Are sugar substitutes the better choice?

LOS ANGELES Consumer Reports tested 11 different types. Natra Taste Gold, Splenda, Equal and Sweet'N Low were a few on the list. Agave Nectar and Stevia products, which are marketed as plant-based "natural" alternatives, were also tested.

"We looked at calories and price and tasted them to see how they compare with sugar," said Amy Keating, Consumer Reports.

Consumer Reports tried the sweeteners in coffee and lemonade. The Sweet'N Low tasted bitter in the lemonade and had a lingering artificial sweetener flavor in both drinks. Even the natural sweeteners had some problems.

"Most of the Stevia-based sweeteners tasted bitter, often with a chemical or medicinal off-flavor," said Keating.

Many sweeteners sold in bulk packages claim to be "perfect for cooking and baking." Testers put the claim to the test.

"Most of the sweeteners didn't do well in our cake tests. That's because sugar does a lot more than add sweetness," said Keating. "It helps cakes rise and brown and gives them that great texture that we all love."

Sweeteners that come blended with regular sugar did do a better job with cakes. But the added sugar adds more calories, too.

Sugar substitutes appear to work best for drinks. Splenda and Equal are recommended. Taste testers say they have slightly less off-flavors and just might cure a sweet tooth.

While Agave blends easily in cold liquid so you could use less, it doesn't save on calories and cost more than regular sugar.

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