Sweeter Than Sugar

Most people differentiate artificial sweeteners by the color of their packets. But there are many differences beyond the packaging that can impact your health.

Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist from the New York University Medical Center, dropped by The Early Show to share some information

  • Sweet 'n' Low is known throughout the world by its pink packet. It's actually saccharin. It was discovered at the turn of the century accidentally and comes naturally from a product made from grapes.

  • Splenda, in the yellow packet, is made from something called sucralose, an altered form of sugar.

  • Equal, in the blue packet, is something called aspartame, a combination of aspartic acid and phenylalanine.

    They're all three very different chemicals, but all are very sweet. Among them, the most important factor is a person's taste preference. Some people think saccharin leaves an aftertaste, but other people love saccharin.

    The artificial sweeteners are hundreds of time sweeter than sugar:

  • Equal, which contains aspartame, is 160 to 200 times sweeter than sugar.

  • Sweet 'n' Low, with saccharin, is 300 to 500 times sweeter than sugar.

  • Splenda is 600 times sweeter than sugar.

    All three of these are safe to ingest. They have been deemed safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. For people who want to lose weight, these products can help cut calories they're getting from sugar.

    For example if you have a nice, big, giant cup of coffee, and you add five, six or seven teaspoons of sugar, that can add up. Using a sweetener can help save the calories from the sugar. Don't make up for it by adding a lot of half and half. You have to see where the calories are coming from. It's not just from sugar.

    Also, the sweeteners are great for diabetics.

    While all these artificial sweeteners are chemicals, according to the American Dietetic Association, they can be a part of a healthy diet. But Heller acknowledges that there is controversy. In the case of saccharin, the FDA took it off the list of possible carcinogens, but there are some consumer groups, such as the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which oppose that move and hold that saccharin should not have been removed from that list.

    Equal, which is aspartic acid and phenylalanine combined, is not for people who have a rare genetic disorder called phenylketonuria (pku). They should never have aspartame.

    Also, some people seem to be sensitive to artificial sweeteners and may get headaches or allergic reactions. If this is the case, they should stop using them.

    • Ellen Crean

    Comments