Nonnutritive Sweeteners: Help or Hindrance? (Part 6)

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This week, I thought I’d wrap up my series on nonnutritive sweeteners by answering several of the questions that have come in from readers. I wasn’t able to respond to all the questions I received individually, so I figured this might be a good forum for addressing them — this way, everyone can see the answers. And thanks again for all of your comments and questions!

There is an all-natural sweetener named Susta that claims benefits over artificial sweeteners. Can you report on it?

According to the manufacturer, NXT Nutritionals, Susta Natural Sweetener is “a natural, low calorie, low-glycemic, antioxidant, soluble fiber and sweetening system that helps support healthy blood sugar levels and healthy energy.” It also does windows and takes out the trash (just kidding). This sweetener contains inulin, (a prebiotic, or food for beneficial gut bacteria), fructose, probiotics, vitamins, cinnamon extract, grape seed extract, bitter melon extract, and more. One packet contains 5 calories and 2 grams of carbohydrate. The company claims that this sweetener supports digestive health and immune health, can help with weight management (because it’s only 5 calories per packet and is twice as sweet as regular sugar), and is good for bones and teeth due to the probiotics. The manufacturer also claims that Susta promotes heart health because it contains B vitamins. I’m a little skeptical about some of these health claims, but in general, Susta is probably fine to use as a sweetener. For more information, or to order Susta, visit the product’s Web site.

Do you know about luo han? It’s a great sweetener that has been around for hundreds of years. It’s a Chinese herb, and it doesn’t raise blood glucose.

Luo han guo is a Chinese fruit that is a member of the gourd family. The fruit is dried and used in tea, candy, cakes, and crackers. Extracts of luo han guo are used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat coughs, colds, sore throats, and digestive disorders. Substances in the fruit called mogrosides are roughly 250 times sweeter than sugar. Unlike sugar, though, insulin isn’t required to process the mogrosides, and they have no effect on blood glucose. You can purchase luo han guo on the Internet or likely find it in an Asian market.

Does saccharin cause a rise in blood sugar?

No, saccharin, by itself, does not cause blood glucose to rise because it contains practically no carbohydrate. A packet of Sweet’N Low (the pink packet) contains only 1 gram of carbohydrate. You’d have to use many packets for it to raise your blood glucose. However, if you consume carbohydrate from another source (for example, the toast you may have ordered with your tea or coffee), then that carbohydrate will affect your glucose.

Could you please comment on the safety of the brand SweetLeaf Sweetener All Natural Stevia Plus? The ingredients on back of package are inulin, soluble fiber, stevia leaf extract. Nowhere on the packaging does it reference rebiana.

SweetLeaf is another stevia-based sweetener, similar to Truvia and PureVia. However, this sweetener contains inulin, a type of fiber that, as noted above, helps promote gastrointestinal health. The package doesn’t list rebiana specifically, but that’s the same thing as stevia leaf extract.

Stevia has been in health-food stores for years as a food supplement. And as I understand, it has been submitted to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval many, many times without success. Now, however, Pepsi and Coke want to use it in their products as a sweetener, and all of a sudden the FDA finds all the information and tests to approve it. A little coincidental, don’t you think?

I’m not sure if it’s a coincidence or not. Remember that the stevia that you’ve seen in health-food stores is a different substance than what Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and other companies are now using, which is an extract of stevia. These companies submitted a petition to the FDA in 2008 requesting GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status for the extract. An ingredient that’s been given GRAS status is not required to undergo the same rigorous process that food additives are. The FDA therefore decided that the science supporting stevia extract as safe was sufficient.

In a future entry I’ll address your questions regarding nutritive sweeteners, such as agave, fructose, and xylitol.

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