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Alternative Sweeteners – How do they Compare?

 That famous song says that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down; but the truth is that too much table sugar or sucrose isn't good for your health. Sucrose adds a lot of empty calories to any diet and can pose serious health risks for individuals with prediabetes or diabetes. Fortunately, there are a number of alternative sweeteners now available on the market. In fact, there are so many that you may have trouble deciding which to try. To help you select the right sweetener, I put together this guide based on my own research.

Here are five of the most common sweeteners:

- Aspartame is an artificial sweetener sold under various brand names, including Equal and NutraSweet. Because the sweetener has only trace amounts of calories, it is generally considered to be calorie-free by dietitians. A little bit of aspartame goes a long way, as it is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Various researchers have hypothesized that aspartame can cause health problems, including increasing the risk of cancer and contributing to weight gain; however, there has yet to be a large well-respected study to prove these claims. It is important to note that aspartame is proven to be unsafe for individuals with the genetic disorder phenylketonuria.

- Saccharin is an artificial sweetener sold by many names, including Sweet'N Low and Sugar Twin. Like aspartame, saccharin has 0 calories per serving, and it ranges in strength from 200 to 700 times the sweetness of sugar. The sweetener has a controversial past, as a study conducted in the 1970s showed that it caused brain tumors in rats. For years, saccharin packets had a warning label about the study, but in 2000, the practice was abolished because no study on humans had ever conclusively proven the dangers of the substance.

-Sucralose is a sweetener derived from sugar and sold under the name Splenda. This artificial sweetener has 0 calories and remains stable even at high temperatures, so it can be used in cookies, cakes and other baked sweets. Most researchers and physicians feel that sucralose is safe; however, one small study showed that it could possibly inhibit the activities of the immune system.

- Stevia is a natural sweetener; however, the commercially available products like Truvia, SweetLeaf and Rebiana are highly refined. Free of calories, these products are approved by the FDA; however, pure Stevia is not and must be sold as a dietary supplement. Some studies have raised concerns about the health effects of raw stevia, as the substance was shown to cause cellular mutations in laboratory settings.

- Agave is an all-natural sweetener derived from a succulent plant. Compared to table sugar, agave actually has more calories at 20 per serving compared to sucrose's 16; however, agave is much sweeter, meaning you can get away with using less. Agave is a favorite among people who prefer more natural products to synthetics.

If you're not sure which sugar alternative is the best for your needs, ask your doctor for advice. Based on your weight and your medical history, your physician can likely recommend the very best alternative sweetener to complete your diet.

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