The most comprehensive study ever about those sweeteners that don’t have any calories just appeared as the lead “original research communication” in the January 2009 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. It is really good news for anyone with diabetes who is trying to lose weight or maintain weight loss.
This study changed my mind about using non-caloric sweeteners. A little more than a year ago I wrote here that, “The classic 1969 experiment by Stylianos Nicolaïdis showed that merely tasting a sweet substance – whether it is sugar or a non-caloric sweetener – causes rats to secrete insulin.” The problem with that is that more circulating insulin can make us hungry so that we will probably eat more.
But this review of all the literature — including footnotes for a total of 224 studies — says essentially not to worry about non-caloric sweeteners. Indeed, earlier studies did indicate that non-caloric sweeteners might make us more hungry. “But subsequent work showed that when incorporated into energy-yielding products, this does not occur,” the study concluded. And even if a non-caloric sweetener is used is soft drinks, we usually drink them with foods, so “augmented hunger may not be a concern.”
Only the abstract of the study, “Nonnutritive sweetener consumption in humans: effects on appetite and food intake and their putative mechanisms,” is free online. But the lead author, Barry Popkin was kind enough to send me the full-text of the study. He is professor of nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he directs the university’s Interdisciplinary Center for Obesity. And just a few days ago his newest book, The World is Fat, just came out.
What I term non-caloric sweeteners — and Dr. Popkin calls nonnutritive ones — are Acesulfame-K, Aspartame, Saccharin, Sucralose, Neotame, and stevia. In about 100 countries outside the U.S. another one, Cyclamate, is also available.
The non-caloric sweetener that excites me the most is an extract of stevia called Truvia, which I wrote about here in May. I’ve seen it recently on the shelves at Whole Foods and my local supermarkets. And now I’m going to start using Truvia myself.
Update February 1, 2009:
As I studied the non-caloric sweeteners more — prompted by several comments below and by personal emails — I am leaning more and more toward the use of a different non-caloric sweetener. It is erythritol.
This is a sugar alcohol that Truvia contains. Like many people, I avoided all of the sugar alcohols because any substantial amount can cause stomach distress. But erythritol is an exception, as I source in one of my comments below.
The only problems that I know of with erythritol are that it has been hard to find — and hard to spell. The first problem has now disappeared, at least in Whole Foods markets.
Today I found the ultimate non-caloric sweetener — organic erythritol. And unlike Truvia and other erythritol products that Whole Foods has carried for a while, it has no unspecified “natural flavors.” It has just one ingredient — organic erythritol.
Wholesome Sweeteners in Sugar Land, Texas, makes it from table sugar and calls it “Organic Zero,” for its zero calories, zero glycemic index, and zero artificial. Actually, by FDA requirements they say that it has 0.2 calories per gram. It is 70 percent — not 100 percent — as sweet as table sugar and takes a minute or two for its flavor to develop. The website is www.organiczero.com
HealthCentral published an earlier version of this article.