The Sweet and Lowdown on Sugar Substitutes

Here's the inside scoop on artificial sweeteners and how to best use them in recipes.

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Even if you believe you're not over the hill, you know you're approaching the peak when diet fads start repeating themselves.

There are only three macronutrients - protein, fat and carbohydrates (including sugar) - to fool with. Thus, when the low-fat, no-fat, bad-bad-fat diets seemed to tank because we were fatter than ever, we saw the rebirth of the Atkins diet (high-protein, high-fat, low-carb) and its svelte sister, the South Beach diet (high-protein, some-fat, "good" carbs).

First, there is no lawful definition of "low-carb," so companies can slap the title on about anything. What it often gets down to is using sugar substitutes. Has your past flashed past you? Remember saccharin? How about NutraSweet? Do you recall Simplesse? No, wait, that was during our low-fat obsession.

When it comes to weight loss, we all seek the quick fix. On the other hand, people with diabetes have to eat for the long haul.

I usually advise using recipes that have been formulated for the sugar substitutes, although the makers of Splenda brand no-calorie sweetener say their product can be substituted 1 to 1 for granulated sugar. It is made with sucralose, a sugar that is not digested.

"Because it is so much sweeter than sugar, it is bulked up with maltodextrin, a starchy powder, so it will measure more like sugar," wrote John Henkel in the 1999 FDA Consumer. "It has good shelf life and doesn't degrade when exposed to heat. Numerous studies have shown that sucralose does not affect blood glucose levels, making it an option for diabetics."

Still, some who have used it say Splenda's sweetness can be overpowering, so when a recipe calls for 1 cup, they use 3/4 cup.

In addition to sucralose, three other sugar substitutes have been approved by the FDA: saccharin (Sweet'N Low), aspartame (NutraSweet and Equal) and acetsulfame-K (Sweet One). My advice on any of these artificial sweeteners remains the same: Use recipes formulated by their companies. It seems to me that substituting ersatz sugar in your favorite dessert is asking for trouble.

According to online's "Home Cooking with Peggy Trowbridge, "you could shave 360 calories from a cake recipe that calls for one cup of sugar by using an artificial sweetener in place of half of it." Then she adds this admonition: "You can't replace all the sugar with a substitute. Start by replacing half, and if the food doesn't brown correctly or is too heavy in texture, increase the sugar-to-sweetener ratio."

Just because a product is low in carbs doesn't mean it isn't high in fat and thus, calories. That's why we liked The Splenda Cookbook for people who are trying to reduce their sugar intake. Author JoAnna M. Lund said people with diabetes often need to reduce fats and carbohydrates just as much as simple sugars. So that's what she tried to do in her cookbook.

Chewy Walnut Brownies

Ingredients:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
3/4 cup Splenda granular sweetener
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/4 cup reduced-calorie spread (we used Blue Bonnet 39-percent fat spread)
1/2 cup no-sugar-added applesauce (Musselman's or other brand)
2 eggs or equivalent in egg substitute
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. mini chocolate chips

Preparation:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat an 8-by-8-inch baking dish with butter-flavored cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine flour, cocoa, sugar substitute and baking powder. Stir in walnuts.

In a small bowl, combine spread, applesauce, eggs and vanilla. Mix well using a wire whisk. Add wet mixture to dry mixture. Mix gently just to combine, using a sturdy spoon. Fold in chocolate chips. (We sprinkled ours on top.)

Spread batter into prepared baking dish. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Place cake pan on wire rack and allow to cool completely. Cut into 16 bars.

Serves 8 (2 each)

Each serving equals: 173 calories; 9 g fat; 4 g protein; 19 g carbohydrate; 112 mg sodium; 20 mg calcium; 2 g fiber; diabetic exchanges: 1 starch, 2 fat.

-- The Splenda Cookbook

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