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What are sugar substitutes?

Sugar substitutes, also known as artificial sweeteners, are chemical-based or natural compounds that offer the sweetness of sugar without as many calories. There are two categories of sugar substitutes: caloric and non-caloric sweeteners.

Caloric Sweeteners (Sugar Alcohols)

Caloric sweeteners refer to sugar alcohols. They are naturally present in plants and some examples of them are sorbitol, isomalt and xylitol. Contrary to its name, sugar alcohols do not contain alcohol found in wines and spirits. They are usually used in sugar-free sweets, beverages and desserts because they contain lesser calories as compared to sugar. In addition, they do not contribute to tooth decay and do not affect blood glucose levels as much as sugar does.

Non-Caloric Sweeteners

Non-caloric sweeteners provide no or very few calories. Due to their intense sweetness and somewhat different taste as compared to table sugar, food manufacturers usually use them in small amounts and in combination to achieve the most natural sweet sensation. The table below shows examples of non-caloric sweeteners and their characteristics.

Non-Caloric Sweetener

Relative Sweetness Compared to Sugar

Heat stable?

Affect blood glucose Level?

Cause tooth decay?

Acesulfame-K

130-200

Yes

No

No

Aspartame

200

No

No

No

Saccharin

300

Yes

No

No

Sucralose

600

Yes

No

No

Related: Substitute Sugar – and Stay Sweet

Safety of Sugar Substitutes

Sugar substitutes are safe for the general public when consumed in moderate amounts. Despite the popular belief that sugar substitutes can cause diseases such as cancer, there is no scientific evidence that any of the ones approved for use in Singapore is linked to cancer.

However, people diagnosed with phenylketonuria should avoid aspartame as it contains phenylalanine that cannot be broken down by these individuals. In addition, sugar alcohols should not be consumed in large amounts as they can have laxative effect or cause other gastric symptoms in some people.

Related: The Not-So-Sweet Truth about Sugar

When to Use / Consume Sugar Substitute?

Some people use sugar substitutes for weight management or blood sugar control. It is OK to them but they are not necessary because people who are overweight or with diabetes mellitus can use table sugar or consume food with added sugar in small amounts. Furthermore, the use of sugar substitute does not condition the taste buds to less sweet foods and beverages. If you choose to use sugar substitutes, try to gradually reduce the amount used to condition your taste buds to bring long-term benefits in weight and diabetes management.

Although foods sweetened with sugar substitute can help to reduce the amount of calories contributed by sugar, these foods may still be high in calories due to the fat content. They can also contain carbohydrate from other sources (e.g. starches and flour) and hence can have an effect on blood sugar level. Always read the nutrition information panel when choosing these foods.

Related: Blood Glucose Monitoring

Sugar Substitute Facts

If you intent to use sugar substitute in your cooking, take note of the following:

  1. With prolonged or high heat, aspartame breaks down and loses its sweetness. Hence, only add aspartame-based sweeteners close to the end of cooking process. Alternatively, use saccharin, acesulfame K or sucralose-based sweeteners as they are heat stable.

  2. Because sugar gives bulk and causes browning, expect lower volume and less browning if you replace all sugar with sugar substitute when cooking or baking. You can choose to replace 50% of the sugar in the recipe with sugar substitute if more volume or browning is desired.

  3. Adjust your recipe according to the sugar equivalent (e.g. one sachet is equivalent in sweetness to two teaspoons of sugar) of the sugar substitute. Make sure you read the label as sugar substitutes differ in their sugar equivalents.

Related: Sweetening Your CNY Without the Added Sugar

So Remember

  • Sugar substitutes approved for use in Singapore are safe for consumption.

  • If you choose to use sugar substitutes, use them in moderation. Also, gradually reduce their usage to condition your taste buds to less sweet foods and beverages.

  • Select the appropriate sugar substitute when you are cooking/ baking. Read the label for the sugar equivalent.


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