September 23, 2004 12:10 PM   Subscribe

Sweet and Low or Equal? It seems like people have a strong preference for one or the other, but why do they care? What is the difference between these fake sugars sweeteners?
posted by elwoodwiles to Food & Drink (33 answers total)
conspicuous consumption, treating everything as a commodity, and emphasising unimportant differences for brand identity.
the usual things you see round here all the time - search for discussions on knives, cars, beds etc etc etc
posted by andrew cooke at 12:12 PM on September 23, 2004

Look it up.
posted by jpoulos at 12:14 PM on September 23, 2004

For starters, Sweet N Low is saccharine-based, while Equal is aspartame-based. I'll let the scientist-types explain the differences.

Personally, I can't stand the taste of saccharine, and actually prefer Splenda (sucralose) even over Equal.
posted by briank at 12:16 PM on September 23, 2004

From my point of view as someone who knows some chemistry, and takes a great deal of satisfaction from what he knows, sucralose is the most elegant approach to an artificial sweetener. You can think of it as a teflon-coated sugar molecule, I suppose: it just slides right on through your metabolism. Aspartame is kind of neat, too: it's designed to be metabolized to some pretty standard, low calorie, stuff (two amino acids and methanol, which sounds worse than it really is: we can deal with some methanol). Saccharine is just monstrous, though.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:33 PM on September 23, 2004

It depends on if they're in Canada, the US, or elsewhere. The products' contents differ by country for sweet 'n low. (saccharine, it seems, has been banned in Canada, sadly).

Personally, if I am in the US, I would always use sweet 'n low. I like the taste of saccharin -- beats the hell out of aspartame (icky!)

There may be some extra flavourings in either product, but I highly doubt it. It may be that one sweetner has more sweetner per package than the other, though, rather than taste.

Here's quick links to the US ingredients of each product (hey jpoulos, some people are lazy!):

Sweet 'n low

What are the ingredients of Sweet'N Low Brand® granulated sugar substitute?

In the United States, the ingredients of Sweet'N Low Brand granulated sugar substitute are nutritive dextrose, 3.6% saccharin (36 mg per packet), cream of tartar and calcium silicate (an anti-caking agent).


What are the ingredients in Equal?

Equal's sweetening ingredient is aspartame, which breaks down to components commonly found in milk, meats, fruits and vegetables. Other ingredients are added to make the very concentrated sweetener easier to measure and pour.

Equal packets ingredients: dextose with maltodextrin, aspartame
Equal Spoonful ingredients: maltodextrin, aspartame
Equal tablets ingredients: lactose, aspartame, maltodextrin

Canadian Sweet 'n Low:

SWEET'N LOW Low Calorie Sweetener is a Sodium Cyclamate based sweetener that has a real sugar taste.

Oddly enough, in the US Sodium Cyclamate is banned! LOL!
posted by shepd at 12:33 PM on September 23, 2004

Another vote for Splenda. As far as I can tell it's the sweetness element of sugar. Certainly you can taste it neat and it doesn't go bitter like the chemically ones.
posted by twine42 at 12:37 PM on September 23, 2004

Another vote for Splenda.
posted by riffola at 12:41 PM on September 23, 2004

I can handle Splenda, it's the least offensive of them all (and like mr_roboto, I appreciate how clever it is, it's sort of "left-handed sugar"), but aspartame tastes like a headache, and saccharine and cyclamate taste creepy and artificial and make me think of cancer and birth defects.
posted by biscotti at 12:47 PM on September 23, 2004

both my brother and wife, are horribly allergic to aspartame. it gives them blinding-oh-my-god headaches. me? i just dont like the taste of any of it. so give me sugar anytime.
posted by ShawnString at 1:07 PM on September 23, 2004

Cool. Thanks for the info. I'm looking at Splenda's site right now. People had mentioned it to me, but I somehow never looked into it.
posted by elwoodwiles at 1:16 PM on September 23, 2004

Trust me on this:


But Splenda for cooking, if you really mustn't have real, tasty, glorious sugar.
posted by padraigin at 1:23 PM on September 23, 2004

Aspartame. Diet Coke wouldn't be Diet Coke without it.
posted by pieoverdone at 1:25 PM on September 23, 2004

A teaspoon of sugar has a mere 15 calories.

A freakin' carrot has more calories.

I completely fail to understand why anyone except a diabetic would use a packet of artificial sweetner.

Eat one less fast-food meal each year, and you've very likely accounted for every raw-sugar calorie you've ingested.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:28 PM on September 23, 2004

Stevia, which can be found at natural food stores a lot of the time, is another sweetener that usually comes up in discussions like these.

