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from Health Magazine

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Barbecue and Food Safety

Cooking outdoors was once only a summer activity shared with family and friends. Now more than half of Americans say they are cooking outdoors year round. So whether the snow is blowing or the sun is shining brightly, it’s important to follow food safety guidelines to prevent harmful bacteria from multiplying and causing foodborne illness. Use these simple guidelines for grilling food safely.

From the Store: Home First
When shopping, buy cold food like meat and poultry last, right before checkout. Separate raw meat and poultry from other food in your shopping cart. To guard against cross-contamination — which can happen when raw meat or poultry juices drip on other food — put packages of raw meat and poultry into plastic bags.

Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables. Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. Refrigerate within 1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F.

At home, place meat and poultry in the refrigerator immediately. Freeze poultry and ground meat that won’t be used in 1 or 2 days; freeze other meat within 4 to 5 days.

 

Thaw Safely
Completely thaw meat and poultry before grilling so it cooks more evenly. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing or thaw sealed packages in cold water. For quicker thawing, you can microwave defrost if the food will be placed immediately on the grill.

 

Marinating
A marinade is a savory, acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it. Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Poultry and cubed meat or stew meat can be marinated up to 2 days. Beef, veal, pork, and lamb roasts, chops, and steaks may be marinated up to 5 days. If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it. However, if the marinade used on raw meat or poultry is to be reused, make sure to let it come to a boil first to destroy any harmful bacteria.

 

Transporting
When carrying food to another location, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth. Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 °F or below. Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home.

 

Keep Cold Food Cold
Keep meat and poultry refrigerated until ready to use. Only take out the meat and poultry that will immediately be placed on the grill.

When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out and warm air in. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in a separate cooler.

 

Keep Everything Clean
Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. To prevent foodborne illness, don’t use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and poultry and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food.

If you’re eating away from home, find out if there’s a source of clean water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning. Or pack clean cloths, and moist towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.

 

Precooking
Precooking food partially in the microwave, oven, or stove is a good way of reducing grilling time. Just make sure that the food goes immediately on the preheated grill to complete cooking.

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SAFE MINIMUM INTERNAL TEMPERATURES
Whole poultry: 165 °F
Poultry breasts: 165 °F
Ground poultry: 165 °F
Ground meats: 160 °F
Beef, pork, lamb, and veal (steaks, roasts and chops): 145 °F and allow to rest at least 3 minutes.

Cook Thoroughly
Cook food to a safe minimum internal temperature to destroy harmful bacteria. Meat and poultry cooked on a grill often browns very fast on the outside. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe minimum internal temperature.

MEATS
Cook all raw beef, pork, lamb and veal steaks, chops, and roasts to a minimum internal temperature of 145 °F as measured with a food thermometer before removing meat from the heat source. For safety and quality, allow meat to rest for at least three minutes before carving or consuming. For reasons of personal preference, consumers may choose to cook meat to higher temperatures.

GROUND MEATS
Cook all raw ground beef, pork, lamb, and veal to an internal temperature of 160 °F as measured with a food thermometer.

POULTRY
Cook all poultry to a safe minimum internal temperature of 165 °F as measured with a food thermometer.

NEVER partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later!

Reheating
When reheating fully cooked meats like hot dogs, grill to 165 °F or until steaming hot.

 

Keep Hot Food Hot
After cooking meat and poultry on the grill, keep it hot until served — at 140 °F or warmer.

Keep cooked meats hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook. At home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 °F, in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or on a warming tray.

 

Serving the Food
When taking food off the grill, use a clean platter. Don’t put cooked food on the same platter that held raw meat or poultry. Any harmful bacteria present in the raw meat juices could contaminate safely cooked food.

In hot weather (above 90 °F), food should never sit out for more than 1 hour.

 

Leftovers
Refrigerate any leftovers promptly in shallow containers. Discard any food left out more than 2 hours (1 hour if temperatures are above 90 °F).

 

Safe Smoking
Smoking is cooking food indirectly in the presence of a fire. It can be done in a covered grill if a pan of water is placed beneath the meat or poultry on the grill; and meats can be smoked in a “smoker,” which is an outdoor cooker especially designed for smoking foods. Smoking is done much more slowly than grilling, so less tender meats benefit from this method, and a natural smoke flavoring permeates the meat. The temperature in the smoker should be maintained at 250 to 300 °F for safety.

Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe internal temperature.

 

Pit Roasting
Pit roasting is cooking meat in a large, level hole dug in the earth. A hardwood fire is built in the pit, requiring wood equal to about 2½ times the volume of the pit. The hardwood is allowed to burn until the wood reduces and the pit is half filled with burning coals. This can require 4 to 6 hours burning time.

Cooking may require 10 to 12 hours or more and is difficult to estimate. A food thermometer must be used to determine the meat’s safety and doneness. There are many variables such as outdoor temperature, the size and thickness of the meat, and how fast the coals are cooking.

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Does Grilling Pose a Cancer Risk?
Some studies suggest there may be a cancer risk related to eating food cooked by high-heat cooking techniques as grilling, frying, and broiling. Based on present research findings, eating moderate amounts of grilled meats like fish, meat, and poultry cooked — without charring — to a safe temperature does not pose a problem.

To prevent charring, remove visible fat that can cause a flare-up. Precook meat in the microwave immediately before placing it on the grill to release some of the juices that can drop on coals. Cook food in the center of the grill and move coals to the side to prevent fat and juices from dripping on them. Cut charred portions off the meat.

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Grilling Food Safety 101

May 19, 2014

By Tina Hanes, Food Safety Education Staff, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service.

Do you have guidelines for buying meat and poultry?

What’s the best way to handle them safely?

At the store, choose packages that are not torn. Make sure they feel cold.

If possible, put them in a plastic bag so leaking juices won’t drip on other foods.

Make fresh meats the last items to go into your shopping cart.

Be sure to separate raw meat from ready-cooked items in your cart.

Have the cashier bag raw meat separately from other items,

and plan to drive directly home from the grocery store.

You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables.

How should I store fresh (raw) meats at home?

Refrigerate or freeze fresh meats and poultry as soon as possible after purchase.

This preserves freshness and slows the growth of bacteria.

They can be refrigerated or frozen in the original packaging if you plan to use them soon.

If refrigerated, keep at 40 °F or below and use ground meats and poultry within one or two days;

and beef, veal, pork and lamb steaks, roasts and chops within five days.
For longer freezer storage, wrap in heavy duty plastic wrap, aluminum foil, freezer paper,

or plastic bags made for freezing. Meat and poultry will be safe indefinitely if kept frozen at 0 °F,

but will lose quality over time. Refrigerator and Freezer Storage Chart
Never leave raw meat, poultry, or any perishable food out at room temperature

for more than two hours (one hour at 90 °F and above).

Is It Done Yet? How can I tell when my meats are safely cooked?

Meat and poultry should be cooked to a safe temperature to destroy harmful bacteria that may be present.

Color of meat and poultry is not a good indicator of safety.

Use a food thermometer to make sure meats have reached a

safe minimum internal temperature. Safe Cooking Temperatures

NEVER partially grill meat or poultry and finish cooking later.

Keep Hot Food Hot! After cooking meat and poultry on the grill,

keep it hot until served — at 140 °F or warmer. Keep cooked meats

hot by setting them to the side of the grill rack, not directly over the coals where they could overcook.

If you are at home, the cooked meat can be kept hot in an oven set at approximately 200 °F,

in a chafing dish or slow cooker, or on a warming tray.

Is it safe to use the same plate for raw and cooked meats?

No, to prevent food borne illness,

don’t use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry.

Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and their juices can contaminate

safely cooked food. You can either use a clean plate for the cooked meat or

wash the one that held the raw meat.

Can I refrigerate or freeze leftover cooked meat and poultry?

Yes, if you refrigerated them promptly after cooking

(within two hours; one hour if the temperature is above 90 °F),

they can be safely refrigerated for about three or four days.

If frozen, they should keep good quality for about four months.

From the Store: Home First
When shopping, buy cold food like meat and poultry last, right before checkout. Separate raw meat and poultry from other food in your shopping cart. To guard against cross-contamination — which can happen when raw meat or poultry juices drip on other food — put packages of raw meat and poultry into plastic bags.

Plan to drive directly home from the grocery store. You may want to take a cooler with ice for perishables. Always refrigerate perishable food within 2 hours. Refrigerate within 1 hour when the temperature is above 90 °F.

At home, place meat and poultry in the refrigerator immediately. Freeze poultry and ground meat that won’t be used in 1 or 2 days; freeze other meat within 4 to 5 days.

