Sweet by any other name
By JILL HAMBEK
Is it better to drink regular soda or diet soda? Is aspartame a health hazard or is it OK for consumption? There is a lot of information and misinformation about artificial sweeteners available and that can make it a challenge on what to take away as fact or fiction. And due to there being so much information and misinformation available with the click of a computer mouse, sometimes the best thing to do is just talk to an expert.
Michelle Fundingsland, outpatient dietician at Trinity Health, and Jennifer Roehrdanz, student dietician from the University of North Dakota, offered some information about artificial sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners are good, Fundingsland said, when working with diabetic patients.
“The artificial sweeteners are important to have to replace real sugar with so they’re able to have that sugar and not count it on the exchange for carbs,” she added. Artificial sweeteners are also good with weight management because they have fewer calories, Fundingsland said.
Drinking diet soda that contains aspartame is not detrimental to one’s health as sometimes thought, either. Roehrdanz said aspartame is just like any other food you may be sensitive to, but not harmful. Fundingsland added that there’s a website where you can type in your body weight and the site will tell you how much artificial sweetener you can have before it’s too much. The website is (nafwa.org/
“If people have the mindset that since they’re drinking diet soda then it’s OK to eat a high-calorie candy bar, then that’s not OK,” Fundingsland said. “You have to pay attention and listen to your body. Maybe it’s time to drink more water and eat healthier food.”
“Everything in moderation is key,” she said. “You want to make sure you’re eating whole foods and from all of the food groups.”
Roehrdanz added that a lot of people say aspartame is built out of chemicals, but that’s not true. It’s actually made out of two amino acids and they’re found in everything you eat and the body easily breaks them down, she said. Aspartame has been studied thoroughly and widely accepted in the world, Roehrdanz said.
“There are all sorts of weird scares about it, but it’s all unfounded,” she said.
Artificial sweeteners have different sweetness levels, but there aren’t any that are better or worse than others. Some people with diabetes don’t like Stevia because it’s too much like real sugar, Fundingsland said.
“It’s just a personal taste. You use what you like. It’s nice to have so many artificial sweeteners to pick from,” she said.
“Sugar is fine in moderation. There’s a place for it in the diet,” Fundingsland said.
The big change in artificial sweeteners has been in the variety that’s available, Fundingsland said. “Even more are still being tested and waiting for approval,” she said. “So the more that are out there, the more you can use them differently.”
However, one thing to remember when baking with artificial sweeteners is to watch the amount of fake sugar that you include, Fundingsland said. For example, she said not as much is needed when using Splenda since it’s the sweetest and Stevia is not used for baking.
“Splenda and Sweet ‘n Low have specific amounts to use in baking,” Roehrdanz said.
“It’s tricky to use artificial sweeteners in baking,” Fundingsland said. She always tells people to check the website for whatever artificial sweetener they’re using, she added.
“We always promote whole foods – fruits, vegetables, lean meats and lean dairy,” Fundingsland said. “Then if you want a special treat, there are options out there. So if you pick a treat with artificial sweetener, it will have less calories. Everything in moderation.”