I am a Splenda person. Most of the best-known low carbohydrate diets advocate its use, and as a result it's been a lot easier to find lately. But in a pinch, I'll pick Sweet n'Low over Equal strictly for taste.
posted by gnomeloaf at 1:29 PM on September 23, 2004

In my opinion (and believe me, I've tried pretty much everything that's artificially sweetened), they all suck. Certain products (soda, "fruit" drinks) are all really bad with any artificial sweetener. Given a choice between S&L, Equal and Splenda, I'd probably take the Splenda, but it still isn't very good - in many things I still get that weird artificial aftertaste.

I've read some good things about tagatose, although I've never had the opportunity to try it.

Eat one less fast-food meal each year, and you've very likely accounted for every raw-sugar calorie you've ingested.

This is not true. Average fast food meal - 1200 calories (?) Two-liter bottle of Coca-Cola - 835 calories (app.), and it's all sugar. 15 calories per teaspoon of sugar doesn't sound like much, but in the quantities it's used in sweets, soda and other goodies we consume in mass quantities, it really adds up. The question is not whether it's a good idea to eliminate a lot of the sugar from our diets; it's whether the substances we replace the sugar with are not going to cause us other problems.
posted by deadcowdan at 1:38 PM on September 23, 2004

conspicuous consumption, treating everything as a commodity, and emphasising unimportant differences for brand identity.

Riiiiight. It's all about the brand. Or, it could be that they are completely different chemicals with different tastes.
posted by callmejay at 1:55 PM on September 23, 2004

I think what fff is getting at, and I think this too, is, what's the real point in using an artificial sweetener packet in a cup of coffee? Because we are talking about, for most people, 15-30 calories of sugar per day in their coffee. A soda is obviously different, that's 150-180 calories of sugar in one sitting. Cooking with artificial sweeteners is also another story, lots of recipes include lots of sugar. But just on the coffee front, alone, why?

FYI a carrot has substantially less than 15 calories ;) I think something like a cup of carrots is less than 30 calories, but I'd have to check to be sure.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:00 PM on September 23, 2004

RustyBrooks: Personally, I don't like drinking coffee with sugar in it. It feels like it coats my teeth. It's completely irrational since I'm sure the 16 ounces of coffee do faaaar more damage to my enamel than that teaspoon of sugar, but I can't help it.
posted by bcwinters at 2:10 PM on September 23, 2004

Actually I kind of get shit for this all the time. I'm dieting, and people raise eyebrows when I put some cream and/or sugar in my coffee. Riiight. I cut 1000 calories out of my daily diet by never eating dessert, candy, soda and eating much less of everything else, but 50 calories of cream and sugar a day is going to spoil my diet. Moderation is the key there... deprive yourself of everything good and you won't stick to that diet long.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:12 PM on September 23, 2004

Stevia can be very dangerous.

Consider which is worse: Being diabetic, or:

Reproductive problems - Stevioside “seems to affect the male reproductive organ system,” European scientists concluded last year.

Cancer - In the laboratory, steviol can be converted into a mutagenic compound, which may promote cancer by causing mutations in the cells’ genetic material (DNA).

Energy metabolism - Very large amounts of stevioside can interfere with the absorption of carbohydrates in animals and disrupt the conversion of food into energy within cells.

The bottom line: If you use stevia sparingly (once or twice a day in a cup of tea, for example), it isn’t a great threat to you. But if stevia were marketed widely and used in diet sodas, it would be consumed by millions of people. And that might pose a public health threat.

Aspartame, on the other hand, is, in fact, safe to all those where it does not cause an obvious adverse reaction. Furthermore, saccharin is as safe as stevia, since it has only caused cancer in lab rats, too.
posted by shepd at 2:13 PM on September 23, 2004

Speaking as a close relative of a dental hygenist, neither coffee or tea fo any serious damage to your teeth, aside from staining them. Tea is actually worse and it's said green tea the absolute worst. My dentist offers me candy whenever I leave. I once asked him if he was drumming up business or what? He said candy, sugar, etc, none of these things harm your teeth. *leaving* them on your teeth all day is what does the damage, but again not from the stuff itself, but from the by-products of the bacteria that feed on them. Regular use of mouthwash, brushing after lunch, etc, have a huge impact on the health of your teeth.

But I know, it's probably a psychological thing.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:15 PM on September 23, 2004

The San Francisco Chronicle recently made several recipes with Splenda, and found that "none of the dishes met our test-kitchen standards." They recommend a Splenda-sugar blend in recipies, instead of completely replacing sugar with Splenda.
posted by kirkaracha at 3:10 PM on September 23, 2004

shepd, I did not know that about stevia, and I'm grateful for the knowledge. Thanks.
posted by padraigin at 3:22 PM on September 23, 2004

Hey, padraigin, don't take what I say for gospel -- if stevia has been working well for you, then go ahead and use it.