 

Thaw Safely
Completely thaw meat and poultry before grilling so it cooks more evenly. Use the refrigerator for slow, safe thawing or thaw sealed packages in cold water. For quicker thawing, you can microwave defrost if the food will be placed immediately on the grill.

 

Marinating
A marinade is a savory, acidic sauce in which a food is soaked to enrich its flavor or to tenderize it. Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter. Poultry and cubed meat or stew meat can be marinated up to 2 days. Beef, veal, pork, and lamb roasts, chops, and steaks may be marinated up to 5 days. If some of the marinade is to be used as a sauce on the cooked food, reserve a portion of the marinade before putting raw meat and poultry in it. However, if the marinade used on raw meat or poultry is to be reused, make sure to let it come to a boil first to destroy any harmful bacteria.

 

Transporting
When carrying food to another location, keep it cold to minimize bacterial growth. Use an insulated cooler with sufficient ice or ice packs to keep the food at 40 °F or below. Pack food right from the refrigerator into the cooler immediately before leaving home.

 

Keep Cold Food Cold
Keep meat and poultry refrigerated until ready to use. Only take out the meat and poultry that will immediately be placed on the grill.

When using a cooler, keep it out of the direct sun by placing it in the shade or shelter. Avoid opening the lid too often, which lets cold air out and warm air in. Pack beverages in one cooler and perishables in a separate cooler.

 

Keep Everything Clean
Be sure there are plenty of clean utensils and platters. To prevent foodborne illness, don’t use the same platter and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry. Harmful bacteria present in raw meat and poultry and their juices can contaminate safely cooked food.

If you’re eating away from home, find out if there’s a source of clean water. If not, bring water for preparation and cleaning. Or pack clean cloths, and moist towelettes for cleaning surfaces and hands.

For more information on the safe preparation, handling

and grilling of meat and poultry, check out these resources in English and Spanish

GRILLING TIPS FROM TOP CHEFS!

>FOOD SAFETY TIPS!

Artificial sweeteners and other Sugar Substitutes

Whether your goal is cutting calories or eating healthier,

sugar substitutes abound.

Understand the pros and cons to make an informed choice.

By Mayo Clinic Staff

 

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If you’re trying to reduce the sugar and calories in your diet, you may be turning to artificial sweeteners or other sugar substitutes. You aren’t alone.

Today artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes are found in a variety of food and beverages marketed as “sugar-free” or “diet,” including soft drinks, chewing gum, jellies, baked goods, candy, fruit juice, and ice cream and yogurt.

Just what are all these sweeteners? And what’s their role in your diet?

Understanding artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes

Sugar substitutes are loosely considered any sweetener that you use instead of regular table sugar (sucrose). Artificial sweeteners are just one type of sugar substitute. The chart lists some popular sugar substitutes and how they’re commonly categorized.
The topic of sugar substitutes can be confusing. One problem is that the terminology is often open to interpretation. For instance, some manufacturers call their sweeteners “natural” even though they’re processed or refined, as is the case with stevia preparations. And some artificial sweeteners are derived from naturally occurring substances — sucralose comes from sugar, for example.

Regardless of how they’re classified, sugar substitutes aren’t magic bullets for weight loss. Take a closer look.

Artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes but may be derived from naturally occurring substances, including herbs or sugar itself. Artificial sweeteners are also known as intense sweeteners because they are many times sweeter than regular sugar.

Uses for artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are attractive alternatives to sugar because they add virtually no calories to your diet. In addition, you need only a fraction compared with the amount of sugar you would normally use for sweetness.

Artificial sweeteners are widely used in processed foods, including baked goods, soft drinks, powdered drink mixes, candy, puddings, canned foods, jams and jellies, dairy products, and scores of other foods and beverages.

Artificial sweeteners are also popular for home use. Some can even be used in baking or cooking. Certain recipes may need modification, though, because artificial sweeteners provide no bulk or volume, as does sugar. Check the labels on artificial sweeteners for appropriate home use.

Some artificial sweeteners may leave an aftertaste. You may need to experiment with artificial sweeteners to find one or a combination that you enjoy most.

