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The official website of Drs. Michael and Mary Dan Eades, low carb pioneers and authors of Protein Power.

Sweetener Packet Wars … caveat emptor!

In the dining section of the NY Times last Wednesday, there was a somewhat alarming article by Kim Severson, titled: Showdown at the Coffee Shop (free but requires registration) detailing the entry of the new sweetener Truvia to the world of packet sweeteners.

Photo from NY Times Wednesday April 15, 2009

Photo from NY Times Wednesday April 15, 2009

We’d already heard about its arrival at the Natural Foods Expo West show last March in Anaheim and had even sampled some of it. While I’m glad to see a natural alternative in the low-and-no calorie sweetener department, I’m personally not crazy about this one. Truvia is a blend of rebiana, an extract of stevia, and erythritol, a sugar alcohol. Thought there may be many good things about erythritol, to my taste buds it has a cold, metallic edge that I don’t enjoy. Others who don’t catch that taste twinge would perhaps feel differently about it and will love Truvia’s green packets in the sweetener caddy beside the blue, pink, and yellow ones.

Of course, by convention, for many many years, consumers have associated artificial sweeteners with a particular packet color: blue for aspartame products, pink for saccharine products, yellow for sucralose products, and green for stevia products. And it is related to this topic that I found the real eye-popper in this piece…the big news in my humble opinion…buried in the continuation of the article on page D5:

Consumers are loyal to their favorite sweetener, and to the color of its packet. Now manufacturers like Mr. Petray [CEO of Nutrasweet, which makes aspartame] are mixing up the color code, putting new sweetener combinations in the familiar pink, blue, and yellow.

This is news! And, in my mind, underhanded and sneaky and ethically fuzzy. The article goes on…

His challenge to Splenda combines aspartame and a touch of sugar in a yellow packet called NutraSweet Cane…Mr. Petray’s entry in the stevia wars is called Natural NutraSweet, which comes in a green packet, of course. And the company created a new saccharin-free pink packet, too. [The article didn’t say what was in that pink packet, however, but since it’s coming from NutraSweet we can be sure that one of the ingredients will be aspartame.]

The yellow packet, especially, is worrisome to me, since most low-carbers avoid aspartame because of some reports that suggest it might be particularly detrimental to the brains of people on a low carb eating plan. And this yellow imposter will have not only aspartame but sugar…real honest to Pete sugar! In the very yellow, pink, and green packets that many of us have come to trust do NOT contain aspartame, there will now be aspartame.

(For a longer discussion on the various sweeteners, see a previous blog post of mine here.)

Once these imposter packets make their way into the commercial market, consumers or diners will no longer be able to rely on colors alone to select their sweetener. We’ll all have to be careful label-readers to keep from being duped.

11 Comments

  1. Anna on April 21, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    Just as well I gave up adding sweeteners of any sort to my beverages. It’s hard enough reading the fine print to make sure the individual creamers aren’t non-dairy fake creamer or those ghastly super-sweet flavored bombs, but this is just another reminder to me to stick mostly to foods that don’t require much in the way of packaging or labels. It’s much easier to figure out.

  2. nonegiven on April 22, 2009 at 4:16 pm

    I should warn a friend about this. She prefers Splenda because aspartame has put her in the hospital more than once when she has accidentally ingested it and she is legally blind and has to take someone else’s word about the contents of the packet.

  3. Andrea on April 24, 2009 at 12:10 am

    Scary. If you can’t trust the food (and faux food) manufacturers, whom can you trust?

    I quit buying the new Zevia soda when I realized that it was sweetened not just with stevia, but with 11 g of erithrytol – and while I have been hearing that erithrytol really doesn’t raise bg, that’s what they were telling us about all the sugar alcohols for quite a while. And what they said about fructose…

    On the other hand, the store where I most often buy a cup of coffee has unflavored Splenda syrup on the counter next to the little rainbow packets – and I do make a point of telling the barista every so often that this is WHY I most often get my coffee there.

