Recently, we have started to hear the name of sweeteners very often. So what exactly are sweeteners and what are they used for?

In ancient times, it was very difficult and costly to reach sugar. After the developments in the industry, sugar became easily accessible. This has led some of us to use sugar indiscriminately. This abundant and excessive use causes some negative effects on our body. The increase in the risk of metabolic diseases, diabetes, obesity and deterioration of dental health are among these negative effects. Due to all these negative effects, the search for a substance that can be used instead of sugar began, and many natural and artificial substances were found that would allow us to enjoy the sweet taste. We call these substances sweeteners. Honey, which many of us love so much, is the first known sweetener.

Sweeteners are divided into three groups: sugar alcohols, natural sweeteners, and artificial sweeteners.

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are called ‘nutritive’ or ‘reduced calorie’ sweeteners because they contain fewer calories than the table sugar (sucrose) we use daily. They occur naturally in vegetables and fruits. Since bacteria cannot use sugar alcohols as nutrients, they do not cause tooth decay. It is suitable for patients with diabetes as it does not cause a sudden increase in blood sugar levels.

The calorie content of table sugar is 4 kcal in 1 gram, while the calorie amount of sugar alcohols varies between 1.5-3 kcal per 1 gram. The downside of sugar alcohols is that they contain almost as many calories as table sugar.

The products in which sugar alcohols are frequently used are confectionery, sugar gum, frozen foods, flavored jams, jelly, baked goods, ice cream, chocolate and dairy desserts. Sugar alcohols are used in most products sold as diabetics. Excessive consumption of these products can have a laxative effect (acceleration of bowel movements).

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are chemically lab-made substances that are used to taste sweet instead of sugar. They are referred to as ‘non-nutritive’ or ‘low-calorie’ sweeteners. Although they are produced to reduce the cost, they are considered calorie-free because they do not contain calories or contain very few calories, and therefore they are highly preferred by people who are on a slimming diet. They are sweeter than table sugar, so very small amounts are sufficient for sweetening.

These sweeteners are used in sugar-free, reduced-sugar or low-calorie products that we have seen on the market shelves recently. They are also sold as tablets or liquid.

There are five artificial sweeteners approved for use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These sweeteners are; saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame-K and neotame.

Since saccharin and sucralose do not cause changes in blood sugar, it is suitable for diabetic patients.

Since sucralose, acesulfame-K and neotam are resistant to temperature changes, they can be easily used in cooked and baked foods.

Aspartame, on the other hand, is not resistant to temperature changes and loses its sweet taste when heated. It is not suitable for use by patients with phenylketonuria as it contains phenylalanine.

Natural Sweeteners

They are obtained naturally from the sap of plants or trees. Stevia, agave syrup, maple syrup and molasses are sweeteners in this group.

Stevia is a calorie-free sweetener that has become popular in recent days and is 250-300 times sweeter than table sugar. It can be used by diabetics. Since it is heat resistant, it can be used for desserts and cakes.

Agave syrup is obtained from the Agave plant, which is native to North and South America. However, it is very difficult to find the natural one. There are protective chemicals and fructose syrup in the agave syrup sold in the markets. It is 3-4 times sweeter than sugar and tastes like honey.

Are Sweeteners Harmful?

This issue is still under discussion. According to some opinions and studies, it is thought to have no negative effects. It is argued that they provide an advantage in weight control because they do not contain calories. According to some opinions and studies, it is thought to have negative effects. It is thought that although we do not take sugar in our body, the signal that we take sugar in our brain is gone and this creates a desire to take sugar again.

So what do we do in this uncertainty?

Since there are studies supporting both ideas, we should not take sweeteners more than the amount that should be taken daily, and we should remove table sugar from our lives as much as possible without the need for sweeteners.

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