The Sweet Spot IV: Synthetic Sweeteners 03/24/2014

The Sweet Spot IV

Like that cartoon, there? Fun, huh? I think it does a wonderful job of pointing out the totally kurfuzzling experience that so many of us face when looking at the various sweeteners out there. It's a mess! A total ball of confusion! Normally, I try and draw my little doodles, but ... in looking for inspiration, this one was just so perfect. I was also thoroughly impressed by the actual LIST of sweeteners included in the little ice cream shop. Me thinks the cartoonist has been down this road before. I purchased it, slapped my ugly mug on it and called it "Blog Fodder"! Fun stuff!

Now, before I get into the heart of "Synthetic Sweeteners", for those of you whom are new, this is the 4th part of a 6 to 7 part series on sweeteners, from sugar to sugar alcohols to natural sweeteners and even the synthetic ones. Here are the previous posts in the series.

The Sweet Spot Series (so far):

Go back and take a look. There's some great information there!


Orange Creamsicles

Because this series is about synthetic sweeteners and because it's been uncharacteristically warm and sunny here in Seattle (not today, mind you), I thought it made sense to pull these orange creamsicles off of my hard drive and bring them into the light of day.


Being that this is a Frankenrecipe, it's a somewhat strange recipe to come from me, at this point in time, but I like it. It very much has its place in my little corner of the internet.

See, when I first started my big change towards low-carb, I didn't pay any attention to many of the ingredients. My aim was simply to remove sugar and starches. I didn't care if it was a Frankenfood. In fact, I didn't even know what a "Frankfenfood" was, when I started. I didn't know that gluten was an issue for many people. I just knew that it's what made bread springy. I didn't care what other bloggers thought about aspartame. I was blissfully unaware that soy was an issue for many. None of this was an issue for me. For me, the issue was ... walking more than 50 meters without needing to catch my breath.

Enter low-carb Frankenfoods!

"Frankenfoods" may have saved my life! Rather than eating food from boxes and jars containing loads of sugar and starch, many of my earliest days were filled eating food from boxes and jars that DIDN'T contain loads of sugar and starch. These were the days filled with sugar-free syrups and jams, low-carb tortillas and breads made with high gluten and soy based flours and strange tasty pastas which may or may not have some kind of wacky fiber matrix. Pre-made muffin mixes and pancake batters were a big part of the early days.

I lost about 100 lbs by eating these kinds of things ... in about 7 months, no less. I literally turned into a completely different person, by swapping what I ate. This is where I entered the big change. This is what worked for me. Nothing else ever had!

Now, over time, in order to shave off the other 50 lbs. I had to clean that up, but I did so by reading, learning and experimenting. I became invested in the pursuit of health. Gluten based Frankenfoods turned into homemade nut flour treats, sugar-free pudding turned into homemade ice cream made with stevia, inulin and erythritol, pasta turned into zoodles, etc. However! ...

... I still have a secret soft spot for the ease, convenience and price of a lot of these manufactured foods. Let's face it, they're designed to taste good. They're easy to use. They've got a lot of texturizers and fillers and flavorings that are just flat out cooked up to taste awesome. They are literally conceived of, designed, refined, tested and polished for ease, taste and an attractive price!

( *ahem* ... while generally having little to no nutritional value ... *cough cough* )

Now, while I confess to preferring natural sugar-free sweeteners, I admit it. I'm a fan of some synthetic uses, as well.


Synthetic Sweeteners

This passage was a very hard one for me to write. I've written it and re-written it and re-written it. If anything is clear, it's that I have mixed feelings about artificial sweeteners. Previous iterations of this post really tried to weave and waffle around the issues, without ever fully tackling them properly.

Rather than skirt around the issue, I think I'm just going to be a bit uncomfortably honest. As a blogger, I'm lambasted with opinions pretty consistently. On-top of that, I need to stay somewhat abreast of dietary trends, in order to seem somewhat ahead of the curve ... or at the very least, not wildly behind it. This has largely had a positive effect in that I'm constantly learning from all y'all, as I do my best to take that information and bottle it back up in fun and new ways. It's an interesting relationship.