But, the "holistic" approach, while often good, can have drawbacks -- and one of those drawbacks is a lot of "natual health food" type stores tend to ignore reports that show certain herbs aren't perfectly safe (it's in their best interest to do this -- that old "corporate agenda" saw goes both ways, you know!)

Stevia, used normally, is probably fine. However, I can't see much advantage of it over "chemicals" when studies show it can cause the same problems as those chemicals...

Just my 2 cents. :-) I don't want to bash on one product or the other.
posted by shepd at 3:54 PM on September 23, 2004

I absolutely cannot stand Sweet 'n Low. It tastes bitter to me. I use Equal. I'd be willing to use Splenda, but haven't really tried it.

Equal has this wonderful little 'tablet' dispenser, where it's compressed. It's wonderful. It takes up little room and doesn't drive me crazy with waste paper all the time. I prefer it to sugar, actually, because of the lack of mess and fuss.
posted by stoneegg21 at 3:59 PM on September 23, 2004

Rusty: three baby carrots = 15 calories.

And packet substitutes are exactly what I was talking about.
Coffee in its "purest" form has no fat and no calories whatsoever. But here come the shockers:
  • Two tablespoons of flavored nondairy creamer (liquid) adds 80 calories and four grams of fat (as much as a pat of butter).
  • Two tablespoons of flavored syrup adds 80 calories, but no fat.
  • One tablespoon of cream adds 50 calories and six grams of fat.
  • One tablespoon of liquid plain nondairy creamer has 25 calories and two grams of fat.
  • One tablespoon of half-and-half has 20 calories and two grams of fat.
  • Cappuccino (espresso, steamed milk, foamed milk) has seven grams of fat and 137 calories when whole milk is used; four grams of fat and 109 calories with low-fat milk; just under a half gram of fat and 80 calories with fat-free milk.
  • Coffee latte (espresso and steamed milk) has 212 calories and nine grams of fat when whole milk is used; 167 calories and six grams of fat with low-fat milk; 123 calories and 0.6 grams fat with fat-free milk.
  • Coffee mocha with whole milk (espresso, cocoa, steamed milk) has 340 calories and 20 grams of fat with whipped cream; 260 calories with six grams of fat without whipped cream.
  • Coffee mocha with low-fat milk has 302 calories and 16 grams of fat with whipped cream; 220 calories and six grams of fat minus whipped cream.
  • Coffee mocha with fat-free milk has 264 calories and 11 grams of fat with whipped cream and 182 calories; two grams of fat without whipped cream.
  • Now tell me again how the hell it makes sense to save 15 calories out of a 150 calorie latte?!

    As for the 800-odd calories in a bottle of Coke, there's an easy solution: don't drink that shit. Sweet zombie jesus, people, wtf are you thinking?! If you're chugging soda in such amounts that the calories concern you, you are by your very actions proving that you really don't give a rat's ass about your health. Yeesh.
    posted by five fresh fish at 4:52 PM on September 23, 2004

    But if stevia were marketed widely and used in diet sodas, it would be consumed by millions of people.

    As it is in Japan, which they acknowledge on that web page. They soft-pedal 30 years of use by claiming that the Japanese just wouldn't have as much stevia as we would if it replaced aspartame. Which is probably true. Even so, it makes me less worried about the health concerns.

    My vending machine drink of choice in Tokyo was Pocari Stevia. It's a nice drink; a lot less sweet than most sports drinks, probably because more stevia without any other flavoring would have started to taste a bit bitter.

    I've been putting stevia on my cereal every day for a while. The way things are going, it looks like I'll get about two years out of my ten gram bottle. Stevia is strong!
    posted by tss at 5:18 PM on September 23, 2004

    Another vote for Splenda.
    posted by falconred at 5:56 PM on September 23, 2004

    Splenda if it's there, Sweet and Low otherwise.
    More than just a teeny bit of aspartame results in the same kind of bad, bad headache and weird-stimulanty-feeling that I get from MSG. All of which is to say that I live a life with no Diet Coke and no Doritos.
    posted by willpie at 7:50 PM on September 23, 2004

    Swimming With Sharks does a great job explaining the difference between Equal and Sweet-n-Low.
    posted by herc at 9:45 PM on September 23, 2004

    Another vote for Splenda. I'm in Canada and drive to the States to get soda sweetened with Splenda/sucralose as it's rare up here. And for what it's worth, as previously mentioned, I'm a diabetic.
    posted by deborah at 11:40 PM on September 23, 2004

    I've been known to go to Canada and pick up Sugar Twin with cyclamate. Good stuff, and dissolves well in cold beverages, unlike Sweet 'n' Low or Equal.
    posted by Vidiot at 11:12 AM on September 24, 2004

    « Older Tricks and tips for quickly breaking in a new pair...   |   What the differences between how and when men and... Newer »
    This thread is closed to new comments.