Solutions To The Question Of Sugar Substitutes

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Just when I thought I had the sugar substitutes thing all figured out, here comes a flyer in the mail about SlimSweet. Its marketing department will never be accused of modesty.

It claims to be "the first low-calorie fat-burning sweetener ever!" And lots more. It also trashes all its competitors.

Get this: "Unlike sugar, Stevia, Equal, Sweet-N-Low and other ordinary sweeteners, SlimSweet does not stimulate fat storage, elevate insulin levels or raise cholesterol. Made from natural fruit of the kiwi family, SlimSweet has been clinically proven to speed up the fat burning process without stimulating insulin production. SlimSweet is the first and only sweetener available that's great for weight loss, completely natural, and safe for diabetics, children, hypoglycemics, and anyone who wants to significantly improve their diet!

So what is this miracle? Fructose. That's the sugar Mother Nature puts into fruits. Fructose was isolated as a sweetener more than 100 years ago.

SlimSweet is trying to cash in on a hot topic in dietary circles. A spate of books like "The Zone" and "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution" have stressed the importance of eating foods low on the glycemic index to balance insulin levels and thereby lose weight more easily.

Fruits like kiwi, berries of all kinds, melons, cherries, grapes and such are low in carbohydrates and low on the glycemic scale. Bananas, raisins, apricots and oranges are higher in carbohydrates and on the glycemic scale. (Another common high-glycemic sweetener is high-fructose corn syrup, used in hundreds of commercial products. Bad stuff.)

SlimSweet may well be a worthy addition to the growing cadre of sweeteners, if you want to pay almost $15 for 2.82 ounces. But don't write off all the other guys because SlimSweet says you should.

Take Stevia. Never heard of it? It's a product made from the leaves of a plant native to Paraguay. Stevia has been used for centuries in South American countries as a sweetener, and was introduced to the United States early in the 20th century. It's popular in Japan and other countries and is up to 400 times sweeter than refined sugar. It's available in local health food stores as a white powder extract, in liquid form and in individual packets.

Stevia has virtually no calories and does not raise blood sugar or insulin levels. The FDA has not approved Stevia as a food additive sweetener primarily because "not enough evidence has been presented," according to a recent article in the "FDA Consumer." It has been approved as a food supplement.

Dr. Robert Atkins recommends Stevia in his diet book. After doing exhaustive research, I have complete confidence in it. Some investigators believe that the FDA has suppressed Stevia as a food additive because of pressure from the artificial sweetener industry. That fascinating saga is told by Linda Bonvie, Bill Bonvie and Donna Gates in their 1997 book, "The Stevia Story."

What about the others? According to the American Diabetic Association, "Artificial sweeteners are safe for everyone except pregnant or breastfeeding women, who should not use saccharin, and people with phenylketonuria, who should not use aspartame. Calorie-free sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, and acesulfame-K won't increase your blood glucose level. The sugar alcohols, xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol, have some calories and do slightly increase blood glucose level. Eating too much of any of these can cause gas and diarrhea."

The latest sweetener to enrich our lives is Splenda (sucrulose), a low-calorie product made from sugar. It's already being used in many commercial products. The FDA is currently reviewing three others.

Though I prefer Stevia, it's more expensive than the artificial sweeteners. It runs between $8 and $12 for 100 packets. So I also use the cheaper laboratory products occasionally. Hey, I even eat sugar and honey now and then.

But SlimSweet? Maybe I'll just squeeze a little kiwi juice into my coffee.

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