Something a bit strange has happened, in the meantime. I've begun to experience shame over the occasional use of sucralose based sweeteners in my coffee. I've become embarrassed to admit that I may put some Sweet-n-Low in my iced tea while out on the town. I feel meek mentioning these things ... like a dog with its tail under its legs ... because I've been beaten over the head with the idea that synthetic sweeteners are terrible, horrible, awful life wrecking substances and that I should feel bad for partaking.

Bleh.

This is me ... shaking that off. Back off, World! I do not feel bad for using them. This is me releasing myself of that weird peer pressure. Ahhhh ... sweet release. A great weight has been lifted! I refuse to feel shame or guilt because I like putting artificially flavored sugar-free strawberry jam on my coconut flour French toast. I'm not going to feel guilty, any longer. These things have found a place in my world. While it's clear I'm phasing them out ... they are still in my world and I don't see them completely leaving for a good while.

To the naysayers, I've read the literature. I have. I understand the issues. Howver, I do MUCH better with sucralose, than I do with sugar, honey, molasses, corn syrup, agave and/or turbinado. Me, myself and my body have experienced both refined and natural sugars and ... my body grew quite large, sweaty, sick and uncomfortable. So ... please ... allow me to eat my synthetic pancake syrup in peace and stop making me feel bad.

Please, naysayers ... please read the bolded sentence and absorb it. Then, read it again. The very very cold hard reality is, when I was 350 lbs. if you'd made me feel badly about those foods ... I may not have made the change I made. I may not be here today. That, my friends, is the absolute brutal truth of it. Right or wrong ... it's the truth. I certainly wouldn't be blogging. Frankenfoods saved me.

At the very heart of my pursuit and my message is the idea that excess sugar and starch is bad for us. I would never ... EVER! ... want to make someone feel badly about their own pursuit of health, even if it doesn't totally jive with my own. I may talk to someone. I may have a non-judgmental exchange of information, but I would NEVER talk down to someone for doing their best (even if it's not good enough for you, oh naysayer ... Judgey McJudgerson).

Understand that there is a place for these sweeteners. They are valid. Or, at least I think they are. They may have saved me and they are definitely better than just good old fashioned sugar, which ... seems to be ruining just about everything, these days!

Now that I've gotten my little rant out of the way ... ON WITH THE SHOW!


Sucralose

Sucralose is probably the big bad voodoo daddy of sweeteners out there, right now. Sucralose is the "sugar-free" sweetener in most homes in 2014. You probably know it by its bright yellow bags and its small yellow packets. You likely know it as the brand name "Splenda". Splenda is actually a brand name for a product blending the super sweet sucralose, with the bulking agents dextrose and maltodextrin. These last two ingredients are added for bulk, so that it can measure like sugar. However, the addition of these two other ingredients means that Splenda has about 24 net carbs per cup, but I'll get deeper into Splenda later. For now, let's focus on sucralose, the actual sweetener that makes Splenda so sweet!

Sucralose is a synthetic and artificial sweetener. It doesn't exist in nature. It is manufactured by the selective chlorination of sucrose (table sugar), which substitutes three of the hydroxyl groups with chlorine. This chlorination is achieved by selective protection of the primary alcohol groups followed by acetylation and then deprotection of the primary alcohol groups. Following an induced acetyl migration on one of the hydroxyl groups, the partially acetylated sugar is then chlorinated with a chlorinating agent such as phosphorus oxychloride, followed by removal of the acetyl groups to give sucralose.

Did your brain just go cross-eyed? I know mine did!

To get a description which has been nicely polished up for public consumption, it seemed reasonable to go straight to the source. According to the Splenda website, Splenda is, "the brand name for the ingredient sucralose. It is made through a patented, multi-step process that starts with sugar and converts it to a no calorie, non-carbohydrate sweetener. The process selectively replaces three hydrogen-oxygen groups on the sugar molecule with three chlorine atoms. Chlorine is a natural part of salt, which is found in many foods, like lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, melons, and peanut butter, and chlorine is added to most public water supplies. Chlorine is also a part of more complex molecules found in such things as lentils, peas, and potatoes. It is a part of daily life. In the case of sucralose, its addition converts sucrose to sucralose, which is essentially inert. The result is an exceptionally stable sweetener that tastes like sugar, but without sugar's calories. Sucralose isn't broken down for energy, and is not recognized by the body as a carbohydrate. SPLENDA Brand Sweetener does not build up in the body, nor is it broken down to yield any free chlorine or smaller chlorinated molecules, and sucralose is calorie-free."

