

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What Is The Safest Zero Calorie Sweetener?

It’s true that zero calorie sweeteners taste way better than ordinary table sugar. This ideally makes them a better choice, right? However, better isn’t similar to healthier. So, just how safe is it to use zero calorie sweeteners, and how do they affect your health?

First off, the safety of a sweetener depends on whether it is approved by the relevant regulatory authorities. If it’s not approved, you may need to consider what side effects it will have on your health.

Here’s a list of some of the sweeteners and their side effects.

Read More: Agave Nectar Vs. Honey: Tracking Down A Healthier Way To Sweeten Up Your Cup Of Joe

Zero Calorie Sweetener Side Effects You Should Watch Out For

Before deciding what zero calorie sweetener is best for you, you should probably know the side effects it has. Some zero calorie sweeteners may affect your health in unintended ways. So what is the healthiest zero calorie sweetener? Read on to find out.

Stevia Side Effects

  1. Studies report that stevia may lower blood sugar levels and blood pressure. This may have implications if you are using medications used to manage these conditions (5).
  2. Multiple studies suggest that non-nutritive sweeteners, including stevia, affect intestinal flora negatively (10).
  3. Research conducted in 2015 indicates that a small number of people risk having an allergic response to stevia (11).
  4. Steviol glycosides are a kind of steroid and can interfere with the endocrine system’s hormones. A study conducted in 2016 reported that reproductive cells treated with glycosides had altered progesterone production and response (8).
  5. Stevia products that consist of dextrose or maltodextrin should be used with caution by people with diabetes. This is because dextrose is essentially glucose, and maltodextrin is a type of starch. Therefore, frequent use of the same could cause erratic spikes in blood sugar levels (13).

Some groups of people are at higher risk of experiencing the side effects of long-term use of stevia. These groups include:

  • People with blood pressure conditions.
  • People taking hormone regulation medications.
  • Those with liver conditions.
  • People taking cancer medications.
  • People who are taking steroids.
  1. Using stevia products in moderation during pregnancy is not harmful. Stevia hasn’t been studied in its natural form. Using crude extract or whole-leaf stevia may not be safe if you’re pregnant.
zero calorie sweetener side effects
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Monk Fruit Side Effects

  1. If you’re allergic to gourds such as melons, cucumbers, and pumpkins, you may also suffer monk fruit allergies. Symptoms of the allergic reaction include:
  •  Swollen tongue
  •  Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  •  Skin rash
  • Difficulty in breathing
  •  Stomachaches
  • Weak or rapid pulse

Saccharin Side Effects

  1. Saccharin is generally regarded as safe for human consumption. Recent studies found that using saccharin and other artificial sweeteners affected the natural balance of bacteria in the gut (2). 
  2. According to Mayo Clinic, for people who have been advised not to take sulfa drugs, saccharin may cause allergic reactions.
aspartame
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Aspartame Side Effects

  1. Phenylketonuria

People who are unable to process phenylalanine have a condition called phenylketonuria. Aspartame has phenylalanine as one of its two ingredients. Aspartame has very adverse effects on these people since their bodies cannot process the excess phenylalanine (15).

  1. Tardive dyskinesia

Tardive dyskinesia (TD) is believed to be one of the side effects of taking some schizophrenia medications. The phenylalanine found in aspartame could result in the involuntary muscle movements that characterize TD (4).

Sucralose Side Effects

  1. Recent studies have suggested that sucralose, like other artificial sweeteners, may affect metabolism. Scientists indicate that sucralose and other artificial sweeteners allow certain bacteria that metabolize food more efficiently to thrive, allowing us to derive more energy from the food we consume. This may lead to weight gain and increased rates of obesity (2).
neotame
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Neotame Side Effects

  1. Neotame is chemically similar to aspartame and may therefore harm people who are taking schizophrenia medications.

Acesulfame Side Effects

  1. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), it is possible to link acesulfame potassium to cancer (3).
  2. CSPI also claims that the chemical produced when the body breaks down acesulfame potassium may affect the thyroid in test animals (3).

