Artificial sweeteners have taken the place of sugar as we know it in sodas, baked goods, yogurts, coffee drinks, and more. As of May, the obesity rate in the United States was estimated to be about 27.7%. The use of artificial sweeteners is hoped to help reduce sugar intake and hopefully lower the risk of heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Today, with nutrition facts becoming a more central focus on restaurant menus, food businesses may be tempted into experimenting with these sugar substitutes, swapping them in place of sugar in salad dressings, dipping sauces, and other foods. However, customers interested in following a sugar free diet are not usually customers looking for healthy restaurant eating in general. Customers practicing healthy restaurant eating habits may actually be less inclined to order dishes with sugar alternatives, due to studies and suspicions that have given artificial sweeteners bad reputations. And though the nutrition facts may look attractive by using sugar alternatives, businesses should keep in mind the negative effects that artificial sweeteners can have on health and taste.
Are Artificial Sweeteners Bad or Good?
Aside from their undeniable popularity in sugar packet holders, artificial sweeteners have yet to widely grace restaurants and restaurant menus. Big coffee shop and bakery chains do offer some sugar free options, but most venues have yet to catch on. Frankly, sugar alternatives’ aftertastes and lack of ability to caramelize, make them come short for the culinary world. Sugar does more for the culinary world than just effect taste. It also helps the chemical processes in the kitchen. It helps yeast produce carbon dioxide to make dough rise, thickens jams, and caramelizes, among other things. Sugar alternatives do not participate in these cooking processes the way sugar does. Therefore, before the biological impacts of sugar alternatives on health and taste are considered, these culinary implications of sugar alternatives should be acknowledged.
Synthetic sugar alternatives, such as saccharin and aspartame, are created to sit on the taste bud receptors that sense sweet tastes. Yet the majority of these sugar alternatives are much sweeter than sugar, ranging from one to 8,000 times sweeter. Aftertastes of sugar alternatives, whether synthetic or natural, such as stevia, depend on the consumer’s taste receptors, as well as the “sweetness” molecules binding strength to the taste receptors. Those who have strong receptors for bitter tastes may be bothered by the bitter aftertaste that sugar alternatives tend to leave. Therefore, businesses looking for ways to seemingly improve their nutrition facts should carefully consider when to use sugar alternatives and when to skip them.
Customers who typically look for healthy restaurant eating options, as well as those who are sensitive to the aftertastes of sugar alternatives, are likely to have an aversion to artificial sweeteners. Artificial sweeteners’ bad reputations come from rumors that that consumption is linked with cancer, obesity, addiction to the sweeteners, loss of taste, and a craving for super-sweet foods. Though there is evidence both for and against these claims, none of them have been proven. Nevertheless, those concerned with healthy restaurant eating are usually not looking to include synthetic chemicals such as artificial sweeteners in their diets, while those looking to lose weight fast may be drawn to a sugar free diet. Food businesses should carefully consider their motives when deciding whether to use sugar alternatives instead of sugar in dishes. Having a few sugar-free dessert options, while keeping sugar alternatives out of the rest of the dishes on restaurant menus, is usually the best option.