Splenda vs. Stevia

Green and dired Stevia leaves
Dried and fresh green stevia leaves. (Image: bdspn/iStock/Getty Images)

Sugar substitutes can help you get the sweet taste you desire without adding quite so many calories to your diet. Splenda and stevia are two of the available options, each with its own benefits and considerations.

Calories and Use

Both stevia and Splenda, also called sucralose, are calorie-free sweeteners. You can use them in cooking or at the table. Splenda is 600 times sweeter than sugar, and manufacturers use it in some diet drinks and foods. Stevia itself isn't found in any processed foods, only Rebaudioside A, which is a purified extract of this plant that is a few hundred times sweeter than sugar. Neither of these sweeteners tastes exactly like sugar, according to the results of a taste test published in "Consumer Reports" in June 2010. Stevia can give foods a bit of a bitter flavor, and sucralose has an artificial flavor.

Source and History

Splenda is derived from sugar but isn't absorbed in the same way. Most of it leaves your body without being digested, which is why it doesn't have any calories. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved its use in foods in 1998. Stevia comes from the leaves of the Stevia rebaudiana plant. Although it has been used for hundreds of years in Paraguay, only the purified extract Rebaudioside A was approved by the FDA for use in food in 2008. Whole stevia leaves and other types of stevia extracts are only approved for use as dietary supplements.

Effects on Satiety and Blood Sugar

Eating foods sweetened with stevia may be just as filling as eating foods sweetened with sugar, according to a study published in "Appetite" in August 2010. A similar study published in the "British Journal of Nutrition" in May 2011, however, found that Splenda may not have the same benefit. Both Splenda and stevia can be helpful for diabetics because they give a sweet flavor without adversely affecting blood sugar levels.

Potential Risks

Although stevia has a long history of use without major adverse effects, a few isolated studies indicate potential risks. An animal study using stevia showed that high intakes may decrease sperm production, and a laboratory study found that a compound in stevia may be converted into a substance that could increase cancer risk, according to an article published in the "Journal of Pharmacology & Phamacotherapeutics" in 2011. According to this article, the main concern about the safety of sucralose is that it contains chloride, and some other compounds containing chloride have been shown to increase the risk of cancer. The way sucralose is digested doesn't provide the proper conditions for sucralose to break down and release its chloride, so this risk is most likely minimal.

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