  4. Charles on April 24, 2009 at 1:22 am

    I have to say that I like Truvia. I don’t sweeten many things, but I do sweeten my fresh-brewed tea in the morning and I really enjoy the taste.

  5. Philip Thackray on April 25, 2009 at 8:19 am

    Hi MD!

    Back in my pre-lowcarb days I liked a little bit of hot cocoa drink mixed in with my morning coffee. Of course that ended with my LC conversion. With the arrival of Truvia I decided to revive my cocoa – coffee drink.

    Hot chocolate drink:
    4 TBS Hersey’s Natural Unsweetened Cocoa and 6 packets of Truvia whisked together in a mixing bowl. Add 2 cups of hot half and half and whisk well.

    Mix ¼ hot chocolate drink with ¾ coffee. I’m hooked again!

    I sure hope Truvia proves to be minimally damaging.

    I enjoy your blog!!

    Philip Thackray

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Thanks! Sounds delicious. I’ll have to give it a try.

  6. David on April 25, 2009 at 11:00 pm

    Just tried Truvia for the first time a couple days ago. I loved it. It was, by far, the most agreeable tasting of the alternative sweeteners that I’ve tried so far. Splenda comes in second place.

  7. Deb on April 29, 2009 at 7:48 am

    Enjoy reading your blog. The more I read about AS the more I am glad I have quit using any sweeter at all, natural or artificial.

  8. Robin on May 2, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    I just started using the liquid sucralose found on the Internet. Some are much better than others…one is actually somewhat chemically tasting and UNsweet. But I really enjoy a couple of them and best of all zero carbs. Why doesn’t Splenda wise up and market liquid Splenda?

    Just a side note about Equal. I started a low carb lifestyle in 1998. I was 40 years old and had 20/20 vision. I started gagging down diet sodas until finally I could drink my beloved Pepsi again. The strange thing though is that by the time I hit 42 I can barely see anything close up and my vision is somewhat blurry. I understand that as one gets older their eye sight goes, but that much in that short of a time period? My sister who has never touched anything but pure sugar is 6 years older and has perfect vision (20/20) as did my parents…coincidence? I’d love to hear some opinions on whether aspartame screws up your eyesight. thanks, robin.

    COMMENT from MD EADES: Don’t know of any specific research that implicates aspartame in presbyopia–the loss of near vision with age–but there is a fair amount of suggestive literature on the deleterious effects of aspartame on the brain and the eyes are nothing but a specialized extension of the brain, so anything’s possible. However, the onset of presbyopia is usually not gradual. It just seems like you wake up one day and your arms have gotten too short to read the paper comfortably. Not literally one day, obviously, but for many people in my experience it is precipitous–just as you experienced–often over just a few months from I can read the menu to where did I put my reading glasses!

  9. Anne on May 3, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    I’ve been on a Paleo low carb diet for nearly three years now. I also have osteoporosis and am prescribed Strontium Ranelate – I live in the UK where this is one of the approved medications. Strontium Ranelate happens to contain aspartame. I get absolutely no side effects from it. The alternative to Strontium Ranelate is one of the bisphosphonates such as Fosamax. No way would I take something like Fosamax…give me Strontium with aspartame any day ! At an 18 month follow up DEXA scan my bone density had increased 🙂 🙂

    Anne

  10. Sue on May 20, 2009 at 6:26 pm

    What are your thoughts on aspartame. There is a discussion going on saying its harmless via some studies:
    http://bodytransformationinsider.com/access/aspartame-safety-2/

    COMMENT from MD EADES: We aren’t fans of it as we wrote about extensively in The Protein Power LifePlan in a chapter called ‘How Sweet It Is…Not!’ You should also check my blog archives, where there is some discussion about it as well.

  11. Susan on June 29, 2009 at 9:19 am

    I have yet to find a stevia-based sweetener that doesn’t have a licorice after-taste, and stevia also does a number on my taste buds that lasts for some hours. I have found that mixing erithrytol with a little sodium cyclamate or splenda cancels out the after-taste of both the erithrytol and the artifical sweetener.

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