Possible health benefits of artificial sweeteners

One benefit of artificial sweeteners is that they don’t contribute to tooth decay and cavities. They may also help with the following:

Weight control. One of the most appealing aspects of artificial sweeteners is that they are non-nutritive — they have virtually no calories. In contrast, each gram of regular table sugar contains 4 calories. A teaspoon of sugar is about 4 grams. For perspective, consider that one 12-ounce can of a sweetened cola contains 8 teaspoons of added sugar, or about 130 calories. If you’re trying to lose weight or prevent weight gain, products sweetened with artificial sweeteners rather than with higher calorie table sugar may be an attractive option. On the other hand, some research has suggested that consuming artificial sweeteners may be associated with increased weight, but the cause is not yet known.
Diabetes. Artificial sweeteners may be a good alternative to sugar if you have diabetes. Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners generally don’t raise blood sugar levels because they are not carbohydrates. But because of concerns about how sugar substitutes are labeled and categorized, always check with your doctor or dietitian about using any sugar substitutes if you have diabetes.

Possible health concerns with artificial sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners have been the subject of intense scrutiny for decades. Critics of artificial sweeteners say that they cause a variety of health problems, including cancer. That’s largely because of studies dating to the 1970s that linked saccharin to bladder cancer in laboratory rats. Because of those studies, saccharin once carried a warning label that it may be hazardous to your health.

But according to the National Cancer Institute and other health agencies, there’s no sound scientific evidence that any of the artificial sweeteners approved for use in the U.S. cause cancer or other serious health problems. And numerous research studies confirm that artificial sweeteners are generally safe in limited quantities, even for pregnant women. As a result of the newer studies, the warning label for saccharin was dropped.

Artificial sweeteners are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as food additives. They must be reviewed and approved by the FDA before being made available for sale. In some cases, the FDA declares a substance “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). These GRAS substances, including highly refined stevia preparations, are deemed by qualified professionals based on scientific data as being safe for their intended use, or they have such a lengthy history of common use in food that they’re considered generally safe and don’t require FDA approval before sale.

The FDA has also established an acceptable daily intake (ADI) for each artificial sweetener. This is the maximum amount considered safe to consume each day over the course of your lifetime. ADIs are intended to be about 100 times less than the smallest amount that might cause health concerns.

Sugar alcohols and novel sweeteners

Sugar alcohols (polyols) are carbohydrates that occur naturally in certain fruits and vegetables, but they also can be manufactured. They’re not considered intense sweeteners, because they aren’t sweeter than sugar. In fact, some are less sweet than sugar. As with artificial sweeteners, the FDA regulates the use of sugar alcohols.

Sugar alcohols aren’t considered noncaloric or non-nutritive sweeteners because they contain calories. But they’re lower in calories than is regular sugar, making them an attractive alternative. Despite their name, sugar alcohols aren’t alcoholic. They don’t contain ethanol, which is found in alcoholic beverages.

Novel sweeteners are combinations of various types of sweeteners. Novel sweeteners, such as stevia, are hard to fit into one particular category because of what they’re made from and how they’re made. Note that although the FDA has approved highly refined stevia preparations as a novel sweetener, it has not approved whole-leaf stevia or crude stevia extracts for this use.

Tagatose and trehalose are considered novel sweeteners because of their chemical structure. They’re categorized by the FDA as GRAS substances. Tagatose is a low-carbohydrate sweetener similar to fructose that occurs naturally but is also manufactured from lactose in dairy products. Foods containing tagatose can’t be labeled as “sugar-free.” Trehalose is found naturally in mushrooms.

Uses for sugar alcohols

Sugar alcohols generally aren’t used when you prepare food at home. Rather, they are found in many processed foods and other products, including chocolate, candy, frozen desserts, chewing gum, toothpaste, mouthwash, baked goods and fruit spreads, usually replacing sugar on an equal basis.

When added to foods, sugar alcohols add sweetness, bulk and texture. They also help food stay moist, prevent browning when heated and add a cooling sensation to products.

Sugar alcohols are often combined with artificial sweeteners to enhance sweetness. Check the food label to help see if a product contains sugar alcohols. Food labels may list the specific name, such as xylitol, or simply use the general term “sugar alcohol.”