That's at least a little better. I can "kind of" wrap my head around that. I do agree that chlorine is everywhere. People think of it as the concentrated stuff that makes their eyes hurt in the pool, but it really is all over the place. Lettuce and tomatoes are cool in my book, so ... it MUST be good for me, right?!

I love copy written by the marketing department. So well put!

Sucralose is used by millions of people, in over 80 countries and in over 4000 different products, from sodas, to jams, to ketchup and BBQ sauces, to cookies and cakes.

The FDA along with a variety of other health and food safety authorities, though from around the world and through 20 years and 110 different studies ... they all say it's perfectly safe, totally harmless, it's essentially inert, in any quantity.

Now, like any sweetener out there, if you go looking for a contrary opinion, you'll find one. I'm not going to go in to the dangers or controversies of sucralose. That area is sufficiently covered. That said, here's a link to a very detailed article about Splenda on the Snopes.com website. Detailed, but a fun read, nonetheless!

So, the big question, really is ... can I use it? Does it make a nice cookie? How does it taste?

I think it's delicious! I find sucralose to have a very nice taste. It's very slightly "hollow" in my opinion, but it's quite a clean, nice sweet, without any of the bitter qualities associated with many other sweeteners. I suspect the empty hollowness stems from the fact that it's got no "mouthfeel" like sugar or sugar syrups do. Being that it's about 600 times as sweet as sugar, a tiny bit goes a very long way. This means it's super cheap and can boost the sweetness in just about anything ... and do it nicely, too! Aside from the controversy and the fact that it philosophically rubs some people the wrong way, it's actually a great sweetener. It's also heat stable, so it's good for baking.

However, I do have a beef with sucralose ... it's got no "substance" to it. A cup of sugar takes up the space of my fist, in terms of pure volume. This can be replaced by a few drops of the liquid sucralose, maybe taking up the same volumetric space as the tip of my pinky. What do you think this does to a cake, when you remove something the size of my fist and replace it with something the size of my pinky tip? A lot of volume and texture is going to go missing. Now, technically, "sugar" is a liquefier, in baking terms, so a lot of that bulk can be made up by adding more liquid, but because it tends to start life as a dry crystal, people don't often make that connection.

So, it lacks bulk. It also can't caramelize. I think it's great in a blend. It's good for things like sweetening tea, or other liquids and beverages. However, because it has no "body" ... it's not one I personally use as a primary sweetener.

Personally, I use it to "tweak". Most of the time, when I'm making something, I'll sweeten with some kind of erythritol blend, which can be troublesome to make dissolve. So, let's say I'm making a fat bomb, or an ice cream and I've got my erythritol blend mixed in, but ... it's not quite sweet enough. Rather than whisk in a bunch more smappy, I'll just add a drop or two of liquid sucralose. That'll sweeten it RIGHT up and do so immediately!

I see it more as a sweetener in other processed products. In my own home, it's more of a sweetener band-aid. It gets used when I just need a touch more sweet ... and that's about it.

Sucralose is delicious, it's everywhere, it's cheap and it's in loads of tasty products ...


Ace-K

Acesulfame potassium, commonly known as "Ace K" is another zero calories artificial sweetener. It's possible you've never heard of this one, but it's in A LOT of products. It's 200 times as sweet as sugar. Like stevia and aspartame, it's got a somewhat bitter aftertaste. It's often used in blends, where it's got a synergy with the other sweeteners. You'll see a lot of mixing and blending with the sweeteners, from the natural, to the artificial. The blends tend to mask the negative qualities, while enhancing the more "sugary" qualities of the products.

I'm not going to get too deeply into this one. Most people don't use it in their homes, so it's not a big topic. In fact, you can't even really purchase it. Sure, you can buy it in bulk, but it's like buying 200 lbs. of sugar, all at once (for about $16.00 ... so maybe it's not such a bad deal!). Let's just say that it's got a weird name. It's in a lot of stuff. It's heat stable, so it's used in everything from sodas to baked goods. It's very common in sodas, gum and Jell-O.

