What is Splenda?
With obesity and diabetes assuming an epidemic-like proportion around the world, the use of alternative sweeteners is on the rise. Most people are affected by sugar cravings at some part of the day and sugar substitutes like Splenda are providing solutions to such a scenario. Splenda is a high-intensity sweetener that is many times sweeter than sugar but offers very fewer amounts of calories. It is a natural product that is free from artificial flavours, colours, or preservatives and uses only non-GMO ingredients. The popular product Splenda Naturals is prepared from stevia extract which is generated from the leaves of the Stevia plant. Most diet beverages contain one or the other form of artificial sweeteners and while they do not contain calories, current research is pointing out that there can be other side effects. Presently the product has annual sales figures of over $300 million, outperforming other sweeteners containing saccharin and aspartame.
The original main component of Splenda was sucralose which is developed from a multi-step chemical process. While it is much sweeter than sugar, it does not have the bitter aftertaste that many other sweeteners have. It also offers around 3.36 calories per gram making the calorie content almost negligible. Sucralose was accidentally discovered in the Queen Elizabeth College in London in 1976, during an experiment that involved chemically modifying sugar. The use of Splenda is not only restricted to household cooking and baking but is also used in a wide range of food products. It was introduced in the US in the year 1999 and presently, it is among the most popular sweeteners available in the market. In the same year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved sucralose as a potentially safe item for human consumption.
The making of Splenda
The current natural variety of Splenda is made from the extracts of the plant species Stevia rebaudiana, which is native to Brazil and Paraguay. The compounds in the leaves of the plant remain stable even under heat and have been used as sweeteners in beverages by people in South America for centuries. It is also used for sweetening drinks, fruits, salad dressings, yogurt, and various creamy desserts. Apart from stevia leaf extract, Splenda also contains erythritol which is another non-GMO ingredient. Erythritol is derived by converting starch obtained from corns to glucose through the process of enzymatic hydrolysis. This is followed by fermentation by yeasts, the necessary filtering and sterilization of the fermented products, and finally the generation of erythritol crystals.
The necessary compounds are extracted from the dried leaves of the plant by soaking them in hot water and then the water is filtered and purified. The crystallized sweet extract is then derived from the water for manufacturing Splenda. Among the various steviol glycosides, the Rebaudiosides M and D provide a more sugar-like taste and Splenda uses Reb D in its composition. Since it is many times sweeter than sugar, a small amount can create a major impact on the level of sweetness. The process also involves the breeding of plants whose leaves have a higher content of Reb D than the average.
Growing and harvesting Stevia
Stevia can be grown in well-drained beds or large containers in an indoor environment, and warm conditions. The plants are generally up to 24 inches in height in a warm climate while around 16 inches in areas where the summers are cooler. While the plants can grow under the direct sun, extremely hot summers will need shade for the plant during the mid-day period. The growth season starts from winter and the plants produce small white flowers in late summer. Harvesting is done in the form of trimming in mid-summer when the plants are cut down to half their size. The second harvesting is done during the fall when there is no new growth. The leaves are primarily dried in a dehydrator or a 150-degree Fahrenheit oven until they become crisp.
The reasons for sugar cravings
The craving for sugar arises in us as a result of various psychological and biological reasons. Each hemisphere of the brain contains the caudate nucleus which plays a major role in generating reward-seeking behaviour in humans. Along with it, the hippocampus also plays an important role in the generation of short-term and long-term memories. Another important factor that raises sugar cravings is the diet pattern of an individual. Such scenarios might arise when the diet contains low levels of protein which slows the rate of sugar release in the blood. Lower protein levels can cause blood sugar levels to rise and fall at an abnormal rate and makes the body crave some quick energy in the form of sugar. A diet rich in carbohydrates but lacking in fibre content can also be a reason behind such cravings. Without the necessary fibre, protein, and fats in the diet, simple carbohydrates will be broken down fast and the craving for more consumption will come.
While sweet foods act as a reward system that links them with the impulses from the brain, some research has suggested that poor quality of sleep can also lead to cravings for junk food. In addition, depression and stress can also alter the overall demand for sugar in the body. Sugar levels influence the level of serotonin that regulates the mood of a person and the brain may have the urge for more production of this chemical which makes it feel happy. It is to be noted that the sense of hunger generated from the stomach is the sensation that the body needs energy in form of food and the other sensations can be related to habits generated over years. A proper diet, consumption of sufficient water, and exercise can help in getting rid of these habits. In some cases, an imbalance of minerals like calcium, zinc, chromium, and magnesium can also result in cravings.
