War of the Sugar Substitutes

Splenda vs. Equal vs. Sweet & Low…

Which is the lesser of evils?

Sugar0909I’ve noticed that lately, at least in California, restaurants and cafes now fill their ramekins with ALL THREE PRODUCTS, so patrons can choose their poison. I often stare long and hard at those yellow, baby blue and pink packets, wondering “should I be choosing on taste (who can tell the difference?) or based on some important health concern?”

What’s in them, anyway? I made a special stop at Starbucks yesterday (not nearly as eventful as Kerri’s!) to grab three fresh packets and check it out:

SPLENDA: sucralose

EQUAL: dextrose with maltodextrin, aspartame

SWEET & LOW: nutritive dextrose, calcium saccharin, cream of tartar, and calcium silicate (an anti-caking agent)

(Check out a brand new book on the “sweet and sour” scandals behind the Cohen family Sweet & Low Empire, by the way)

From what I read, it’s all pretty crappy for your system. The leading brand, Splenda, is even under official FDA scrutiny now that a number of peolpe have complained of side effects ranging from skin rashes, to headaches, to severe gastrointestinal problems. Belch!

Splenda is actually just the brand name for sucralose, a sugar derivative, which is made through a patented multi-step process that converts natural sugar cane to a no-calorie, non-carbohydrate sweetener that your body doesn’t recognize as sugar or carbohydrate — so it doesn’t get metabolized. Wha-la! It’s calorie-free!

Almost all artificial sugar substitutes are made specifically to be malabsorbed, so is it any wonder if your stomach gets upset by chemicals it can’t break down?

During my visit to Oregon last month, my friend’s husband had a fit when he noticed I was guzzling all this chemical hooey. He introduced me to Stevia, a natural sweetener, and made me promise to switch. I’d love to, but my house is still stocked with Costco-sized stores of Equal and Splenda, not to mention those fructose packets I bought last year, which aren’t bad. All natural! How ’bout you?


31 Responses

  1. Scott K. Johnson
    Scott K. Johnson May 16, 2006 at 8:11 am | | Reply

    And did you notice that of all things that Equal has in it – DEXTROSE!!! Hey – wait a minute…

    I’ve always thought it was “free”, but dextrose does raise BG. Must be the quantity of it – you know, one packet won’t do much, etc.

    I don’t know about you, but Equal was the “new” thing when I was growing up. I guess that’s why it was my first choice. Then I found out it had dextrose in it. I usually have like 3-4 packets at a time. I’m sure it had some affect.

    It bothered me though that nobody brought it up before!?

    Where I learned it was in Dr. Bernstein’s book “Diabetes Solution”. It’s packed with valuable information – but the gameplan is pretty difficult to live with (very very low carb diet…).

  2. Scott K. Johnson
    Scott K. Johnson May 16, 2006 at 8:11 am | | Reply

    Uh, I should say “difficult for *me* to live with”.

    Recommended read either way.

  3. Zeke
    Zeke May 16, 2006 at 9:59 am | | Reply


  4. radtec
    radtec May 16, 2006 at 12:19 pm | | Reply

    Splenda=chlorine molecule. No thanks!!

  5. LilituC
    LilituC May 16, 2006 at 1:51 pm | | Reply

    I use stevia whenever possible and drink sodas with Splenda. Just to add to the anecdotal evidence, I have IBS and haven’t noticed any problem with it.

  6. Shannon Lewis
    Shannon Lewis May 16, 2006 at 3:15 pm | | Reply

    We’re a Splenda household although the kids don’t get anything with artificial sweetener. It’s more about the types of food having it rather than the artificial sweetener itself as reason for the kids not ingesting any.

    Amy, do a taste test with the Stevia and report your findings :)

  7. Allison
    Allison May 16, 2006 at 6:22 pm | | Reply

    I know I’m probably going to Diabetic Hell for this, but for my daily cup of coffee at Roma, I just use a little bit of regular sugar. Sometimes I bolus if I think I put too much in, but most of the time, nothing happens. I use Sweet & Low in my iced tea on the rare occassions that I have it with dinner at a restaurant. I don’t think I use enough of this stuff to do much harm to my body. I’m not sure if it was Stevia or Splenda, but I had one of them once and I hated it! Bad aftertaste. Equal doesn’t even come close to cutting it for me. Oh well… I eat chocolate, for Pete’s sake, I’m pretty sure a little cane sugar won’t kill me. :-)

    (Oh, and apologies if this posts twice…)

  8. Nick
    Nick May 16, 2006 at 6:48 pm | | Reply

    As a Bernstein follower, I’m also perturbed that the solid forms of aspartame and saccharine and sucralose are packaged with either dextrose or maltodextrin.
    I use smaller amounts of these artificial sweeteners these days. I also use liquid saccharine whenever possible. It’s free of added starch.
    The starch(es) is (are) added to the powdered forms of the artificial sweeteners to give them bulk, I think. I still hate that!

