Aspartame vs Stevia, the tale of two artificial sweeteners
Low calorie sweeteners are used as a replacement for sugar for the past two decades. You are able to enjoy a sweet tasting drink or snack with almost no calorie intake. Artificial sweeteners are used in many products, such as juices, cereals, desserts, chewing gum, (soft) drinks and as table top sweeteners (either powder or tablets). Even pharmaceuticals sometimes contain artificial sweeteners.
In 1879 Saccharin was discovered as the first low calorie artificial sweetener. Ever since this discovery, several more types of sweeteners have been discovered such as saccharin, aspartame and stevia. Each sweetener has its own special taste and characteristics. In recent debates stevia has been described as the more ‘natural’ sweetener as opposed to the other types of sweeteners. The word ‘natural’ necessarily mean ‘healthy’ as we are about to show you. Aspartame is the most widely used and popular artificial sweetener in the world. This article will focus on the differences between Aspartame vs Stevia and see which one is better for consumption. First, the text will highlight the general benefits of the use of artificial sweeteners, followed by the different characteristics of Aspartame vs Stevia and finally which artificial sweetener is more safe and the better choice.
Benefits of artificial sweeteners
If we look at the debate between Aspartame vs Stevia we see some benefits that apply to both artificial sweeteners (and of course the other types of artificial sweeteners). Several benefits of artificial sweeteners have been confirmed by scientific research.
Obviously, an important benefit is that sweeteners almost contain zero calories, as opposed to sugar. Therefore, the use of sweeteners is the perfect fit for any diet. One tablespoon of sugar contains 16 calories, while artificial sweeteners contain less than 0.1 calories per tablespoon. Artificial sweeteners give you more sweet tasting options, while on a diet. So it doesn’t only benefit weight reduction, but also taste. In addition, because the taste of artificial sweeteners is so much sweeter than sugar it is easier to moderate usage, simply because you need much less for the same sweet taste. Besides the benefits for losing weight it is also helpful to maintain your weight by using low calorie sweeteners. Artificial sweetener consumers take in far less sugar and saturated fats, compared to non-users, so it is even a healthy way to diet (International Sweeteners Association, 2016). Calculate your calorie intake in our calorie counter.
Another important benefit is that artificial sweeteners are non-cariogenic, which means they don’t cause tooth decay, since they are not fermentable and reduce tooth demineralization. Artificial sweeteners are even often used in toothpaste and mouthwash to assist in dental hygiene. Sugar on the other hand can cause cavities and demineralization of the teeth.
Safe to use
Public perception towards artificial sweeteners is often negative. There is a discussion taking place whether artificial sweeteners are maybe safe to use. According to the International Sweetener Foundation (ISA) low calorie sweeteners must undergo an elaborate safety assessment by independent scientific advisory boards, like the European Food Safety Authority, before being able to be used on the European market. Artificial sweeteners have been researched extensively and there is a huge body of scientific knowledge which point at the safe and beneficial use of artificial sweeteners. We will later focus more specifically on the safety difference between Aspartame vs Stevia.
Aspartame vs Stevia
So let’s open the debate with two of the most famous artificial sweeteners in the world.
Aspartame is a chemically processed sweetener that contains two amino acids: phenylalanine (found in protein rich foods) and aspartic acid (important role in the active site of enzymes). Aspartame is the most widely used artificial sweetener. In recent years there has been very negative media coverage on Aspartame and the supposed harmful side effects on the human body. These claims have no scientific evidence and are mostly based on internet hoaxes and outdated studies. All international known safety advisory boards have stated that Aspartame is safe to use by everybody, from children to elderly.
Stevia is extracted from the leaves of the Stevia Rebaudiana, from the Asteraceae family, originally from South America, but nowadays grown all around the world. Stevia has been promoted as a natural alternative to aspartame, because it is directly derived from the leaves of a plant. However, this is not exactly the case. Whole-leave Stevia is not approved safe for commercial use. The Stevia that you buy in the store is a highly processed final product that has very little real Stevia leave in it. Besides the Stevia extract, rebaudioside A (reb-A), it contains added dextrose and erythritol (sugar alcohol). So even though people might refer to Stevia as ‘natural’, it is highly processed and not so natural after all. The most famous brand that is said to contain Stevia, Truvia, contains almost no Stevia at all.
Then the taste. Stevia has a liquorice aftertaste, which can be a major turn-off. Aspartame on the other hand is one of the few artificial sweeteners that resembles sugar the most in taste and has no strange aftertaste. Aspartame can even enhance flavors. Aspartame also tastes much sweeter than Stevia. So Aspartame vs Stevia has a clear Aspartame winner when it comes to taste.
There are several health concerns in the use of Stevia. Stevia may cause low blood pressure, which can be dangerous for people who take blood pressure medication. Also, there have been concerns that Stevia may interacts with several types of medication, such as anti-inflammatories, cholesterol-lowering drugs and fertility treatment drugs. Aspartame on the other hand has been proven beneficial for diabetic patients in recent studies. This positive effect for diabetic patients is because it doesn’t raise blood glucose levels. Aspartame does not enter the blood stream or organs. It is the only artificial sweetener that is metabolized by the body, because of the amino acid components.
Both Canadian and US regulatory authorities have rejected Stevia as a safe product in the past. Nowadays the processed Stevia is considered safe for consumption, but elaborate studies on the health effects of the processed Stevia have yet to conducted or finalized. As stated before, whole-leave unprocessed Stevia is not considered safe for consumption by most regulatory agencies.
Also, there is a lack of information about the health effects of Stevia on pregnant women. Pregnant women should therefore be cautious when using Stevia products. Aspartame on the other hand is considered entirely safe for consumption by several food authorities, such as the European Scientific Committee on Food, for everybody, even children, pregnant women and women nursing infants. Even the National Cancer Institute stated that theories about increased risk of cancer by using artificial sweeteners like Aspartame are false and that they do not increase cancer risk (National Cancer Institute, 2016) So in the debate Aspartame vs Stevia concerning safety regulations Aspartme has the upper hand.
If you have a ragweed allergy you can have an allergic reaction from the use of Stevia. The stevia plant is related to the ragweed and daisy. Signs of an allergy can include itching, swelling of the lips, mouth or throat, nausea and abdominal pain. Aspartame has no known allergic reactions. Aspartame vs Stevia on allergy gives Aspartame the benefit.
Aspartame vs Stevia leaves us with a clear winner. Aspartame has several major advantages over Stevia. The extensive body of scientific research that supports the advantages for the use of Aspartame on the blood glucose levels, the dental health and diet regimes. Also, only a small percentage of the highly processed Stevia mixed with several other (chemical) ingredients is considered safe for consumption, while Aspartame has long been proven safe for general consumption. Furthermore, the taste of Aspartame is very similar to sugar, but with almost no calories, which gives you a chance to enjoy sweet foods with no lack of taste.
Read more about the artificial sweetener aspartame compared to sugar and other artificial sweeteners through the following links: aspartame vs sucralose, sugar substitutes, is aspartame safe? and facts about aspartame.