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Battle of the Packets

June 01, 2016

Cheri Molloy RD, LD Director of Nutrition Services

Battle of the Packets Cheri Molloy RD, LD Director of Nutrition Services As a Registered Dietitian, I get a lot of questions about sweeteners. For years people have heard that sugar gives you diabetes, aspartame gives you cancer, and no sweets at all just make you sad. So, here is how I break down sweeteners to my patients.

Sugar – In the US, table sugar is made from sugar beets. It is then processed and refined into white sugar. Sugar is not a natural product! It has only been a part of our diet for about 300 years. It is devoid of vitamins and minerals, but supplies 4g of carbohydrate per teaspoon. This can be helpful to those who struggle to get enough calories, for example, those undergoing chemotherapy. The rest of us, however, should reduce added sugars to no more than 10% of our daily calories to avoid unwanted weight gain, a risk factor for a littany of other conditions from diabetes to sleep apnea. 

Corn Syrup –Also known as high fructose corn syrup, this is a product made from genetically modified corn. It is classified as GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) by the FDA and has not been shown to be any “worse” than regular sugar, though there is some evidence that it may cause more dental cavities. Like sugar, it should be limited.

Aspartame –The infamous “blue packet” has been blamed for many things over the years, including bladder & brain cancer, neuralgia, and moon boy for all I know. It is found in diet colas and other packaged diet foods. Aspartame has been in the food supply for 35 years, and has been the subject of over 100 studies reviewed by the FDA, making it one of the most studied food additives in history.  I feel comfortable with recommending the moderate use of aspartame products, particularly for those with diabetes who can need some help giving up sugar sweetened products.

Sucralose –The primary ingredient in the popular “Splenda” brand of products also known as the “yellow packets” has been on the market since 1998. Sucralose is heat stable, so it can be used to reduce the calories in baked goods as well as beverages. It is marketed as being made from sugar, which while technically true, also involves scientists and a lab. Like aspartame, it is GRAS by the FDA and can help those who need to reduce their added sugar.

Stevia –Finally, a natural calorie-free sweetener! Stevia is made from a herb native to South America, you can buy the seeds and grow it yourself if you like. The leaves have a sweet, slightly licorice flavor, where the processed version, “Truvia” is more neutral. This is my favorite calorie-free product because it can be grown in your garden, making it feel more like a herb than an unidentifyiable packet of white powder.

Conclusion– The biggest piece of advice that I have is to reduce the sweetened foods and drinks in your diet in total. There are NO added sweetners that have health benefits, we would all be better off to leave them out entirely. Cut back on the sweetner until you take your tea or coffee unsweetened, replace desserts with fruits or berries, and drink water with lemon or fruit instead of lemonade or gatorade. You will be surprised how quickly your taste buds adapt.

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