  9. Laura G.
    Laura G. May 16, 2006 at 7:21 pm | | Reply

    Stevia extract tastes OK to me though I use it rarely. (Try adding cinnamon to coffee if you’re going to add stevia too; they’re friendly.) Or I use small amounts of honey I bolus for. Or I just let things taste the way they taste. Very dark organic chocolate, with its small amount of cane sugar, count and bolus. Mmm. No chemical sweeteners, thanks.

    I’m one diabetic cancer survivor (and good cook!) who’s totally opposed to weird man-made food. Saccharine and its children, dye, trans fat, HFCS, preservatives, and the scary corporations that make and sell them…yeesh.

    (OK, rant over, back to sweeteners now…)

  10. Johnboy
    Johnboy May 17, 2006 at 2:38 am | | Reply

    Hey, I have a COSTCO-sized box of Splenda at my house too (btw, I just love the word, “ramekin”).

  11. Andrea H.
    Andrea H. May 17, 2006 at 12:34 pm | | Reply

    Whatever I bake with Splenda ends up tasting like Splenda. I find it overpowering and chemical-like. I do use a tiny bit of it in my stewed rhubarb and that’s OK. But baking, no way! Does anyone have a good diabetic-friendly muffin recipe that uses Stevia?

  12. JasonJayhawk
    JasonJayhawk May 17, 2006 at 1:57 pm | | Reply

    To the person who said “Splenda–chlorine molecule, no thanks!” …

    It’s the chlorine ion, not the chlorine molecule. Chlorine molecule is a diatomic (2-atom) form which is a gas in its natural state.

    If you have a problem with the chlorine ion, then you need to make extra sure that no table salt has entered your diet — that’s sodium chloride to you (NaCl).

  13. AmyT
    AmyT May 18, 2006 at 6:38 pm | | Reply

    Johnboy, I love ramekins, too! I even bought a set for my kitchen just so I could say the word :)

  14. Alexis
    Alexis May 20, 2006 at 2:24 pm | | Reply

    Being a coffee addict I probably have at least 6 packets of splenda a day. Sleep is for the weak ; ) Add on the daily helping of Bryers low carb ice cream (with Splenda). I figure that Splenda is the lesser of two evils here. If something is going to kill me it will most definitely be Diabetes complications and keeping my sugars in control (6.7 AC1) is worth it.

  15. Florence Griffin
    Florence Griffin May 21, 2006 at 6:13 pm | | Reply

    I am a Splenda addict (with decaf tea, thank you very much). I know I need to switch to Stevia…but it is so darn expensive! I have been on the road to diabetes for quite some time, but am desperately trying to overcome my past medical mis-steps and bring some positive changes to my now-vegan lifestyle. An inspiration for this was a recent article on Diabetes I read in Radius Magazine at http://www.radthemag.com.

  16. Diane
    Diane May 22, 2006 at 8:45 am | | Reply

    Stevia is my personal favorite. I learned about it from DIABETES magazine about a year ago, then did a bit of research. Makes perfect sense to me and tastes great. You can even cook with it. I hate how the others taste.

  17. difficult patient
    difficult patient May 23, 2006 at 7:09 am | | Reply

    Hmmmmmm, it may be psychological, but all three give me headaches.

  18. SarahW
    SarahW May 23, 2006 at 8:50 am | | Reply

    Splenda tastes terrible to me and gives me headaches. I like a little euqal. What I like best is xylitol.

    It’s not zero calorie, but it is delicious. It may have some benefits for teeth and sinuses. A little xylitol mixed with equal is how I sweeten my yoghurt and coffee.

    It’s pricey, so it’s not found in restaurants or starbucks’. I roder it and I keep a couple packets in my purse.

  19. BonnyD
    BonnyD May 23, 2006 at 2:03 pm | | Reply

    One good reason I avoid artificial sweeteners is that they were invented primarily for diabetics. (I have been a type for 15 years but I hate to admit it to myself.)

    Another good reason is that I have heard some reports that they make people sick. (I am already a diabetic so I might as well avoid anything that may make me sicker.)

    Third good reason is that natural sugar is good for me. It has never made me sick, was not the cause of my diabetes. The high blood sugar reading I get as a result of eating it does not cause any problem for me. This high bs comes down to normal level on its own 3 to 2 hours before my next meal. (I have been easily, effectively, and successfully controlling my diabetes thru exercise only since I was diagnosed in July 1991.)

    Fourth good reason is that Joseph Mercola, MD, (www.mercola.com), has been preaching for several years now that all artificial sweeteners are not good. There’s nothing better than natural sugar, he said.

