Trying to grocery shop for one of my children who is trying to eat sugar free is no easy task. Some extended branches on our family tree dos contain a few diabetics. When my oldest son went for his workplace physical, his lab work came back with some results that didn’t exactly indicate Diabetes but warranted some words of caution from the doctor. Hence, a new diet.

Sugar substitutes have come a long way from the early days when the little pink packet of Sweet-N-Lo or tiny saccharin tablets were the only options. Now I am utterly confused as I stand gazing at the shelves of the baking aisle at my local grocer. What is all this stuff?

Well, sugar substitutes are either man-made chemical recipes or a derivative of a plant. Many of them are much sweeter than regular refined cane sugar so are to be used sparingly. The United States Food and Drug Administration declares that all of these sugar alternatives for sale at the grocery store are safe but I would like to know a little bit more than that. For one thing, not all of these alternatives are calorie free so pay attention if you are selecting one for the purpose of implementing in a weight loss diet plan.

One thing I’ve tried is stevia. This is a purified plant extract. It is very sweet but I do detect a bitter aftertaste that takes some getting used to. It seems to be all the foodie rage at the moment, though.

I know lots of people have made comments about these products causing cancer. The National Cancer Institute rejects such claims. It states that there is no supportive evidence of research and studies that have proven a link between artificial sweeteners and cancer. They state that such food items are safe for consumption when used with moderation. They do, however, admit one exception. People who suffer the condition phenylketonuria (PKU) cannot consume aspartame because it contains an ingredient they cannot metabolize, phenylalanine.

Most of the cancer claims are a result of findings that date back to the 1970’s involving saccharin. Although this artificial sweetener was at that time linked with bladder cancer in rats, modern sugar alternatives have been proven to be safe, even for pregnant and breastfeeding women.

Not only do these sweeteners come in granular form, but also in liquid form. This form is often referred to as a “sugar alcohol”. This is an ingredient often found in processed sugar free foods and desserts. It not only sweetens the food product but also adds moisture. If you read the ingredient list and see something like xylitol, you are eating a food that contains a sugar alcohol. This particular sugar substitute should be consumed with a bit of caution and in small amounts until you know how your body reacts. Some people can be sensitive and have an experience as if they had taken a laxative. Bloating, gas and diarrhea are all possible side effects of over consumption or dietary sensitivity.

The benefits of using sugar substitutes are weight control, prevention of tooth decay and maintaining healthy blood glucose levels if diabetic. If you are not pursuing either of these ends, regular refined cane sugar is perfectly fine. I personally like raw sugar, those chunky, brownish crystals. I just think they are pretty to look at in addition to being so darn tasty!