Possible health benefits of sugar alcohols

One benefit of sugar alcohols is that they don’t contribute to tooth decay and cavities. They may also help with the following:

Weight control. Sugar alcohols are considered nutritive sweeteners because they contribute calories to your diet. Still, sugar alcohols have fewer calories than does regular sugar — about 2 calories per gram on average. This means that sugar alcohols can be considered lower calorie sweeteners, and they may aid weight-control efforts.
Diabetes. Unlike artificial sweeteners, sugar alcohols can raise blood sugar levels because they’re carbohydrates. But because your body doesn’t completely absorb sugar alcohols, their effect on blood sugar is less than that of other sugars. Different sugar alcohols can affect blood sugar differently. You can consume sugar alcohols if you have diabetes, but you still must pay attention to the total amount of carbohydrates in your meals and snacks. Talk to your doctor or dietitian for guidance.
Possible health concerns with sugar alcohols

As with artificial sweeteners, the FDA regulates sugar alcohols as food additives. Sugar alcohols used in U.S. manufactured food generally have GRAS status.

There are few health concerns associated with sugar alcohols. When eaten in large amounts, usually more than 50 grams but sometimes as little as 10 grams, sugar alcohols can have a laxative effect, causing bloating, intestinal gas and diarrhea. Product labels may carry a warning about this potential laxative effect.

Natural sweeteners

Natural sweeteners are sugar substitutes that are often promoted as healthier options than processed table sugar or other sugar substitutes. But even these so-called natural sweeteners often undergo processing and refining, including agave nectar.

Among the natural sweeteners that the FDA recognizes as being generally safe for consumption are fruit juices and nectars, honey, molasses, and maple syrup.

Uses for natural sweeteners

Natural sweeteners have a variety of uses both at home and in processed foods. They are sometimes known as added sugars because they’re added to foods during processing. They may be used to sweeten drinks such as tea and cocktails, in desserts, as pancake and waffle toppings, on cereals, and for baking, for example.

Possible health benefits of natural sweeteners

Although natural sugar substitutes may seem healthier than processed table sugar, their vitamin and mineral content isn’t significantly different from that of sugar. Honey and sugar, for instance, are nutritionally similar, and both end up in your body as glucose and fructose. Choose a natural sweetener based on how it tastes and its uses, rather than on its health claims.

Possible health concerns with natural sweeteners

So-called natural sweeteners are generally safe. But there’s no health advantage to consuming added sugar of any type. And consuming too much added sugar, even natural sweeteners, can lead to health problems such as tooth decay, poor nutrition, weight gain and increased triglycerides. Also, be aware that honey can contain small amounts of bacterial spores that can produce botulism toxin. Because of that, honey shouldn’t be given to children less than 1 year old.

Moderation is key with sugar substitutes

When choosing sugar substitutes, it pays to be a savvy consumer. Get informed and look beyond the hype. While artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes may help with weight management, they aren’t a magic bullet and should be used only in moderation.

Just because a food is marketed as sugar-free doesn’t mean it’s free of calories. If you eat too many sugar-free foods, you can still gain weight if they have other ingredients that contain calories. And remember that processed foods, which often contain sugar substitutes, generally don’t offer the same health benefits as do whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables.

READ MORE>>

Sucrose
AKA: Table sugar
Calories: 16 per teaspoon
Found: Naturally in fruit; added to baked goods, jams, marinades, salad dressings

The deal: Sucrose offers energy but no nutritional benefits. In 2003, a team of international experts recommended that added sugars make up no more than 10% of your diet, or about 12 teaspoons (50 grams) for a 2,000-calorie diet.

But in 2009 the American Heart Association slashed that even further suggested women consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams) of added sugar and men no more than 9 (37.5 grams).

Acesulfame potassium
AKA: Sunett, Sweet One
Calories: 0
Found in: Soft drinks, gelatins, chewing gum, frozen desserts

The deal: This nonnutritive artificial sweetener was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1988, meaning it now has a 22-year track record in which no problems have surfaced.

However, pre-market testing was sparse. Hoescht, the manufacturer of the chemical, ran a few long-term animal studies that showed it might be linked to cancer (although animal studies don’t always translate to humans).

In 1996, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) urged the FDA to require better testing, but for now it seems to be safe in moderation.

Agave nectar
Calories: 20 per teaspoon
Found in: Cereals, yogurts, tea

The deal: The nectar is a product of the agave cactus, and its taste and texture are similar to honey.

It doesn’t contain as many antioxidants as honey, but it contains approximately the same amount of calories. Agave, however, is sweeter than sugar, so proponents suggest you can use less to get similar sweetness.

It contains more fructose than table sugar, which, according to a recent study, means it is less likely to cause a spike in blood sugar but could be more likely to reduce your metabolism and insulin sensitivity.

