The Scoop on Artificial Sweeteners

Packets of sugar and artificial sweeteners, which are color codedBy Christy Tangney

Americans consume nearly 18 teaspoons of sugar each day on average. But many choose to buy products that contain artificial sweeteners, such as Splenda or Sweet’N Low.

Did you know that artificial sweeteners are color-coded, and that each sweetener has a distinct color packet? Here’s a look at the different types:

  • Black and pink packets contain saccharin, commonly known as Sweet N’ Low. It is 300 times sweeter than sugar but is often associated with a metallic aftertaste. The packet contains granulated saccharin, dextrose and cream of tartar.
  • Yellow packets contain sucralose, or Splenda, which is 600 times sweeter than sugar but is calorie free and does not affect your blood sugar.
  • Blue packets contain aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet), a low-calorie sweetener because it has two natural amino acids (building blocks of protein). It also has no effect on blood sugar. Equal and NutraSweet lose their sweet flavor when heated, so it is best not to use them when cooking or baking.
  • Green packets contain stevia and are sold under the brand names Truvia and PureVia. These are the newest zero-calorie sweeteners. Stevia comes from the leaves of a shrub in South America and is used to sweeten Sprite Green and Vitaminwater (Truvia), while PureVia is used in SoBe Lifewater products.
  • There are also other low-calorie sweeteners, called sugar alcohols, that are used in processed foods but most often in combination with other artificial sweeteners because their sweetening power is much lower. Common sugar alcohols are sorbitol, mannitol, xylitol and erythritol. These sweeteners are used in mints, chewing gum, chocolate, ice cream and many other products. The calorie content ranges from 0.2 calories per gram to 3.4 calories per gram (compared to 4 calories per gram for sugar).

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Christy Tangney, PhD, is an associate professor in the Department of Clinical Nutrition at Rush University. She conducts and publishes epidemiological research in nutrition and neurological disease.

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