    Fifth good reason: artificial sweeteners are very expensive. I am cheap.

    I can give you some more good reasons but I hate to waste your precious time. Besides, I prefer reading your blog.

  20. deedee
    deedee May 24, 2006 at 4:49 am | | Reply

    I don’t believe in all these sugar substitutes. I only take some raw sugar with my coffee or tea when i have to..

  21. Darlene
    Darlene November 2, 2006 at 6:27 am | | Reply

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  22. Darlene
    Darlene November 2, 2006 at 6:31 am | | Reply

    Forgot to mention we are a Stevia houshold. Don’t want any of those poisons in my house…thank you very much. There are enough toxic chemicals that we can’t avoid without adding those that we know can cause health problems.

  23. Prentiss Riddle
    Prentiss Riddle January 5, 2007 at 5:10 am | | Reply

    Thanks for posting this. Since there’s no conclusive winner, I guess I’ll be running my own taste test.

    And thanks for the tip about Stevia. I’m going to order a $1 “free” sample here: http://www.nunaturals.com/cgi-bin/shop.cgi?page=nustevia_trial.html

    Note, however, that there has been research which raises health concerns about Stevia. It is banned in the EU and cannot be imported to the US. The Wikipedia article offers various apologies for these health concerns which I personally do not find credible (that it should have been grandfathered in as a “natural” supplement, and that researchers should have tested whole plants rather than derivatives). Mutagens and carcinogens can and do occur “naturally” in plants and a dangerous chemical is unlikely to be counteracted by other components of a plant. Wikopedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stevia

  24. Navleen saini
    Navleen saini January 28, 2007 at 9:41 pm | | Reply

    if we are using maltodextrin in place of dextrose will it will help in reducing the dose of dextrose which is about 10-15gram for treating hypoglycemia

  25. Navleen saini
    Navleen saini January 28, 2007 at 9:43 pm | | Reply

    if we are using maltodextrin in place of dextrose will it will help in reducing the dose of dextrose which is about 10-15gram for treating hypoglycemia

  26. Emily
    Emily June 12, 2007 at 2:04 pm | | Reply

    As a diabetic (type 1) and a health food store manager, I’m a huge Stevia user. You do have to get used to it – it’s quite a bit sweeter than sugar. And depending on the brand, it can get bitter if you use too much of it. Although those that tend to get bitter usually have plant fiber in them. A decent trade-off if you ask me!

    For anyone wary of unnatural sugar or sugar substitute, I’d suggest trying Stevia. You can even buy a Stevia plant and taste the sweetness of the leaves themselves. Oh, well, just thought I’d put my 2 cents in!

  27. nunya
    nunya August 27, 2007 at 12:11 pm | | Reply

    This morning I drank a large coffee with 5 packets of sweet n low(ugggh, but its all they had besides reg sugar). Anyway, since finishing it I feel nausa with sour stomach mix. I never feel this way after digesting my usual 4 packets of splenda every few days. What’s in sweet n low anyway, its so nasty!!

  28. jo
    jo August 15, 2008 at 6:46 am | | Reply

    I’ve been using Sweet ‘n Low for umpteen years and haven’t noticed anything wrong with my health. I only use it in coffee or tea–usually less than a packet-ful. Aspartame has a bad rep, health-wise, Splenda tastes too sweet for me, and I hated Stevia when I tried it. When I finish using up the box of Sweet ‘n Low packets, guess I’ll just go back to using sugar in my coffee.
    I eat every little sugar anyway–rarely eat up a chocolate bar, use very little jam on toast, and when I make my own jams I use low sugar Sure Jell. (No sugar defeats the pleasure of jam.)

  29. David Dewing
    David Dewing November 1, 2008 at 12:35 am | | Reply

    Not sure if this will help but my wife went diabetic about 4 months ago.
    She wanted some powdered sugar and couldn’t find any and someone suggested “Whey low” had powdered sugar and brown sugar that got her attention so she called the Hospital and ask them, well they had never heard of it and said they would research it. No store in our small town, Chehalis Wa. so we haven’t bought and yet. Bottom line is, has anyone ever heard of this or tried it??? http://www.wheylow.com products home page I am not promoting this product.

  30. And Grand Rounds… | Insurance Articles from Experts

    [...] job (trust me, I know how hard it was to organize 11!). I’m a Sweet-N-Low man myself, but this GR entry, from Amy at Diabetes Mine, has the scoop on all the various coffee-sweetening options (and tea, [...]

  31. William
    William July 31, 2013 at 1:09 pm | | Reply

    If you have a reaction to it Don’t Use It!

    Real simply, everybody is different, I can’t eat dark green vegies, my wife loves them. Find what works and use it.
    ps: We are both diabetic.

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