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Nutrition Can Be Confusing

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Johanna Hicks, Extension Agent

By Johnna Hicks, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Family & Community Health Agent, Hopkins County, [email protected]

Foods that are okay to consume by some are not recommended for others, depending on medical conditions and the body’s ability to digest them. Let’s consider artificial sweeteners. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, states that sugar substitutes are safe to consume in the amounts that people typically eat or drink. But just how much is acceptable and safe for human consumption?

Regulatory agencies set Acceptable Daily Intake, or ADI, levels for each sugar substitute. The ADI is the maximum amount of a food additive that can be safely consumed on a daily basis over a person’s lifetime without any adverse effects. The amount will vary depending on a person’s weight and the artificial sweetener. To get an idea of how much of a sugar substitute may be consumed without adverse effects, consider the following. A 132-pound person would need to consume these amounts in order to reach the ADI:

  • 23 packets of sweetener containing sucralose (Splenda – the “yellow packet”).
  • 45 packets of sweetener containing saccharin (Sweet-n-Low – the “pink packet”).
  • 75 packets of sweetener containing aspartame (Nutra-sweet – the “blue packet”).

Another sugar substitute that is gaining popularity is Stevia, a plant-based, calorie-free alternative to sugar. It is extracted from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana plant. Stevia is 200-300 times sweeter than sugar and can be found in concentrated powdered or liquid forms. Stevia has only 1 gram of carbohydrate per teaspoon, and because it has no calories and is low carb, it doesn’t cause a spike blood sugar levels. Stevia is marketed under the trade names of Truvia, PureVia and SweetLeaf. More research is being conducted to determine effects of Stevia, but it is Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS). Overdose of stevia is not harmful to health but can cause a particularly bitter taste.

Sugar substitutes are widely consumed and are present in a variety of products ranging from grains and dairy products, such as in some breads and yogurts, to soft-drinks and condiments. Surveys conducted in the United States have indicated that as many as 25 percent of children (aged two years and older) and more than 40 percent of adults interviewed consume sugar substitutes, according to a study published in 2017. The majority included them on a daily basis – showing how common sugar substitutes are in the American diet.

Sugar substitutes are one way to reduce calories from added sugars, and FDA guidelines and current research support their safety when consumed at levels within the Acceptable Daily Intake. The bottom line is to select foods that don’t have added sugars and to reduce the amount of sugar (real or substitute) that you use day-to-day. Many foods have naturally occurring sugar, so it is the added sugars we want to limit.

Cooking Well with Diabetes

This popular 4-session series is on the calendar for September 26 and 29, and October 3 and 6, at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office, 1200 West Houston Street. We’ll discuss Carbohydrate foods; Making Recipes with Fat Better for You; Double-Pleasure Side Dishes: Reducing Sodium and Increasing Fiber; and Celebrating Sensibly with Diabetes. A fee of $20, payable at the first session, will help defray cost of materials and demonstration ingredients.  Please call 903-885-3443 to sign up.

Closing Thought

Life is about trying new things, having fun, making mistakes and learning from it – unknown

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Author: Faith Huffman

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