A: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that alternative sweeteners be used in moderation and only as part of a well-balanced nutritious diet. As such, they should “do no harm.” Alternative sweeteners may be useful to decrease sugar intake for controlling weight, managing blood glucose and preventing dental cavities. Alternative sweeteners can be divided into three categories: artificial sweeteners, herbal sweeteners (only stevia currently) and sugar alcohols (e.g., erythritol or xylitol). Scientific evidence has shown that some commonly used artificial sweeteners, including saccharin and aspartame, may cause cancer and neurologic problems, respectively. However, they are “generally recognized as safe” and approved in the United States and Canada. Sugar alcohols are commonly used in chewing gums and candies to minimize sugar content, thus lowering the risk of dental caries. They are useful in baking as a substitute for sugar to lower the glycemic index and caloric content of baked goods. In excess, however, they can cause intestinal gas, abdominal discomfort and diarrhea. Stevia is my preferred sweetener for drinks such as iced tea, if needed. This natural herb has been shown to be safe in animals and humans. However, it is very potent, so only small amounts are needed to invoke a sweet taste. Some people think it leaves an aftertaste; however, if used in small amounts in persons who avoid foods with simple sugars and eat a low-carb diet, this does not seem to be an issue. I use both sugar alcohols and stevia for low-carb baked goods depending on the need for bulk or not. Sometimes, a bit of each gives just the right amount of sweetness and texture. I recommend avoiding all artificial sweeteners as they provide no benefits over stevia, yet they can cause cancer and neurologic issues and can stimulate appetite.
Information provided by Toni Sumpter, Sumpter Pharmacy and Wellness, 628 Nile Kinnick Drive South, Suite A, 993-1119.