Q. "It seems like a growing number of foods contain artificial sweeteners. Are these safe alternatives to sugar?"
Suzanne, Dandenong, VIC
A. Accredited Practising Dietitian Brooke Longfield says:
Ever since our first brush with artificial sweeteners (which was decades ago for many of us), some of us have been questioning whether a zero-kilojoule sugar substitute is simply too good to be true.
Fortunately, the government body Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) guarantees the safety of all our food. Before any edible ingredient or product reaches stores, it has undergone FSANZ’s stringent testing.
Naturally sourced sweeteners are now challenging artificially produced aspartames and saccharins for marketplace dominance. The first sweetener made of a plant other than sugar cane was stevia, an extract of the Stevia rebaudiana (Bertoni) plant. (You can buy many brands of stevia sweeteners.) A more recent arrival on the sugar-substitute scene is Norbu, which is made of monk fruit (luo han guo), an Asian melon.
You’ll now find both of these products sweetening foods such as low-kilojoule soft drinks and iced teas, chocolate and yoghurt. In some cases, manufacturers mix them with sugar to create foods that taste as sweet as their original versions, but contain fewer kilojoules.
You can also buy these new sweeteners in crystal form, which looks like table sugar, for baking and adding to tea. To create these granulated products, manufacturers blend these natural sweeteners with erythritol, a natural low-kilojoule sugar alcohol.
FSANZ has approved both stevia and Norbu as safe for consumption. These products can certainly cut the number of kilojoules you consume, which is helpful for weight control. At the same time, it’s important to avoid thinking that a low-kilojoule food gives you a licence to eat more of it. Sweet treats deserve only a small part in your eating plan.