Sugar versus aspertame: What's better?

Sugars are naturally part of many foods and an essential ingredient in others.

Fruits and vegetables contain fructose and glucose. Milk also derives some of its flavor from lactose (natural sugar).

These sugars are considered "intrinsic" or "naturally occurring" sugars. "Extrinsic" or "added" sugar refers to sucrose and other refined sugars. Maple sugar, granulated sugar, raw sugar, and powdered sugar are all forms of sucrose.

Extrinsic sugars are used in soft drinks and foods such as cakes, cookies and candies. Foods high in extrinsic sugar generally offer no nutritional value, only empty calories. Such high-sugar foods often displace nutrient-dense foods. For example, soda instead of milk.

The key to incorporating sugar in a healthy diet is to consume moderate amounts and choose nutrient-dense foods containing sugar. Foods with intrinsic sugars (such as fruits and milk) offer vitamins, minerals and/or fiber.

When selecting foods that contain extrinsic sugar, look for additional nutrients. For example, are there significant amounts of vitamins and minerals in the item (greater than 10 percent of the daily value)? Is the product a good source of protein, complex carbohydrate or fiber? Is the product low in fat and calories?

Sugar does not have to be eliminated. It can add flavor and fit into a nutritious diet. Remember, calories add up quickly. One teaspoon of sugar contains 20 calories, 1 tablespoon 60 calories, one-half cup 480 calories, and 1 cup 960 calories.

Sweet tooth

substitutes

What about artificial sweeteners? Don't they cause cancer?

Aspartame is one of the most common artificial sweeteners used as an alternative to sugar. Although there are no side effects scientifically documented, there are negative rumors about aspartame. You may have read or heard that aspartame causes headaches, blindness, allergic reactions and various diseases.

Aspartame has been more intensely studied than most other food additives. It is noted that scientific advisors to the European Union, the FDA, the American Medical Association, and the World Health Organization, have confirmed that aspartame is safe, based on the latest data. Aspartame has been found to be safe for human consumption by more than 90 countries worldwide. The only proven danger is for people with a rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria.

The FDA established an Acceptable Daily Intake for aspartame at 50 mg/kg. This amount is equivalent to about 20 diet soft drinks or 97 packets of sugar substitute containing aspartame. The average consumption of aspartame is only 2 to 3 mg/kg. A 2007 safety evaluation found that existing scientific evidence indicates that aspartame is safe at current levels of consumption as a non-nutritive sweetener.

"Can't I just drink less regular soda?"

Sodas are high-sugar beverages that lack nutrients. Soft drink consumption is so high that it accounts for about 27 percent of America's refined sugar consumption. A 12-ounce cola contains about 150 calories. If a person adds just one 12-ounce cola a day to his/her daily intake (and not make any other changes in diet or exercise), this could amount to a 15-pound weight gain in one year!

By eliminating regular soft drinks, and limiting your intake of diet soft drinks, you have more room for nutritious, low-calorie foods. This way, you'll be able to meet your body's nutritional needs, while restricting calorie intake so you can lose weight.