Like any artificial sweetener, there's a lot of information about it, both positive and negative. It's usually found in boxed, canned and bottled products and I tend not to eat a lot of these ... so it doesn't much factor into my world. It is, however, out there ... in thousands of things ...

If you want to know more about Ace-K ... Google is not far away!


Aspartame

Again, we have loads of controversy. While sucralose's star seems to be rising, this star seems to be dwindling. Aspartame is probably more commonly known as the light blue packet, in the little sweetener vessel at the local dinner. Both the brand name sweeteners NutraSweet and Equal are largely based on aspartame.

Aspartame appears to have been mired in controversy and continues to be. At various points in time, it's been attributed to causing or exacerbating Gulf War Syndrome, multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, methanol toxicity, blindness, spasms, shooting pains, seizures, headaches, depression, anxiety, memory loss, birth defects and death.

The FDA maintains that aspartame is "one of the most thoroughly tested and studied food additives the agency has ever approved" and its safety as "clear cut".

Because this one seems to be slowly disappearing and being taken over by Sucralose and isn't heavily used in home kitchens (it's bitter and it isn't heat stable, thus it's no good for baking), I'm also going to gloss over this one.


Neotame

Here is another artificial sweetener which really doesn't exist in home kitchens, so it will be largely ignored. It is, however, a non-caloric and zero carb sweetener about 10,000 times more sweet than sugar. Imagine a 1/4 tsp of this stuff packing the punch of 22 full POUNDS of sugar. WOW! It's made by NutraSweet, and used in large part in their product "NutraSweet", a blend of aspartame and neotame.

Neotame, based on aspartame, is super cheap to make and use in manufactured products, even cheaper than sugar or high fructose corn syrup, making it attractive to food manufacturers. It's also heat stable and isn't as bitter as aspartame. Neotame seems poised to be added to many future products.

Do a little bit of research and you'll find the usual claims that it's deadly and wildly toxic. Here's a fun little snippet from PreventDisease.com, "When it comes to human health, neotame is in the same dangerous category as aspartame, but it is a deadlier neurotoxin, immunotoxin and excitotoxin. The long-term effects are essentially cell-death."

Sounds delicious. I can't wait to put some in my coffee!

Interestingly, both Neotame and Asparatame and heavily linked to stimulating the release of Insulin and Leptin. So ... use these products and you may find yourself craving and hungry. Neotame is even added to cattle feed specifically to fatten them up.

As a fun aside, it's always interesting to me that people can buy these things and fiddle around with them. I had trouble tracking down neotame, though. It's used exclusively by manufacturers. However, I was able to track some down. Through a company called "American Health Foods and Ingredients" you can pick up an ounce, for a cool $130.00! While an ounce of anything for more than $100 seems like a lot, it's equal to about 500 lbs of sugar! A sweet deal, if you ask me!

Here's where I say nothing else on the subject and briskly move us along!


Saccharin

Saccharin is another artificial sweetener with a bit of a bitter aftertaste. This is most commonly found in the little PINK packets that comes with your iced tea, although apparently the little pink packets contain sodium cyclamate, in Canada (while staying banned in the USA).

Also not really found in home kitchens, this is found in a wide range of products from beverages and candies to medicine and toothpaste.

While many of these other sweeteners are relatively new, saccharin was first produced almost 150 years ago! From the 70's through 2000, Saccharin products all had a warning on the label suggesting that it may induce cancer in man or animals, based on the development of bladder cancer in rodents. In 2000, the warning was removed when it was discovered that rodents aren't humans, and that they have a unique combination of high pH, high calcium phosphate, and high protein levels in their urine.

Again, because this isn't really used as an ingredient in the home and I've never run across a treasure trove of saccharin recipes ... I'm going to cut this one short.


In Closing ...

I have to say that writing this post was really uncomfortable and largely made my skin crawl. I truly have no clue which of these are safe and which aren't. I'm simply not equipped to know. I will hide behind the simple fact that this entire series is being bookended by the message that ... we really don't need sweets and that my honest recommendation is to simply skip all sweeteners.

Or, like me, be willing to risk the occasional splurge into sucralose treats and smappy ice creams.

