When one is striving for weight loss, one's meal pattern may be focusing on eating more lean proteins, vegetables and fruits. However, there's the lingering question of how to manage low calorie or diet items, like stevia-sweetened cookies or sugar-free candies made with sugar alternatives (loosely, any substitute for sugar is any sweetener that can replace sugar aka sucrose).
There are two major categories, nutritive/non-nutritive, plus subcategories beneath.
- Nutritive sweeteners
Nutritive sweeteners, also called caloric sweeteners can be found naturally in foods or can be added in food processing. Sugars that are naturally occurring appear in foods like fresh fruits, dairy or honey. In contrast, added sugars are in many of the foods we consume and contain sugars that are added to food during the preparation or processing. Many manufacturers use these sugars to increase the shelf life and enhance the flavor of the food.1
Some examples of nutritive sweeteners include:
- Honey, agave nectar, agave syrup, pure maple syrup, high fructose corn syrup, coconut sugar etc. which contain fructose. These contain the same 4 calories per gram carbohydrate.
- Sugar alcohols: sorbitol, mannitol, erythritol, lactilol or isomalt (2-3 calories per gram)
- Non-nutritive sweeteners
Nonnutritive sweeteners are low to zero calorie sugar substitutes. Usually added to a beverage or used for baking, these sweeteners tastes sweeter than traditional sugar. Because non-nutritive sweeteners are not completely absorbed by the body's digestive system, they provide less calories per gram.2 Non-nutritive sweeteners include both natural and artificial sweeteners.3
Examples of non-nutritive sweeteners include:
- ACE-K, aspartame/Equal, sucralose/Splenda, stevia and monk fruit. The latter two are regarded to be "natural sweeteners" as they are food-based.
Many of these substitutes for sugar add sweetness, of course, and some do not have any calories. While some artificial sugars are derived from sugar (such as sucralose), they can be used to substitute sugar at a fraction of the amount of table sugar the recipe calls for due to being sweeter.
So, are sugar substitutes safe? The answer is yes-but in moderation. Sweeteners like stevia, sucralose, ACE-K and aspartame are mentioned in the US Dietary Guidelines as GRAS, or "generally recognized as safe," in moderate amounts. Consuming sugars in moderation is important as a higher intake of added sugars has shown to be associated with a lower quality diet and higher energy intake. This can lead to an increase in the risk for obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. 4
Jenny Craig's approach is to take advantage of both healthy ingredients and portion control to minimize the need for added sugars and nonnutritive sweeteners. The menus meet expert guidelines to limit added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories and currently a few Jenny Craig products include sucralose and ACE-K to provide sweetness without extra calories.
If you would like to be proactive about your sugar consumption, look at how much sugar you consume during the week, and find ways to modify it. For example, if you used to take sugar in your cup of coffee, try a sweet-flavored roast like French vanilla, raspberry, coconut or cinnamon. You can discuss other ways to moderate your sugar intake by meeting with one of our consultants at a local neighborhood Jenny Craig center near you.