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Dr. Bill's Commentaries

And now there's green stuff   (September 20, 2009)

I have frequently been in restaurants that have containers at each table containing packets of sweeteners: the white ones contain sugar, pink is saccharin, and blue is aspartame. I happen to like the yellow stuff: sucralose itself is white, but the packets are yellow, and so I somewhat illogically call the product by the color of its packaging: the white stuff, pink stuff, blue stuff, etc.

Recently, I received an advertisement in the mail, complete with samples, for a new sweetener, Sun Crystals. The product is made by McNeil Nutritionals, whom you may recognize as the manufacturers of another sweetener, Splenda (sucralose). Sun Crystals contains both stevia and sugar cane. The advertisement brags that the Sun Crystals are "all-natural" - and that the product contains only 1 gram of carb per packet. Stevia has been around for quite a while, but it wasn't until late in 2008 that the FDA had enough information that stevia was finally termed "generally recognized as safe (GRAS)."

The color of the packet of Sun Crystal samples was green - a good marketing twist, as it's a color not yet used for other sweeteners, and green somehow fits nicely with the marketing theme that the product is "all-natural." Personally, I didn't like the bitter after-taste, which I also experienced with another stevia product I'd tried previously, but I suppose some folks won't notice it. You want to try some samples? Go to the Sun Crystal website, and fill in the form to get free samples as well as being put on their mailing list.

There are other stevia products available; Truvia, for one, also uses the green color for its packets. It doesn't have sugar cane, and hence is non-caloric.

With the marketing of Sun Crystals and Truvia, there is one more color in the sweetener rainbow:

* Green stuff: Sun Crystals (stevia and sugar cane): 5 calories per packet. Website: https://www.suncrystals.com [Editor's note: This website was not functioning when checked March 2012]; Truvia (stevia): no calories. Website: http://www.truvia.com
* Yellow stuff: Splenda (sucralose): no calories. Website: http://www.splenda.com
* Pink stuff: Sweet'n Low (saccharin): no calories. Website: http://sweetnlow.com Also available from other companies, for example, "simply pink" from Domino Foods.
* Blue stuff: Equal and Nutrasweet (aspartame): no calories. Websites: http://www.equal.com and http://www.nutrasweet.com
* Brown stuff: Sugar in the Raw (turbinado sugar, unrefined sugar): 20 calories per packet. Website: http://www.sugarintheraw.com
* White stuff: sugar: 15 calories per packet.

There's an additional non-caloric sweetener that doesn't seem to have a color associated with it: Sweet One and Sunett (acesulfame-K): no calories. Websites: http://www.sweetone.com, http://www.sunett.com/

Which product to use? There are numerous criteria to help decide:

* Caloric content: some of these products have essentially no calories; others have a few; the brown stuff is apparently the most caloric.
* Can you cook with it? Some of these products are damaged by heat; others are not. A personal observation: Putting them into hot coffee seems to have minimal effect on sweetening ability.
* Taste and/or aftertaste: some products leave a very distinctive aftertaste.
* Bad press. Aspartame in particular was hit with a ton of negative claims implying it was dangerous, but remember that these products have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
* Cost. The newer sweeteners that maintain patent protection also are the most costly.
* Availability. If you're at a restaurant, and there's white, blue, and pink stuff available, that might be all that they have. But ask: several times, I've found that the restaurant does have the yellow stuff but only produces it upon request.

You'll have to decide which criteria are important to you. And if nothing else comes to mind, you can always choose your sweetener based on the color of the packet.

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Dr. Bill Quick began writing at HealthCentral's diabetes website in November, 2006. These essays are reproduced at D-is-for-Diabetes with the permission of HealthCentral.



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