Stay tuned next week, when I clean up this mess and cover the "odds and ends" ... or the harder to categorize sweeteners, like polydextrose, inulin and glycerol. Until then ... stay sweet!

~ DJ

Lynda: I will address both Lakanto, as well as Tagatose. Lakanto is coming, but Tagatose was an oversight on my part. It’s even something I’ve used before. I’m hoping to slip it into the 5th installment.

Nikki: DUDE!!! :) Well … I’m both happy and sad for you! Yes, sugar is a liquefier. When it dissolves or melts as it bakes, it behaves more like a liquid and doesn’t actually lend much of anything to the structure. Interestingly, eggs are a stabilizer, even though they are added as a liquid! As they cook, they catch carbon dioxide and other gasses in little pockets of solidified cooked egg (as well as other things, like gluten in grain based breads). So, from a baking perspective, things aren’t always what they may seem! Like many of the things I hear, I’ve definitely heard and read about people that have insulin responses just to the taste of sweet. I remember reading such a thing several years ago which suggested about 1/3rd of the population has such a reaction. The idea is … the body tastes sweet, so it releases insulin, in anticipation of the sugar that … isn’t actually there! So, it grabs what glucose IS in the blood and stashes it on your rear for later use, while also dropping blood sugars and making you hungry and craving. There are studies to suggest that this isn’t true with ALL sweeteners, but it is true with some. Then, as with everything, there are people that just get the wrong end of the stick. I’m sorry! :/ I will get to tagatose. Is that easily found in your neck of the woods?

Eric: I’m sorry about the Splenda aftertaste. I’ve never much noticed it. That said, I haven’t used SPLENDA in many years. I have used liquid sucralose, as well as products sweetened with sucralose. It could be the mixers that you’re tasting, as you’d said. I’m not sure. It could also be that you’re specifically sensitive to a specific trait, which I’m either blind to, or … am not bothered by. All this said .. for the most part, I stick with the smappy stuff, so it’s not often an issue for either of us! ;) That’s an interesting tidbit about aspartame. I had no clue. Follow the money …
by DJ on Mar 26, 2014, 03:25 PM EST
Odd... I do get an unpleasant aftertaste from Splenda if used in things that are served cool. It is fine in coffee, but to me it is identifiable in jams, syrups, panna cotta, etc. I haven't really tried it for that reason in baked goods, because I am happy with "Smappy" blends. I will confess I have only used the powdered Splenda, so the fillers might be responsible for the aftertaste. But thanks for the info. And a bit of an FYI: For what is is worth, Donald Rumsfeld was responsible for getting Aspartame approved...
by Eric on Mar 26, 2014, 12:13 PM EST
Hi DJ, once again you had me engrossed, laughing and sad....all at the same time...kudos dude!!! I learned a few things (that part about sugar counting as a liquid BLEW MY MIND )I agree with your end summing up: we don't NEED em and are much better off without. I have discovered this for myself too by tweaking my intake and learning what works and what doesn't over the last few years. Thanks for the reminder about sucralose though, I'd forgotten all about that stuff and I have a bottle of liquid form that I used to use on it's own but hadn't thought of blending it (I use a stevia and erythritol blend) I am one of the sad saps that has learned that to lose weight I must not use ANY kind of sweetener as my screwed up bod seems to translate any and all forms of sweet as sugar and I stall or even gain....on stevia....urgh :( Ah well. Next time I want to treat myself I will try the blend plus though :) Oh and what are your thoughts on tagatose?? I'm confused by it and haven't yet dare try it..
by Nikki on Mar 26, 2014, 04:51 AM EST
Hi DJ,

Hope you include your thoughts on Lakanto and Tagatose.
Really enjoy your blog and recipes

thanks, Lynda
by Lynda on Mar 25, 2014, 10:48 PM EST
Sharon, I have heard of it. It, along with quite a list of other brand names, will be covered in the 6th installment. Thanks for the tip, though. Please let me know if there are any others I should sprinkle in! :)
by DJ on Mar 25, 2014, 09:55 PM EST
DJ, there is a new sweetener out and am wondering if you have heard of it or tried it. I have ordered it. Here is the link: http://www26.netrition.com/lc_foods_sweet_white.html
by Sharon on Mar 25, 2014, 03:40 PM EST

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