Intermittent Fasting According To The Age

Conclusion

Zero calorie sweetener gives you the same sweet taste of food without the calories. Swapping sugar with sweeteners is one of the best ways to lower your calorie intake. Since quitting sugar altogether is difficult, having a substitute is beneficial. 

Using zero calorie sweeteners is generally safe and may have many health benefits. However, for some people, sweeteners may have negative effects. This depends on the type of sweetener they consume. In this article, you can find out the best zero calorie sweetener for you. Using sweeteners may be beneficial, but like with everything in life, moderation is key.

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DISCLAIMER:

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!

SOURCES:

  1. Anti-inflammatory activities of mogrosides from Momordica Grosvenor in murine macrophages and a murine ear edema model (2011, pubs.acs.org)
  2. Beneficial modulation of the gut microbiota (2014, nih.gov)
  3. Chemical cuisine (2020, cspinet.org)
  4.  Consumption of aspartame associated with tardive dyskinesia: new observation (2019, nih.gov)
  5. Effect of natural sweetener, steviol glycoside, on cardiovascular risk factors: a systematic review and meta analysis of randomized clinical trials (2015, nih.gov)
  6. Effect of stevia extract intervention on lipid profile (2009, krepublishers.com)
  7. Effects of stevia rebaudiana on glucose homeostasis, blood pressure, and inflammation: a critical review of past and current research evidence (2020, nih.gov)
  8. In vitro bioassay investigations of the endocrine disrupting potential of steviol glycosides and their metabolite steviol, components of the natural sweetener stevia (2016, sciencedirect.com)
  9. Long-term feeding effects of stevioside sweetener on some toxicological parameters of growing male rats (2010, onlinelibrary.wiley.com)
  10. Low-dose stevia (Rebaudioside A) consumption pertubs gut microbiota and the mesolimbic dopamine reward system (2019, nih.gov)
  11. Natural sweeteners in a human diet (2015, nih.gov)
  12. Neurophysiological symptoms and aspartame: What is the connection? (2017, nih.gov)
  13.  Nutrition, health and regulatory aspects of digestible maltodextrins (2015, nih.gov)
  14. Nutrition and healthy eating (2020, mayoclinic.org)
  15. Phenylketonuria (PKU) (2018, mayoclinic.org)
  16. Structural analysis of mogrol and its glycosides as inhibitors of animal DNA polymerase and human cancer cell growth (2006, ingentaconnect.com)
  17. Sucralose, a synthetic organochlorine sweetener: overview of biological issues (2013, nih.gov)
  18. Sucralose affects glycemic and hormonal responses to an oral glucose load (2013, nih.gov)
  19. Sugar substitutes during pregnancy (2014, nih.gov)
  20. Thermal degradation of sucralose and its potential in generating chloropropanols in the presence of glycerol (2010, sciencedirect.com)
  21. Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota (2014, nih.gov)
Nderitu Munuhe
Nderitu Munuhe

Nderitu Munuhe is a freelance writer who specializes in health and wellness content. He has written for three years – advising people on how to eat healthy and stay on top of their fitness plan. This, he believes, is the first step in having a healthy body and mind.
Munuhe is passionate about football and is an avid Chelsea supporter. When he's not writing or watching the game, you can find him with his dog Lucky, taking time out from his desk for some much-needed R&R.

K. Fleming
K. Fleming

I am a U.S. educated and trained Registered Dietitian (MS, RD, CNSC) with clinical and international development experience. I have experience conducting systematic reviews and evaluating the scientific literature both as a graduate student and later to inform my own evidence-based practice as an RD. I am currently based in Lusaka, Zambia after my Peace Corps service was cut short due to the COVID-19 pandemic and looking for some meaningful work to do as I figure out next steps. This would be my first freelance project, but I am a diligent worker and quite used to independent and self-motivated work.

Kristen Fleming, MS, RD, CNSC

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