Aspartame
AKA: Equal, NutraSweet
Calories: 0
Found in: Drinks, gum, yogurt, cough drops

The deal: One of the most studied artificial sweeteners, aspartame has been accused of causing everything from weight gain to cancer.

However, since being approved by the FDA in 1981, studies have found no convincing evidence and the FDA, the World Health Organization, and the American Dietetic Association say aspartame in moderation poses no threats.

The CSPI feels differently, and gave it their lowest ranking in a review of food additives. People with phenylketonuria, an inherited genetic disorder, should avoid it.

High-fructose corn syrup
Calories: 17 per teaspoon
Found: Sodas, desserts, cereals

The deal: This hotly debated sweetener contains the sugars fructose and glucose from processed corn syrup.

Because it’s cheaper than sucrose and gives products a longer shelf life, more packaged foods in the U.S.—especially soda, cereal, and yogurt—contain HFCS as added sugar instead of sucrose.

Some studies say beverages sweetened with HFCS contribute to obesity more than sucrose, but others show it’s no worse for health. It’s best to limit your consumption.

Honey
Calories: 21 per teaspoon
Found in: Cereals, baked goods, teas

The deal: Honey contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, and studies suggest it may not raise blood sugar as fast as other sweet products.

(It’s generally better for the body to have a slow and steady rise in blood sugar after eating, rather than a dramatic spike.)

Honey, however, does contain calories and should be used as sparingly as any other full-calorie sweetener.

Neotame
Calories: 0
Found in: Some drinks, dairy products, frozen desserts, puddings, fruit juices

The deal: The newest on the market, this artificial sweetener was approved by the FDA in 2002.

It is between 7,000 and 13,000 times sweeter than table sugar depending on what it is added to, and is produced by the same company that makes aspartame.

Neotame is one of the only nonnutritive sweeteners to get the seal of approval from the CSPI, but it is rarely used in everyday products.

Stevia leaf extract
AKA: Truvia, Pure Via
Calories: 0
Found in: Diet drinks, yogurts, individual packets

The deal: Derived from the stevia plant, stevia leaf extract, also called rebiana, is deemed the natural alternative to artificial sweeteners.

Although crude stevia extracts are not approved by the FDA, refined stevia products such as Truvia gained a Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) approval from the FDA in 2008.

In 2013, the consumer advocacy group Center for Science in the Public Interest said it “considers rebiana, a natural high-potency sweetener obtained from stevia, to be “safe,” though deserving of better testing.”

Saccharin
AKA: Sweet’N Low
Calories: 0
Found in: Drinks, canned goods, candy

The deal: Rat studies in the early 1970s found a link between consuming Saccharin and bladder cancer, prompting Congress to mandate in 1981 that all foods containing it bear a warning label.

Later studies showed that these results may only occur in rats, and there was a lack of evidence that saccharin causes cancer in humans. Saccharin was removed from the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens in 2000 and Congress repealed the warning label.

The CSPI places it on their “avoid” list, acknowledging that Congress’s removal of the label will likely result in greater use of the sweetener.

Sucralose
AKA: Splenda
Calories (per 1 teaspoon): 0
Found in: Fruit drinks, canned fruit, syrups

The deal: Sucralose received FDA approval in 1998, and although one study showed it may negatively impact the immune system, follow-up studies did not find a correlation.

The CSPI deems it safe, and several studies have found that it is not carcinogenic. This sweetener is one of the few not sensitive to heat and can therefore be used in baking, useful for those limiting empty-calorie carbohydrates because they are dieting or have diabetes.

Sugar alcohols
AKA: Sorbitol, xylitol, mannitol
Calories: 10 per teaspoon
Found in: Sugar-free candies, gum, desserts

The deal: Sugar alcohols aren’t nonnutritive sweeteners—they have 2.6 calories per gram—but they don’t cause tooth decay like table sugar.

Although they’re generally less sweet and caloric than sugar, eating large amounts (particularly of mannitol) can cause bloating and diarrhea. They’re often used in sugar-free foods marketed to diabetics, because they contain fewer carbohydrates than table sugar. They do contain some carbohydrates, so eating them in excess may increase blood sugar.

The ADA recommends consuming sugar alcohols in moderation, and counting half of the grams of sugar alcohols as carbohydrates because only about half get digested.

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