Artificial sweeteners and sugar cravings
The response of the mind and body towards these sweeteners is very complex. Apart from stevia, the FDA in the United States has approved five other artificial sweeteners which are saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose. Some experts say that since these sugars are much more potent than table sugar, regular users might find some changes in their taste patterns in the long run. They may find lesser sweet items like fruits less appealing and items like vegetables even more distasteful. This might drive some people towards artificially flavoured foods that have less nutritional value. In addition, concentrated sugars can increase blood glucose and insulin levels at a fast pace, along with an increase in triglycerides and inflammatory mediators. This can result in various adverse health effects in certain individuals.
Sugar and high fructose corn syrup have been marked as major items which impact weight patterns and result in obesity. At the same time, research has suggested that the use of artificial sweeteners alone has a negligible impact on weight gain. Some research has also pointed out that artificial sweeteners do not activate the food reward pathways in a complete manner. This lack of complete satisfaction after food consumption can lead to increased consumption of food. This can also encourage sugar craving and sugar dependence in many cases. On the other hand, artificial sweetener use is preferred for patients affected by diabetes, even though, further research is needed to establish the long-term impacts.
The benefits of Splenda and stevia-based sweeteners
In general, stevia leaf extract contains 95% or greater steviol glycosides. The sweetening power of Reb D is 200 to 300 times that of sucrose. The acceptable daily intake limit of steviol glycosides is 4 mg per kg. The following benefits of the compound have been pointed out by various researchers.
- Stevia is considered a safe and effective way to control type 2 diabetes. In case it is combined with compounds like dextrose and maltodextrin, the results can change.
- The consumption of stevia can cut down the problems linked with excess sugar consumption in children. This includes beneficial effects on triglyceride and cholesterol levels, along with less risk of problems related to obesity.
- Stevia consumes less land, water, and energy compared to other natural sweeteners to produce the same amount of sweetness. Both the carbon and water footprint of stevia is much lower than cane sugar and beet sugar. This makes it a more planet-friendly option and a sustainable source for the generation of sugars.
- The steviol glycosides are hydrolyzed by the gut bacteria and are metabolized by the liver. There is no accumulation of stevia in the body and the total calorie provided by the amounts to zero.
- Recent research has indicated that stevia can result in the reduction of cyst growth in kidney cells and promote the health of the kidneys.
The disadvantages of Splenda and stevia-based sweeteners
Even though it is recognized as safe, stevia can have some impact on the health of some patients.
- In some cases, stevia can have an adverse effect on gut bacteria which can lead to disease prevention, digestion, and immunity. This can have a negative impact on body weight, triglyceride, and healthy cholesterol levels of the body.
- In some other cases, stevia can interfere with the medications used to control blood pressure and blood sugar levels. This can result in complications in some patients.
- Stevia is also a vasodilator which means that it can widen the blood vessels and lower blood pressure. Long-term use can lead to certain complications, especially with individuals with low blood pressure.
- The effect of such sweeteners can result in confusion between sweetness and the number of calories. This can result in people choosing sweeter foods over healthier ones leading to weight gain.
- Excessive consumption of stevia-based sweeteners can lead to nausea, bloating, dizziness, muscle pain, and numbness.
When used in moderation, stevia can be a very effective alternative to normal sugar but more studies are required to determine its long-term effects.
Both the WHO and the U.S. Dietary Guidelines advise limiting added sugars to less than 10% of total daily calories consumed. There is also a recommendation to reduce free sugars intake to below 5% of the total daily energy intake which amounts to about 6 teaspoons in a day. So, for the general population, stevia provides a natural way to cut calories without having to sacrifice the taste factor. The right use of stevia can bring about some good effects in terms of weight management. Stevia is also a better option than artificial sweeteners that contain elements like sucralose. Artificial sweeteners are considered safe but their overall impact on health is still a subject of controversy. On the other hand, Splenda derived from stevia can reduce calories and sugar intake and can bring about an overall positive impact on health. At present, stevia-based sweeteners like Splenda are an active component in around 14,500 different food and drink products around the world. With obesity being a major problem around the world, the main concern is burning more calories than the amount that we are consuming. In such a scenario, a product like Splenda can play an important role in effective calorie management. To get the best results, those who are aiming to lose weight, switching to Splenda should also be accompanied by careful diet monitoring, calorie restrictions, and following a proper exercise regime.
- Take small portions of Splenda as it can intensify the sweetness.
- Diabetic patients can replace sugar with Splenda.
- Good for people who are trying to lose weight.
- Use Splenda if you are having digestive problems.
- Take it if you are feeling bloated or nauseated.
- Use it if you are having other health issues.
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