Added sugar in your diet contributes calories without additional nutrients, while too much sugar may increase your risk for obesity, high triglyceride levels and tooth decay. Sugar substitutes may be healthier alternatives to added sugars if you want sweet foods; xylitol and stevia are two popular options. Each has its own advantages. A nutritionist can work with you to determine which may be better for your situation.
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Xylitol is a sugar alcohol with two-thirds the calories of sugar. Stevia is a plant; refined stevia is 200 times sweeter than sugar, according to the Langone Medical Center. Xylitol and stevia contribute sweetness to foods so that you can reduce your intake of added sugars and total calories. The typical American diet includes about 355 calories of added sugars, or the amount from 22 tsp. of sugar daily, compared to recommendations of no more than 6 to 9 tsp. per day, according to MayoClinic.com.
The FDA has put refined stevia extract on the "generally recognized as safe," or GRAS, list for food additives, and as such, manufacturers do not need to add a warning label. Refined stevia is a table sweetener, found in some soft drinks, desserts and chewing gums, but whole-leaf stevia is not approved for use in regular foods. Xylitol is also on the GRAS list; products with xylitol include some chocolate, toothpaste and mouthwash, baked goods, frozen desserts and candies.
Xylitol causes a small increase in your blood sugar levels, but the effects are not as severe as when you consume added sugars, according to the MayoClinic.com. This makes it more suitable than sugar if you have diabetes. Neither xylitol nor stevia causes tooth decay. In fact, xylitol may help build your tooth enamel to protect your teeth from cavities. Stevia may help lower blood pressure if you have hypertension, but the evidence is not solid, according to the Langone Medical Center.
Diarrhea is a potential side effect of overconsuming sugar alcohols, such as xylitol, and you may feel effects when you consume 50 g, or even as little as 10 g at once, according to MayoClinic.com. Consuming stevia may lead to feelings of nausea or overfullness. Stevia may be unsafe for pregnant women or for individuals with liver or kidney disease. When you use sugar substitutes to lose weight, remember to count your total calorie intake and limit your portions to avoid overeating.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010; January 2010
- MayoClinic.com; Artificial Sweeteners: Understanding These and Other Sugar Substitutes; Oct. 9, 2010
- MayoClinic.com; Stevia: Can It Help with Weight Control?; Katherine Zeratsky; November 2010
- Langone Medical Center; Stevia; February 2011
- MayoClinic.com; Added Sugar: Don’t Get Sabotaged by Sweeteners; April 5, 2011