For decades now, processed sugar has been a large part of our daily diet. We can find it everywhere: salad dressing, low fat yoghurt, pickles, sauces, bread, etc. With the recent exposure and subsequent focus on the ill effects of consuming excess sugar, many consumers are now seeking replacements to sugar. Due to this an entire new market of sugar alternatives made from natural and artificial extracts have emerged. They mimic and ape the chemical and aesthetic properties of sugar without adding the calories associated with it. Some of the most popular artificial alternatives to processed sugar are:
Fructose / High Fructose Corn Syrup
Fructose was the first of many artificial sweeteners to hit the market when the battle against sugar was waged. It worked on the principle that fructose (fruit sugar), naturally found in fruits, is healthier than sucrose (processed sugar) due to its origin. This premise is faulty for many reasons. Fruit, when eaten as whole, comprises of fructose as well as fiber. Fiber controls and slows the body’s absorption of sugar, thereby balancing out the negative effects fructose might have on the body’s metabolism. In processed foods, fructose is added in a highly refined and 100% purified form which is just as bad (though some scientists argue its worse) than sucrose (table sugar). The most infamous artificial sweetener made from fructose is High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) which is extracted from corn using enzyme technology. It is widely used in food manufacturing because it is cheaper than sugar and being liquid, easier to handle in large scale production. Consumption of this sweetener has been linked to gout, hypertension, fatty liver disease, type two diabetes and obesity.
Polyols (Sugar Alcohols)
Another popular alternative to table sugar is Sugar Alcohols. These can be found under various names like: Sugar Free, Splenda, Natura, Sweet N’ Low, Equal, etc. These sugar alternatives also go by scientific names likes mannitol, sorbitol, isomalt, lactitol, xylitol, etc. The primary use of these polyols is that of a bulk sweetener. Depending upon its aftertaste, they can be used in everything from cakes to salad dressing. The main selling point of polyols is that because they are only partially digested in the gut, the have a lower calorific value. However, the flip side is that due to partial digestion they can cause fermentation in the lower gut, producing diarrhea and flatulence. This is why any product that contains more than 10% of its composition in polyols must carry a warning label that states excessive consumption can cause a laxative effect.
Aspartame, Acesulfame K, Saccharin, Vanillin and Sucralose are some of the many other alternatives to sugar that are 200 to 600 times sweeter than sugar but with zero calorific value. Each one of these chemicals can have a toxic effect on the human body when over consumed. However, they have been branded safe for human consumption at current levels of exposure.